In memoriam Harry E. Gaylord (1943-2006)

Harry Gaylord passed away in Durham hospital on Nov. 20, 2006. He is survived by his son Benjamin and daughter Tamar (of Amsterdam).

Harry Gaylord studied English at Yale (1965) before taking a divinty school degree at the Union Theological Seminary, New York (1968). He took up his life-long interest in Jewish studies there, starting with an M.A. at New York University, and culminating in a PhD from Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He worked as an editor on early Jewish literature in Amsterdam in the early seventies, when he first became interested in the problems of digital texts. Prof. Adam van der Woude, the great scholar of the dead sea scrolls, brought him to the University of Groningen, where he lectured in biblical studies from 1975-1986.

In 1986 the Arts faculty at the University of Groningen initiated a study program in humanities computing, and Harry switched faculties to join this group, where he remained until his (early) retirement in 1998. He was an important addition to its two linguists and one historian, and quickly developed courses on character encoding, text representation (including hypertext), and tools for text analysis. When colleague Bert Bos introduced Groningen's first web site in 1993, he and Harry followed quickly with a course on web design, which has remained one of the department's most popular courses to this date.

Harry Gaylord's technical and scholarly contributions concerned primarily the digital representation of character sets, notably his often cited paper on the standard digital representation for phonetic symbols and his work on characters and character sets, including Unicode, for the Text Encoding Intiative (TEI). He was particularly proud of his collaboration with the International Standards Organization (ISO), which adopted many of his proposals in their standards.

Harry was aware that a great deal of his work merely laid the foundations for the sort of use of computers in the humanities which excited practicing scholars. He talked once of a conversation with Don Walker, long-time secretary of the Association for Computational Linguistics, and one of the intiators of the TEI. The very detailed work needed for representing writing systems of all sorts, and standardizing them, was difficult and painstaking, but it had to be done, even if most of the scholars of that time did not appreciate the need for it. Harry was committed to seeing it through.

Galiard, as Harry liked to be called electronically, participated convivially in the community of scholars: he enjoyed cooking at our departmental barbecues; he regularly hosted visitors at his nearby apartment; he loved gab sessions until deep into the night; and he was tirelessly in communication via email and net lists from the very earliest days of those media.

Harry was also an unabashed anglophile, an enthusiasm shared by his second wife Alexandra. He belonged to a London "club", wore only tweed jackets, and worked hard to have his divinity degree recognized in the Church of England.

Let me close with an anecdote illustrating Harry's manner. When the Arts faculty ran into some hard times in the late 1990's, the neck of the young humanities computing department was soon on the block, and its two most promising younger faculty members actually received termination notices. Harry was apalled at this, and, after considering the situation for several weeks, he decided that it was, all in all, better that he go. He reasoned that, after all, it would be perhaps his last chance to serve in the Anglican church, and he really hated to see the young talent frustrated! When it turned out three months later that the faculty withdrew its threat to dissolve the department, Harry's and Alexandra's waxing enthusiasm could not be turned. But I'll remember it as a moment of unusual magnanimity.

John Nerbonne