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Robert Joseph McDermott


1940 - 2015 Obituary Condolences Gallery
Robert Joseph McDermott Obituary
1940 ~ 2015
Robert Joseph McDermott passed away at home in the early morning hours of January 20, 2015. He is survived by his wife, Deborah, and their two adult children, Colin and Aidan.
A friend called Robert a "gentle giant." He was tall and barrel-chested with strong, gentle hands, capable of knitting sweaters, felling trees, and reassuring people with a light touch on a shoulder or arm. He loved to chat with anyone and the shy amongst us responded to his friendly and outgoing nature. His energy for work and play matched his large physique. We loved Robert's humor and playfulness, his persistence in the face of daunting tasks, and the way he nurtured us by providing support and encouragement. This nurturing also extended to friends, students, and younger colleagues.
Robert and Deborah shared their lives for 42 years. When he became a father later in life than most, he focused much of his considerable energy on being an involved dad. He carried his young children around in backpacks and bike seats. He entertained them, empathized with them, and was their most avid fan at soccer games and performances. He heartily encouraged their artistic pursuits when they showed the inclination to go in that direction. Robert's wish for his children was that they eventually find work they loved doing, just as he had done in the field of computer graphics.
Robert's life of 74 years was comprised of colorful episodes which he liked to tell people in the form of stories. He grew up in the New York metropolitan area. His father John was a construction superintendent, and his mother Josephine was a nurse until she married. He had an older brother John, and a younger sister, Mary. He attended Lock Haven State College, Pa. studying Electrical Engineering and wrestling for the school's team. After two and a half years, he joined the army and was stationed at West Point as clerk and assistant wrestling coach. He traveled throughout Europe and the Middle East competing with the Army team. Robert also completed Ranger School, and Jump School training (for fun).
Robert attended Penn State University and worked on a master's degree in Computer Science, and soon after, backpacked by himself around Europe to visit the great art museums. Wishing to study further, Robert came to Utah to work on a Computer Science PhD, eventually completing a thesis based on the mathematics and programming he developed for a virtual geometric model of a 30 foot Ukrainian Pysanka (egg) monument constructed in Canada. Early on in his graduate studies, he met and married a young art student, Deborah Hull, from Bountiful, Utah. After graduating, the two of them moved to St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada, where Robert taught computer Science at Memorial University of Newfoundland for 4 years.
From Canada, they moved to Long Island, New York, where Robert taught at NYIT and worked at the Computer Graphics Lab for 10 years, He collaborated with artists and architects to create computer graphic animation. During this time he began running, participating in triathlons and several NYC marathons. He also learned to scuba dive and sail, and enjoyed being crew on yachts racing on Long Island Sound. Robert and Deborah's first child, Colin, was born on Long Island in 1989. Robert was 49 years old.
Returning to the University of Utah in 1990, Robert accepted a Research Scientist position at the Center for High Performance Computing. He collaborated with colleagues in other fields to create computer graphic visualization and animation of their research work. In addition, Robert annually helped undergraduates create research posters to present to the Utah Legislature. Finally, Robert wrote and delivered papers about computational geometry and physical model-making at an international yearly conference called Bridges: Mathematical Connections in Art, Music, and Science. Robert and Deborah's daughter, Aidan, was born in Salt Lake City in 1992. He became an enthusiastic soccer dad and sideline referee for kid's soccer games. In 2010 Robert retired at age 69.
Robert's most endearing quality was his positive outlook. It enabled him to enjoy his life even as his physical body was failing him at the end. We will remember and cherish his large spirit that taught us all so much, and wrapped us in love.
The McDermott family will host an open house at their home to remember Robert (2328 East 1700 South, Salt Lake, City, 84108) on Sunday, February 22, 2015, between 3 and 6 pm. Donations may be made in Robert's memory for art and math education to The McGillis School, 668 South 1300 East, SLC, UT 84102.
Published in Salt Lake Tribune on Feb. 15, 2015
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