Ralph Selfridge
{ "" }
Share Ralph's life story with friends and family
Send an Email
Or Copy this URL to Share

Ralph Gordon Selfridge passed away Sunday August 31, 2008, at the age of eighty-one. He lived a long and vigorous life. He is survived by his wife, Betty Rushton Selfridge, brother Oliver Selfridge, sister Jennifer Macleod, ten step children, seventeen grandchildren, and three great-grand children. He was born in London, England in 1927 and sailed from Liverpool to America the same day the first German bombs were dropped on London in 1939. He was the grandson of Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridges's department store of London.

His early education included English schools and firm discipline. He later attended Middlesex School in Concord, Massachusetts and earned his BS degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He worked his way through college in the cafeteria, where the cafeteria trays worked for sledding downhill in the winter. His Master's degree was awarded by Cornell University.

During the 1950s, he worked for the US Navy at the China Lake Naval Ordinance Test Station in California. At China Lake projects required overcoming "impossible" timetables and figuring out computer programs such as designing the Sidewinder missile. While at China Lake, the navy sponsored the completion of his Doctorate degree in mathematics at the University of Oregon. The close personal friendships formed at China Lake lasted a lifetime. From 1959 to 1961, he taught at Miami of Ohio University. His job there included the early programming and operation of an IBM 700 computer.

The longest portion of his career was spent at the University of Florida where he was a professor of mathematics and computer science from 1961-2002. As a pioneer in the new field of computer science; he was called by many "The grandfather of digital simulation". For a time, he was director of the U of F Computing Center (the predecessor of North-East Regional Data Center, NERDC). He encouraged members of his staff to overcome challenges, seek solutions, provided support and he trusted them. It was a time of great inventiveness and resourcefulness. His legendary class in numerical methods challenged (or terrified) many good students.

From the early sixties through the eighties he was a cave diver in the springs and sink- holes of north Florida. He learned to fly an airplane in 1948, and logged more than 5000 hours taking family, kids and grand-kids into airstrips all over the forty-eight states, Canada and Alaska. He flew the same airplane for nearly forty years. He bought a bicycle in 1955, and rode to work daily, rain or shine until he retired. He loved the mountains, and hiked every summer for about fifty years. He especially enjoyed the Wind River Range and Sierra Nevada mountains, seeking the incredible beauty of remote, inaccessible places.

He was a member of the Sierra Club, the Rolls-Royce owners' club, and the Sunbeam Apine owners' club. He attended many Sunbeam "Invasions", driving his small sports car long distances, and making repairs as needed along the way. He was a long-time member of the American Civil Liberties Union, serving for some years as their treasurer. He acted as the Chief Negotiator for the United Faculty of Florida and is a past-president of the Gainesville Pilots' Association. He was also active with the Gainesville Little Theater and other local theatrical groups. He played an English butler more than once, and stole a few scenes "high pouring" tea or unexpectedly substituting a real alcoholic beverage into an actor's cup. He was fond of saying that when he was acting, he was just playing himself.

His life exemplified, intellectual rigor, kindness, and love of humanity. He was a gentleman and a scholar. Contributions in his honor may be made to the Sierra Club or the American Civil Liberties Union.

A Memorial Service will be held on Saturday, September 6, 2008 at 1:30pm at Holy Trinity Church, 100 NE 1st ST., Gainesville, FL.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in Gainesville Sun from Sep. 3 to Sep. 4, 2008.
Memories & Condolences
Guest Book sponsored by Ralph's sister Jennifer
Not sure what to say?
View Printed Guest Book
36 entries
June 14, 2014
I never write these sorts of things, but Dr. Selfridge was a truly remarkable man, and he deserves whatever honor I can provide.

I met him at the University of Florida in the late 70s when I took his APL class (furlongs per fortnight, anyone?).
During this time, I got to know him and found him to be brilliant, inspiring, warm, patient, helpful, and essentially one of the most interesting people I have met in my life. Say what you will, he definitely made an impression on everyone he met.

He was the best example of 'thinking outside the box' of any teacher I have ever had -- I hope he is still 'thinking outside the box' wherever he is today.

With kindest regards,
Jack Condon
June 7, 2014
A student at U of F in the late '70s, I credit this great man with inspiring in me the passion to pursue computer engineering as a lifelong career, and especially to think outside the box.

Dr. Selfridge, I will always remember your "colored sidewalk stones" problem in APL class, and that "personal IBM computer" that ran APL you had back when serious computers took up whole buildings.

Thank you. You are missed.
Noel Carboni
February 15, 2014
I miss you, still.
Thomas McGuire
December 23, 2013
Unfortunately, I only know Ralph Selfridge through postings like these, and through memories from the family of his old friend John Maxfield. These were shared with me because I now have the privilege of owning the 1930 Rolls-Royce convertible coupe that these two gentlemen once owned and loved. I wish I had known both of these very special people.
Peter Zobian
March 19, 2013
I can deny that he rode a bicycle to class every day. He drove his Austin Healy Sprite twice a week to Dayton to teach calculus to six fortunate Fairview High School students. I was one. After the exam he offered to discuss anything we wanted. The immediate response was, "What is cricket?"
David Tomberg
November 2, 2010
Ralph, I learned so much from you. It was such a privilege to have you chair my PhD Committee. I regret not having kept in closer touch with you over the years. I guess that is all too typical of us mathematicians. I guess it is appropriate to send a greeting during All-Saints-tide.
Reverdy Wright
March 25, 2010
I had the good fortune to meet Ralph in 1979 as part of an NSF summer science program for high school students. Then 13, I had developed an interest in speech processing, and ended up working with a group that shared his lab. This led, inevitably, to interactions with Ralph, and to my learning APL with his encouragement and support. His warmth was evident then, but it is only in hindsight, after ten years in academia, that I have come to appreciate the generosity of spirit that would tolerate -- never mind encourage -- such a distraction to his duties.

If there are two characteristics that define Ralph as I remember him, they are his warmth and the joy and love that he brought to his teaching. His example was one of the inspirations for my own teaching approach at Johns Hopkins 21 years later.

You were an inspiration to all of us, Dr. Selfridge. Rest in peace.
Jonathan Shapiro, Ph.D.
March 23, 2010
Aah, the smell of Turkish coffee in his office...

We'll miss you, Dr. S.
Ralph Kuntz, MD
March 20, 2010
I was a math/computer science (APL) student of his in December, 1973. His enthusiasm for conveying the concepts of precision and conciseness was unmatched! That very feature of APL, expressed so diligently by Dr. Selfridge, lead to my following a career path of 30 years in APL. In fact, I was beginning to mention this to him in my next writing to him about my retirement - when I found out of his passing. His major, but unknowing contribution to my life and his kindness in our seldom correspondence over subsequent years will not ever be forgotten.
Clyde Minton
October 11, 2009
I attended Dr. Selfridge's APL course in 83 or 84. His influence led me to perform a recent search.

If you possess the gift to teach, please teach! So many remember in their own fashion those that help shaped who they are.

Cheers Dr. Selfridge!
Allen Chambers
August 18, 2009
I took Dr. Selfridge's APL course in 1978-79 as a graduate student in education. I knew nothing about programming, computers, or APL, and very little mathematics. For some reason, Dr. Selfridge really liked me, possibly because, as he said, I came to his class with no assumptions or preconceptions about problem-solving, unlike all the other students, who for the most part knew a lot of math and were experienced with other sorts of programming.

I recall well a couple of the problems he posed and his method of teaching, which has influenced some of my ideas as a mathematics teacher (yes, incredibly, I went back to school in my 30s as a non-matriculating student in NYC, became a certified h.s. math teacher, taught remedial math at Borough of Manhattan Community College in the early 1990s, and earned a master's in mathematics education at the University of Michigan in 1997).

One thing in particular impressed me: he knew how to give just the right amount of "hint" on a problem so that I could become unstuck but still get the full satisfaction of solving the problem myself. That was a talent very few teachers in any field possess, I fear, particularly in math-intensive courses.

I recently started playing with APL again and bumped into his name on-line. I was saddened, though not shocked, to learn of his passing. And I was excited to see this site and know that I wasn't alone in appreciating him as a remarkable teacher and, as Ed Neu said, "definitely one of the good guys."
Michael Paul Goldenberg
August 5, 2009
I worked a bit on Dr Selfridge's Sunbeam Alpine as well as took his APL class. I remember him telling my class that "APL was only only real computer language, the rest were computer pornography".

He was definitely one of the good guys.
Ed Neu
June 26, 2009
I've only just found this through a Google search, casually looking for where my favourite professor is now. I'm sad, this time, to find the answer.

In 1974 thru 1977, I was finishing my mathematics degree at University of Florida, and studying computer science -- I went on to a career at IBM, where the latter served me much more than the former. I met Dr Selfridge early in that time, and loved him immediately for his quirky style, his quick wit, and his easy rapport with the students who could appreciate him.

Dr Selfridge taught me the finer details of the APL programming language, as well as many aspects of being a first-class computer scientist. I'm grateful to him for his role in where my life and career went.

Some of that learning happened in class, and some of it happened at the Rathskellar or the Orange and Brew on Friday afternoons, in what he called the Alcoholic Programmers' League. We, the students who joined him, felt rather like accolytes accompanying Plato or Socrates.

Over the years, I've wished I'd kept in touch with Dr S, but settled for the occasional Google search. I'll search no more, now, but I'll always remember Ralph Selfridge with very, very much fondness.
Barry Leiba
June 3, 2009
The time has passed so swiftly since Ralph died. As we gear up for our trek to hold a memorial in the Wind River Range I am saddend once again that he is not here. I really miss his guidance, advice and expertise. Life sure isn't the same. But we must carry on, and so we shall.
October 1, 2008
I spent a wonderful summer in 1995 at Betty's house in Brooksville. I will always remember Ralph smiling with a mischievous and intelligent glint in his eyes.

I did not get to see him all that often that summer (he and Betty always seemed to be off on hikes and spending time at his house in Gainesville!), but I admired how comfortable he and Betty were in each other's company, especially as they spent quiet mornings together reading in the great room.

My condolences to the family and to Betty, who generously opened her home to me for a special summer in Florida.
Christina Chan
September 30, 2008
Ralph Selfridge
Given Ralph, he undoubtedly loudly resisted sitting for portrait photos! But here's one that DID get taken, somehow, so I want to share it with you. -- His sister Jennifer
Jennifer Macleod
September 19, 2008
Dearest Grandpa,
I shall surely miss you for a long time, Grandpa, but every tree and rock and wild flower I encounter will remind me of the hikes I went on with you; every cloud will remind me of the flights we shared. Every day when I rise to a beautiful sun rise or go to sleep looking out my window at the brilliant stars, it will remind me of you and your unbridled joy in nature and life and family. You are still here on earth with me through the many lovely memories we made, and for that I will be eternally grateful. I love you, Grandpa..... so very, very much.
Your Young Lady Always,
Kelly Boal
PS- My Algebra is great..... As a matter of fact, I have the top grade in my class thanks to a very special tutor.
Kelly Boal
September 9, 2008
My condolences to family and friends.

I was a student in his feared Numerical Methods class. I learned tremendously from his emphasis on taking a holistic approach to problem solving and somehow earned an A.

He was a solid sponsor and advisor of our student chapter of the ACM and I enjoyed discussing the sometimes challenging dynamics of academic and institutional computing -- of which he was a pioneer.

He was very proud of his "one line" APL solution of the Eight Queens problem, imparting a sense of delight with developing algorithms and solving problems.

I wish I had flown with him, but will in spirit. I hope he knew the impact he had on his students and colleagues.
Bradley Spatz
September 7, 2008
Simply put, you are a good man. You made life more of an adventure for many and brought joy to all. I have only the fondest of memories of you from my life.
You will be missed by the family.

For a final toast: To the ladies, God bless 'em!
Seth Rushton
September 7, 2008
Dear fellow family members & friends:

My Uncle Ralph was definitely one of a kind! I will always remember his unusual choice of gift to me on the occasion of my wedding in 1990--a cooler full of Florida alligator meat, delivered to my doorstep! Even as a young child I realized that Uncle Ralph marched to his own drummer, and that was a good and wonderful thing! It never ceased to amaze me to see him wearing sandals in the dead of winter when he came up north to NJ to visit. He always made me smile, and I will savor memories of his zest for life and his love for his family.

Pamela J. Macleod
September 6, 2008

We are so saddened by the loss of Ralph. You have both been wonderful neighbors and hosts. I only wish I had the chance to talk with Ralph about his work at China Lake, to which I too did some work but didn't know we had a common link until reading his obituary. If there is anything we can do to ease your pain, help with the house or whatever, you know you can count on us. Please don't hesitate to contact us for anything.

The Humphrey's
John Humphrey
September 5, 2008

Hiking will never be the same. You brought so much pleasure into our grandmother's and our lives you will never be forgottwn.
Will Rushton
September 4, 2008
September 4th, 2008

My Dearest Daddy,

I want you to know how very much I love and miss you!

I want you to know how growing up with you as my daddy and sharing your gifts from the heart have made me whom I am today. These gifts I hold dear because you gave them to me.

You gave me the gift of a father's bond with his daughter.

You gave me the gift of a great education.

You gave me the gift of semantics, and a rich love of language.

You gave me the gift of loving to learn.

You gave me the gift of empathy and generosity.

You gave me the gift of manners and taught me how to behave as a proper young lady always should.

You gave me the gift of travel and experiencing new places.

You gave me the gift of humor through your quick wit and twinkling blue eyes.

You gave me the gift of faith in never giving up on my prayer to become a teacher and mother one day.

And most important of all, you gave me the gift of a lifetime of neverending love.

I will never forget your beautiful gifts and will always love and appreciate you for being such a special part of my life.

You will live on forever in a precious place in my heart where I will love, admire and respect you always!

Hugs and Kisses,

Your Tish
Elizabeth Doubrava
September 4, 2008
Ralph was around 50 when I met him, I filled his cave diving tanks at Merritt Enterprises where I worked part time as a teenager. We became friends, he and Chuck took me on as a cave diving partner, we dove together for five years around Gainesville and as far away as Madison Blue, Peacock Slough, Devils Eye and many other places. I remember more than once I wanted to go a 'little further' in the cave, he would write on his slate, 'Let's live to dive another day.' He brought a candelabra to picnics at dive sites, what a lively character he was! May we all live such interesting lives!
Lisa Floyd
September 4, 2008
My dear Leah,
So sorry for your loss. Will hug you soon I hope with my condolences. that no words can really be expressed. Very lovingly,
Gloria Janke Harber
September 4, 2008
My first memories of Dr Selfridge were in the early seventies. My dad had a T hangar next to his at the airport. I remember he has just got his beloved N8189Z and Cessna 205. I remember he always had his dogs with him, they loved the airport. Doc as I called him was just a heck of a good guy I have spent many a hour talking airplanes and flying with him. I earned his trust by maintaining 8189Z for the past 25 years. Last year he painfully sold 8189Z to a freind of mine I hooked him up with and kept the aircraft based in Gainesville . I last saw him maybe 3 weeks ago and was deeply saddened to here of his passing. It was a privelage to know him I will miss him alot .
scott lambert
September 4, 2008
I attended UF betweeen 1987-1992 and had Dr. Selfridge's terrifying numerical methods course. Probably the proudest accomplishment I had at UF was turning a weak C into an A by acing the final. Through that final he taught me to stop periodically and stand back to survey the land, because sometimes the answers hide right under your nose.

I also listened with envy to his tales of the trails after he would return from his summer breaks. I follow in his footsteps trying to find those lost wild places filled with only my presence and the amazing beauty of this world.

Dr. Selfridge, although he will be missed, lives on through the lessons he taught.
Philip Kufeldt
September 4, 2008
My deepest sympathies to Dr. Selfridge's family. He always had a twinkle in his eye and a kind word. I worked with Dr. Selfridge for over 15 years in the CIS Department. He was a kind and caring human being who always made you laugh when you really needed it. He stopped by my office a few weeks ago to say hello and to "just give me a hug". I had not seen Dr. Selfridge for quite some time so that visit will always be special.
Mary Slone
September 3, 2008
We had the pleasure of having Ralph as our neighbor directly across the street for 10 years. We have fond memories of many cookouts which he always invited us to. We loved hearing his stories of his adventures as he traveled the world. He had such a zest for life. He loved his family, his work,( he never wanted to give up his office at UF), retirement so he could travel more, his green bike, his plane and his convertibles! He so enjoyed playing his classical music while he worked on his Sunbeam in the driveway. Rain or shine Ralph could be found out "training" in the neighborhood with full pack for his next hiking adventure! Ralph was one of the most kind, adventurous, unique and brilliant friend we have had! Ralph we will miss you!
Ed and Alora Haynes
September 3, 2008
To Ralph's family and friends my heart felt condolences.... the world is now shorted one kindly gentleman that shared his wisdom....Thank you.
Thomas Fallat
September 3, 2008
The way I heard it, he flew his Cessna 205 from Gainesville to a backcountry airstrip in the Wind River Range in one day, spent twelve days backpacking, flew back to Gainesville in one day, and was ready to teach on Monday. That's a classy way to spend a two-week vacation.

Seemed like every time we had dinner with Ralph, he'd offer two toasts: "To we'uns, by far the best!" and "To the lydees, Gor' bless 'em!"
Mallory Selfridge
September 3, 2008
RALPH -- I'll always remember your smile -- that inscrutable Ernest Hemingway smile -- particularly after the first glass of wine!! And thank you for the privilege of being married to your wonderful sister, Jennifer.

I'll never forget the terrific time we spent with you and Betty on the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of your escape from England just before the Battle of Britain in 1940. And how Selfridges [the store's staff] made us feel at home.

Rest well, old chap.
Robert Marchisotto
September 3, 2008
Ralph was to me always a wonderful brother.

When we were 7 and 8, we used to walk up to Kensington High Stree to takle the bus to Colet Court, our prep school in London. Ralph noticed that the buses that worked all the way, nos. 11 and 73, were both prime numbers, while a bad one, 27, was a cube and went to Streatham.

One of the worst parts of his life was when he was eight and came down for over two months with mastoiditis, which kept him in bed. Bed was in the top floor of our house at Friars Lawn, after we had moved from Kensington.

I mention those because nobody else can remember those, not even Jennifer, though the mastoid memory may be there.

But joy and happiness were aways his, and he gave them freely away. He also shared his vigorous and active intellectual curiosity and his other activities.
Oliver Selfridge
September 3, 2008
I remember having dinner with Ralph as a newly-wed. He asked me and my husband, Carl, if we would like our steak "rare or ruint". I still use his expression (with the rolled r's) regularly, and think of him with a smile every time!
Crystal Miles
September 3, 2008
As Ralph’s only sister, I am flooded by happy memories of our childhood together, and of the not-frequent-enough times we were together since then. I am also flooded by feelings of great gratitude to all his many friends, and especially to Betty and the many members of his extended family, who helped make his later years so very happy and fulfilling. I know it’s hackneyed to say this, but please accept both my gratitude and my deepest sympathies. But let’s CELEBRATE who Ralph was and what he has meant to all of us. Hey, “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe.”
Jennifer Macleod
September 3, 2008
I am very grateful to have known Ralph these last 19 years. He was very kind to my children and me and accepted us into his family so graciously. The love of nature and flying that he has given to us is forever a part of him we will cherish.
He is greatly missed and loved.
Debra Boal
Invite others to add memories
Share to let others add their own memories and condolences