January 1934 - June 18, 2007
Emile Edward Attala, an accomplished engineer and computer scientist who loved nothing more than Middle Eastern dinners surrounded by family and friends, passed away Monday, June 18, 2007, surrounded by his family in his San Luis Obispo home.
He was 73 and had been battling liver disease for the past three years.
In many ways, Emile's life was the fulfillment of the American dream. His robust career spanned many fields, from petroleum engineering, to aerospace work for NASA's Apollo missions, to computer science professor at Cal Poly.
He was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1934. In 1958, he was one of the first Egyptians to earn a degree in petroleum engineering. He then worked in the oil fields of the Middle East for four years before deciding to immigrate to America. In 1962, he enrolled at the University of California Berkeley to pursue a master's degree in engineering.
While at Berkeley, he met and married Ellen Patricia Keating. Their marriage produced twin sons, Edward and John, and would last nearly 27 years until her death in 1991.
Emile, who became a U.S. citizen in 1967, made headlines in 1995 when the Tom Hanks movie "Apollo 13" opened. In a feature in The Tribune, Emile recounted his role as part of a three-man team that programmed the back-up system for the troubled spaceship's 1970 flight to the moon.
"We never expected it to have to take over and navigate the Apollo 13," Emile told The Tribune. "It was designed for that, but we never expected it to be used."
It was always a source of amusement to his sons that Emile could make the technical and complex seem simple, and yet he couldn't learn to ride a bike.
Soon after the Apollo 13 rescue, Emile left the aerospace industry to become an associate professor in the new computer science department at Cal Poly. In shifting his career, his son John recalled, "He was simply following his passion. He had discovered the beauty of teaching. Teaching and telling stories, those were his passions."
So was learning: He obtained his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of California Santa Barbara while teaching at Cal Poly. In 1978 he was appointed chairman of the Computer Science and Statistics Department, and retired from Cal Poly as a professor emeritus in 1997.
While at Cal Poly, he developed evening and weekend workshops to introduce local business owners how to use new and emerging technology '" personal computers.
As much as he loved teaching, Emile was perhaps more passionate about family, friends and food. "He loved nothing more than being with a group of people, telling stories, cooking them his beloved Middle Eastern cuisine and sharing his heritage,'' said his son, John.
"And he adored his grandchildren," Ed said. "No matter how sick he was the past few years, he loved to tell everyone about his grandchildren, and he appreciated each one's unique character and personality."
Emile had the unique ability to befriend people of every generation and took pleasure in the fact that many of his sons' friends became his own.
He was fluent in English, French and Arabic, and was also passionate about theater. For many years, he volunteered with the SLO Little Theatre, and annually he would travel to Paris to spend a week or so taking in plays, musicals and opera.
Emile is survived by his son, Edward, his wife, Molly, and their children Alexandra, Megan and Nicholas; son, John, and his wife, Kelly, and their children Sarah, Ella and Nolan; Emile's three younger brothers Samir, Fouad and Medhat and their families.
A rosary will be recited at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 21, 2007, at Reis Family Mortuary, 991 Nipomo, San Luis Obispo, with visitation following
A funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Friday, June 22, 2007, at Old Mission Church in downtown San Luis Obispo, with burial to follow at Los Osos Valley Mortuary and Memorial Park, 2260 Los Osos Valley Road.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to either Hospice Partners of the Central Coast, 277 South Street, SLO, 93401, or SLO Little Theatre, 888 Morro St., SLO, 93401
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Published by San Luis Obispo County Tribune from Jun. 20 to Jun. 21, 2007.