Professor Emeritus Pat Terry

Prof Pat Terry
Prof Pat Terry

Distinguished Alumni Award 2018

Professor Emeritus Pat Terry is an international author who has made major contributions in the disciplines of Computer Science and Information Technology.

Throughout his life, Prof Terry has become increasingly well-known for his work in the areas of compilers and computer languages. He served on the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) group responsible for standardising the Modula-2 programming language.   It was at the meetings of this committee that a serendipitous contact was established with a fellow Modulan, one Randy Bush, which led to Prof Terry’s involvement in the establishment of the first email and networking connections between South Africa and the rest of the world.  For a period during the late 1980s into the early 1990s, all South African universities' email flowed through PCs at Rhodes and in Portland, Oregon.  It was for this and his many other major contributions to the disciplines of Computer Science and Information Technology that he was recognised by the South African Institute of Computer Scientists and Information Technologists (SAICSIT), who awarded him the Pioneers in Computing Award in 2010.

Prof Terry attended Rhodes University between 1963 and 1968, during which time he worked on the University’s ICT 1301 computer, one of the first computers to be installed at a university in the country.  Among his memorable escapades of that time was the development of a Computer Dating service, of which the academic staff disapproved but in which they clandestinely engaged. One of the more serious programs that the computer ran became known as Ray Tracing for Initial Values as Follows program, which was developed for Prof Terry's Master’s thesis entitled Radio ray tracing at very low frequencies when the effects of heavy ions are included. The program used to run overnight and Prof Terry was often found in a sleeping bag on the floor of the computer room.

Prof Terry received scholarships to complete his PhD in Physics at Cambridge University and returned to Rhodes immediately after obtaining it.  Starting off as a Lecturer in Applied Mathematics, he was later appointed as a Senior Lecturer in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science.  By 1981, he occupied the position of Professor of Computer Science in the then newly-created Department of Computer Science. During his professorship, he served two terms as Head of Department.  For the duration of his tenure, Prof Terry served as Assistant Dean of Science, later Deputy Dean and finally Dean of the Science Faculty until 2008. He was also involved in several Rhodes University Committees including the Rhodes University Executive Committee of Senate, various Bursary Committees and the Library Committee.

His reputation as a dedicated and demanding lecturer is legendary among generations of students and he has inspired many to become lecturers themselves, who now teach all over the world.  Many of these students recall with mixed feelings his so-called “24 hour examination” which became known as a testing rite of passage for his third year students.

In 1992, he received the second-ever Vice-Chancellor's Award for Distinguished Teaching in recognition of his dedication and excellence in teaching.

Prof Terry is also well-known internationally for his many textbooks on Compiler Construction and Computer Programming and he has had numerous journal articles published, with a special focus on pedagogical issues in Computer Science.  

While he retired officially at the end of 2010, Prof Terry’s work at Rhodes did not stop there. He not only carried on teaching the third-year compiler course up until 2017, but continued to provide an enormous amount of administrative support to the University in the areas of timetabling and exam result processing on which, it is said, he worked well into the night where required.

Prof Terry has proved to be a selfless individual who has made major contributions to the disciplines of Computer Science and Information Technology.  He embodies the ethos of our institution and has demonstrated all the qualities expected of a recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award. Rhodes University is proud to bestow this honour on Prof Terry.