Tribute to Robert B. France

Robert B. FranceIt is with considerable sadness that we learned of the passing of Prof. Robert B. France, on Sunday, February 15th, 2015 at 19h50. He left not in pain, after a battle against a cancer for which he never gave up. He was 54 years old.

Robert was an outstanding researcher. A was a pioneer in the cross-fertilization of formal methods and informal or semi-formal specification languages used in software engineering. His work provided the scientific foundations of the “integrated methods” which have evolved into a rigorous model-driven engineering (MDE). His contributions in the fields of languages, verification, and modeling have provided the mathematical tools used in the design of critical systems. The exceptional quality of his work on modeling, and his contribution to the object-oriented programming and modeling community, was honored in 2014 with the AITO Dahl-Nygaard Senior Prize, awarded on the occasion of the ECOOP conference. The steering committee of the MODELS conference also awarded him in January 2015 the first MODELS Career award.

Robert was a recognized teacher, both for his teaching skills, the proximity with the students, and his ability to share his vision. Sharing knowledge with students always concerned him. He actively participated in the democratization of computer science education, being a member of the steering committee of the “IEEE/ACM Computer Science Curriculum Recommendation, CS2013” and head of the committee “IEEE Curricula.” He was responsible for the international program REUSSI, and a mentor for many researchers around the world and helped them to develop a culture and scientific rigor, as well as appreciating the richness of this job. Since 2014, he was “Professor Laureate” at Colorado State University (CSU), the highest honor that can be awarded to a teacher, recognizing his qualities (see the announcement and the video).

Robert was passionate about the animation of the scientific community. He was a founding member of the pUML initiative to define a formal semantics for the UML standard. He organized the first UML conference in 1999 in Denver, and the first edition of the newly renamed MODELS conference in 2005 at Montego Bay, Jamaica. He was also a founding member and editor-in-chief of the SoSyM Journal. More recently, he promoted various initiatives to take a new step in MDE through a maturation phase: the ReMoDD initiative which aims at the creation of a repository of models to build experimental results that are sound and reproducible; and the GEMOC initiative which aims to develop the foundations, methods and tools to facilitate the creation, integration and automated processing of heterogeneous modeling languages.

Robert was a child of the Caribbean. Always concerned by providing an excellent training, he worked a lot to enable young researchers to access studies, build their academic networks and benefit from exceptional collaborations. He devoted his energy to allow Caribbean students to access their expected studies. These efforts join the heritage of the Caribbean, awarded in 2014 by the Institute of Caribbean Studies.

Robert has played a major role in the development and dynamics of the French Software Engineering academic community. Since 2000 he had been a visiting professor at the Universities of Nice, Pau, Rennes and Toulouse. He was a keynote speaker in various French summer schools and conferences (e.g., the French SE days in Rennes, 2012 ; see the video and the gallery). He also hosted many French professors and students, at FAU and CSU. Robert held an international chair in the DiverSE team at INRIA, a French research institute in Computer Science, from 2013 to 2017. His last visit in Rennes was in last October and November 2014.

All his French colleagues will remember his passion for sharing and Science, his openness and willingness to grow individuals and communities. Robert was a warm man, a mentor, a role model for young people and the community. Robert cherished the importance of knowledge and an approach of science where everything has to happen naturally and ideas take time to mature. Robert was open to the world. Robert loved the debates, favoring listening and time to be convinced by new ideas. Robert was a man who loved life.

With this text we wish to pay tribute to this beautiful person who left us too soon. We convey our most sincere condolences to Robert’s family. All our thoughts are continuously going to his wife, Sheri, son Richard, and daughter Jeanelle.

(Translation from the original text in French, as a tribute to Robert for all he has offered to the French academic software engineering community. Text written by Benoit Combemale, Benoit Baudry, Jean-Marc Jézéquel, Jean-Michel Bruel, Philippe Lahire and Philippe Collet, February 19th, 2015.)