After reading so many eloquent essays about Sam, I feel my words will be at best inadequate, but I want to contribute my personal remembrances of him, my personal reflection on how my life, all of our lives, were made better by having been graced by Sam's presence.
I first came upon Sam's work at Caltech in 1999, while doing a summer internship on spike sorting, and I was immensely impressed and humbled by his thesis work, which he had just completed before moving on to Gatsby for a postdoc. Sam and Maneesh's work were both very influential in my somewhat unusual decision to move across the big pond to do a PhD at Gatsby. When I interviewed at Gatsby in 2000, I thought, wow, Sam and the rest are such wonderful people on top of doing amazing work, I want to be like them! And that was a big reason for my moving abroad to an institute that was still very young and relatively obscure. During the year that we overlapped, I remember Sam was always delighting us all with his charm, wit, and humor. He taught us so much with his insightful and cutting comments at talks (though always so diplomatically presented), and with his beguilingly lucid presentations where he managed to explain complex concepts in such a way that you felt like you understood things at an intuitive level and could follow him effortlessly (even though afterwards you might wonder what kind of spell he cast on you that induced such presumptions). And yes, he always had a prepared slide for every conceivable question, that often generated a peel of laughter at the Q&A. To this day, I draw inspiration from his talks -- I try to attain a fraction of that unique lucidity in his presentations, and the foresight for questions in preparation of extra slides.
But beneath the jovial and light-hearted exterior, Sam was also a thoughtful, compassionate, and generous soul. Despite his extremely busy travel and work schedule in his last year at Gatsby, and the absence of real overlap in our research interests, he found the time and compassion to encourage me when I was down, to help me when I was lost, to befriend me when I was lonely.
On occasions such as these, one often encounters an abundance of superlatives. But in the case of Sam, I think no amount of superlatives can possibly do him justice. He was that special, a beacon of light that brightened the life of everyone that it happened to shine upon, however remotely. Even though we have not seen each other for several years, since our research interests diverged (though if he had had the chance to pursue active learning as he apparently planned to, we would've converged again), I can still hear his lively voice, and see the smile on face and twinkle in his eyes, in my mind. I hope that image will stay with me for a very, very long time! At least we will always have his tower of intellectual contributions to remember him by. You will be sorely, sorely missed, Sam!
Sam Roweis died unexpectedly on January 12, 2010.
He was a truly wonderful person; a beloved son, husband and father; and a treasured friend and colleague.
This is a place for all of us who were lucky enough to know Sam to share our memories and to help celebrate his life.
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