Sam was a close friend, a mentor, and an inspiration. I owe many good things in my life to Sam's timely, and often selfless, advice.
I first met Sam on my graduate school interview at Caltech in 1996 though I already knew of him because Geoff Hinton had told me to look him up. Sam had done his undergraduate thesis with Geoff and, as you might expect, greatly impressed him. Though, as we later found out, Sam and I had common friends and experiences from undergrad and high school.
Sam and I both did our undergraduate degrees at the University of Toronto (U of T) though he was two years ahead of me. Sam did his B Eng in Engineering Science, the most difficult undergraduate degree at U of T. In his first year, Sam led his engineering frosh team to victory in their scavenger hunt by single-handedly procuring a transit bus and driving it back to Skule.
Before U of T, Sam attended University of Toronto Schools (UTS), a high school for gifted students. We knew some of the same UTS people and we were at the same Model UN assemblies where Sam's Iraq delegation entertained all us by arranging a visit to the General Assembly by (a fake) Saddam Hussein, managing to get debate stopped repeatedly for calls to prayer (to the consternation of the stiff US delegation from UCC), and in the end, arranging a successful coup of the conference.
On that initial Caltech visit, Sam quickly made me feel welcome and convinced his graduate department to delay my return flight one day so that I could join the CNS departmental retreat and get to know members of the department in a more relaxed setting. I slept on Sam's couch -- he was a dorm fellow (for undergrads) and had an extra room. At that retreat, Sam impressed me by openly criticizing plans to include a "consciousness module" in a upcoming grant proposal. At the time, it seemed brave and foolhardy to confront faculty as a graduate student. Later, I would realize that this was a reflection of Sam's strength of character and desire to do the right thing.
Sam and I reconnected at NIPS in 1998 and at the Gatsby in early 1999, when I was a graduate student and he was a postdoc. Many of us were transplanted from North America, Sam was a social beacon for us in a new, and surprisingly foreign, environment. With his inclusiveness and energy, Sam made the transition easier. In addition to all of the other things Sam was to that first batch of Gatsby students, Sam was a founder, and enthusiastic participant, in chicken escalope Friday's at the Onion when a large group of us would traipse down to "The Onion" sandwich shop in an attempt to optimize the size of our sandwiches. I also remember Sunday afternoons dancing at Lazy Dog in Nottinghill with Sam, a rare treat.
We drifted apart after I followed him to Toronto though I had the pleasure of meeting Meredith and I was happy that she and Sam came to my wedding. I will miss him, terribly.
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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