Alan L. Selman

Alan was a loving husband, father and grandfather. He was very proud of the accomplishments of his two children, Jeffrey and Heather, and nurtured them by example. Likewise, he encouraged me in my academic pursuits. And he always had room in his heart for his five grandchildren, Sarah, Elana, Benjamin, Rebecca, and Eliza. We met in college on April Fool’s Day almost 61 years ago, a day before his 19th birthday and 3 days before my 17th birthday.


He was a scholar, having received his PhD in mathematics, but soon transitioning into computer science at the dawn of that field. Over his 40+ year career he helped to shape the field of theoretical computer science (he always said it was really mathematics), mentoring students, post doctoral fellows, younger faculty and colleagues with kindness and grace. His awards include a Fulbright award, Humboldt award, an award from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, and the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities from the University at Buffalo, where he spent the final 24 years of his career. He was an ACM Fellow and received the ACM-SIGACT Distinguished Service Prize for co-founding the Conference on Computational Complexity (formerly known as Structures in Complexity Theory) and serving as its first Chair. I still remember the week he and Steve Mahaney spent sitting in my living room writing the grant to fund the first meeting, which took place in 1986. The conference has taken place every year since then, either in the US or another country – it was decided many years ago that since the attendees were international it should take place internationally. Alan also was an editor on several journals, and served as Editor-in-Chief of Theory of Computing Systems (TOCS) for 18 years (the last 4+ years after he retired from his teaching position at UB.


Alan loved math, but he also loved music and art. That could include collecting, museums, concerts, opera, theater, ballet and the like. His college education was broad enough (and, of course, his grades were good enough) in the liberal arts to earn him membership in Phi Beta Kappa.


Alan also loved to travel and we traveled many places for his work, to conferences and the like. But we always took some extra time wherever we went for exploring on our ow


n. His first big trip was a few months after we met. His father helped him get an amazing summer job between college semesters. He worked as a merchant marine (yes, he had merchant marine papers) and sailed on a ship from New Orleans and Houston across the Atlantic to Spain and Le Havre. I remember him telling me how he took a bus from the latter to Paris to spend a few hours in that city, where he bought a bottle of champagne and drank it on the way back to Le Havre. On the ship he had mundane tasks like chipping rust. But on nights when he had night watch, he enjoyed the expansive night sky and could be found writing poetry on the deck.


Sharon Selman, wife and soul mate


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