David Hogan (dhog) - memorial

James Ruse obituary

From Gesta Non Verba, Issue 2, 25th June 2003


In the last week of term 1, one of our ex-students, David Hogan, was expected to attend an important meeting at Laurent Industries (formerly Bell Laboratories) in the USA. He did not arrive. When an investigation was carried out it was found that at the age of 34 he had died in his sleep probably from heart failure.

David came to James Ruse in 1981 having been the dux of Epping West Primary School. His areas of interests were Electronics, Computing, Science and Mathematics. His level of ability in Mathematics was first indicated by his winning prizes in the Australian Mathematics Competition in Years 8, 9 and 10. However in these years his chief love was Computing. He had designed his own computer, circuitry and all, by mid year 10, and took it to a Senior Lecturer in Computer Science who lived near his home. To David's disgust he was told that, although his work was outstanding, he would never possess the finances to set up commercial production. He went home and tipped all his computer equipment in a corner and picked up a Maths book. Six weeks later he sat for the UNSW IBM Mathematics Competition, successfully attempted all questions, coming first in the State in the Junior Division for year 7 to 10 students. This lead to an invitation to try out for the Australian School Mathematics Olympiad Team. To his complete surprise he was chosen to compete in Helsinki in 1985 while in year 11.

His mathematical ability developed rapidly. By early 1986, his classmate, Damian Sullivan, felt that he, Damian, was not good enough to continue with 4 unit mathematics. "Your problem isn't maths," I told him "it's geography. Don't sit next to David all the time". Eventually Damian came sixth in the state in the HSC in 4 unit mathematics. The gap between sixth student in the State and David Hogan was that immense. David spent his time in class reading third year and honours University Text books, taking occasional glances at the board, improving my explanations and level of vigour, and showing the class imaginative solutions to problems.

1986 was David's year. No James Ruse student before or since has matched his quadrella. I suspect no one from any other school has either. A bronze in the Mathematics Olympiad in Warsaw, first in the UNSW Mathematics Competition, a perfect score of 150 and a medal in the Australian Maths Competition (25 marks above second in NSW and 17 above second in Australia) and Room Medallist and first place in the State in the Four Unit Maths in the HSC.

David then proceeded to Sydney University where he obtained first class honours in Computer Science as he returned to his old obsession. He then obtained a Ph.D in Computing at Sydney University and eventually finished up involved in research in the experimental computing operating systems Plan 9 and Inferno being developed by Laurent Industries. His first task was to produce a compiler for C++ and he completed it superbly well. All his work followed the minimalist approach admired by software developers. A wonderful career in research beckoned before his unexpected death in early April.

David was a young man who loved life. He was fond of dancing and all types of music, especially industrial music. He thought deeply about the meaning of life and of issues important to the Australian and International communities. For example in his last email to sister Eleanor, also a James Ruse ex-student, with a Ph.D in English Literature, David was strongly critical of the coalition's activities against Iraq. I remember him in so many ways his polite interruptions to improve explanations given in 4 unit mathematics, his collecting donations at I.S.C.F. meetings for the World Vision child being sponsored by the group, his dancing happily at the school dance organized by the Maths staff to help raise funds for him to represent Australia overseas, his devastating ability in assembler to hide away all evidence of games programs brought to school by students to play on the library computer, his utter vagueness when not being brilliant and his gentle, humble nature.

His family has lost a greatly loved son; Australia and America have lost an outstanding intellect. James Ruse has lost a former student to whom much is owed by those who followed. David was the torch bearer for so many Olympiad Ruse students, an instigation of so much purchasing of materials for talented students by the school, an influence on mathematics programme development and the redevelopment of the 4 unit syllabus for the State in 1988 (still operating). As such, generations of students owe him a debt of gratitude for being himself, and using his abilities while spending 6 years at James Ruse.

But most of all I feel important lessons can be learnt from David Gordon Hogan. He pursued his interests to the greatest depth that his intellect could take him. He learnt for the sake of acquiring knowledge, with challenges presented to me so that he could grapple, not for the marks that he might obtain in tests. His learning was very much self directed. He did not feel that his teachers were the main font of wisdom. He did not believe that teachers should be held in any way responsible for his achievement, or for his failures. I suppose, in this new century, he could be considered something of a dinosaur in his attitude to learning and his lack of interest in financial rewards. But those who taught him, except for his English teachers, who he regularly shocked with the paucity of his written expression, admired him greatly.

May he rest in peace.

Michael Canty