Professor Emeritus William “Bill” Lane, who taught computer science for 31 years, passed away October 19. He was 93.
Born November 4, 1927, in Gresham, Oregon, he joined the US Navy in 1946 and served for two years. After exiting the service, he earned a BS from Stanford University, an MS from the University of Southern California, and a PhD from University of California, Davis—all in electrical engineering.
Lane began his career designing electrical circuits for rockets and missiles in the defense industry before he was hired in 1960 to join the electrical engineering faculty at Chico State College. He subsequently established the first computer science degree program in the California State University system. Described as a pioneer in undergraduate education and a dedicated mentor to students, he initiated and taught the University’s first computing classes in 1961, single-handedly led the acquisition of campus’ first computer in 1962, and founded electrical engineering’s computer science degree option in 1964 and the BS and MS in computer science in 1968.
“Dr. Bill Lane a true pioneer in the field of computing and related technologies,” said retired Professor Emeritus Orlando Madrigal, describing him as both a mentor and a caring friend. “A popular teacher and advisor, he was highly regarded and admired by colleagues as someone who had solid background in computing technology and was always available to assist in the development of academic programs that had the potential to be on the cutting edge. He was always receptive and supportive of faculty who sought to bring new ideas to curricula development.”
Lane was known to colleagues and students alike as brilliant, forthright, and passionate, with a strategic, forward-thinking vision that greatly impacted the field of computer science. He served as director of the Chico State Computer Center from 1963–68 and 1972–76; program director and chair of the Computer Science Department from 1964–74; and the first dean of what is now the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Construction Management from 1974–80.
“He was one of the best mentors of young faculty that we had at Chico. He was always available and willing to listen,” said Larry Wear, retired chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering. “He was also one of the best, if not the best, deans we ever had for engineering and computer science. He was great working with outside companies to get donations and resources for all the programs. And he was there 12 hours a day to help you anytime you needed help, both faculty and students.”
Lane was also rare among deans, Wear said, for insisting on teaching at least one class a year so he could stay in touch with students and get a chance to talk to them directly. He cared deeply about their success and the quality of the programs that were being offered.
Lane also facilitated external degree programs, such as the China Lake Naval Weapons Center program, and secured millions of dollars in grants to fund the applied research and projects, classroom technology, and equipment that helped solidify the University’s reputation as a leader in computer science education. He also worked as a faculty advisor on statewide computing advisory committees and expert consultant for companies like Hewlett-Packard.
His proudest honor was receiving the Advisor of the Year award in 1988. He provided students with scholarships, stipends, and work opportunities, and maintained relationships with mentees throughout their careers. He also created corporate partnerships that continue to benefit today’s students.
“Bill had a very strong personality, he expressed his opinions very forcefully, and in doing so was able to convince people of the importance of work that they knew little about,” said retired colleague Ken Secor, noting how unfamiliar the average person was with even the concept of computers in the 1960s. “He was full of energy and a good man to do the job.”
Lane retired in 1992 and moved with his wife, Jeanne, to Newscastle, where they lived for 32 years. More recently, they had moved to Lincoln, and then Sparks, Nevada.
He is survived by his wife, Jeanne; children David, Jeffrey, Grantland, Anne, and Jennifer; four grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. The family requests memorial contributions in his name support Chico State’s W. Gary Sitton Memorial Scholarship to support computer science majors. No services are planned at this time.
The University flag will be lowered on Thursday, November 4, in his memory.