Search the Archive:

March 17, 2004

Back to the Table of Contents Page

Back to The Almanac Home Page


Publication Date: Wednesday, March 17, 2004

George Pake, Xerox PARC founder, dies George Pake, Xerox PARC founder, dies (March 17, 2004)

George E. Pake, who lived in Portola Valley while he nursed the computer revolution as founder and director of the famed Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, died March 4 in Tucson, Arizona, after a long illness. He was less than a month shy of his 80th birthday.

Founded in 1970, Xerox PARC is famed as the incubator for many of the innovations that shape our digital world. The talented scientists hired and guided by Dr. Pake developed such pioneering innovations as the personal computer, the technology for the Internet, the laser printer, graphical user interface, client-server architecture, and more.

The citation for the National Medal of Science, which Dr. Pake received from President Reagan in 1987, reads: "Every institution he has served has been measurably strengthened by his contributions. ... PARC has achieved world renown for its contributions to the computer age."

"George had an enormous taste for talent," said Bob Bauer of Portola Valley, who was hired by Dr. Pake in 1970 and is still based at PARC. "He was given a mission to change the world, and he hired the best and the brightest."

Dr. Bauer, now chief technology officer for Xerox Global Services, recalls Dr. Pake as saying: "We hire DNA; we don't hire skills."

In a 1987 interview, Dr. Pake described institution-building to the Almanac: "You don't do it all by yourself. You do it by hiring the very best people available and giving them support; you turn them loose to do their thing."

Son of a college professor at Kent State University in Ohio, George Pake had a distinguished research and academic career before being recruited by Xerox. He earned bachelor and master of science degrees from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University), and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1948.

Starting with his Ph.D. thesis, Dr. Pake worked with a small group that pioneered research on nuclear magnetic resonance, the phenomenon that underlies today's MRI machines in many hospitals.

Dr. Pake spent more than 20 years as a physics professor and administrator at Washington University in St. Louis, where he became executive vice chancellor and provost in 1967, according to PARC. During that period, he was also appointed to President Johnson's Science Advisory Committee, and was a professor of physics at Stanford between 1956 and 1962.

In 1970, Xerox selected Dr. Pake to establish a new research center with a mission, in Dr. Bauer's words, "to diversify and become architects of information."

"He assembled the team and gave them the resources and the freedom and the context to change the world," Dr. Bauer said.

By some accounts, Dr. Pake was more interested in the physics endeavors at PARC than the more famous computer research. "He bet on the laser printer business for Xerox," said Dr. Bauer. "By 1980 it was the growth engine of the company."

From 1978 to 1986, Dr. Pake headed corporate research for Xerox. He also continued to be nationally prominent, becoming president of the American Physical Society in 1977, and serving on many professional and national committees.

He was co-author of three books, published more than 50 scientific papers, and received many awards. In 1983, the American Physical Society created the George E. Pake Prize to recognize physicists who combine original research with leadership in applying it in industry.

In 1987, Dr. Pake co-founded the Institute for Research on Learning at Xerox PARC with John Seely Brown, his chosen successor at PARC. From 1988 until this year, he was director emeritus.

Dr. Pake is survived by his wife, Marjorie of Tucson; three sons, Warren of Tucson, Stephen of Los Angeles, and Bruce of St. Louis; a daughter Catherine; and two grandchildren.

Friends may send messages or reflections to [email protected]; or visit

E-mail a friend a link to this story.

Copyright © 2004 Embarcadero Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Reproduction or online links to anything other than the home page
without permission is strictly prohibited.