Rodger Gottfrid Knaus, Jr.

Rodger Gottfrid Knaus, Jr.

Died November 28, 2002

Rodger Knaus was a computer pioneer. In graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, he was working on computer linguistics and artificial intelligence long before the rest of us had even heard the terms.

He also met his first wife, Jane, there, and together they became involved in the anti-war movement, campaigning on behalf of Eugene McCarthy in the 1968 presidential primaries. Time magazine published a letter to the editor in which Rodger argued that a choice between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey was a choice between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Unwilling to have their taxes used to support the war, they took their life savings of $2,000 and moved to Sweden where their son, Eric, was born. They returned to the United States in 1971, and Rodger earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Irvine.

The couple moved to Washington, DC in 1975, where Rodger worked for the Census Bureau for five years developing computer programs. Thereafter, he worked for the National Library of Medicine and taught computer science at American University. Then Rodger started his own business, Instant Recall Inc., developing software programs for the Department of Transportation. He also designed a program for the National Cancer Institute which allowed doctors to share their research online for the first time.

Rodger and Jane divorced in the 1980s and he met his second wife, Ginny, by advertising himself as a “recovering workaholic” in Washingtonian magazine. On their first date, Ginny recalls, “he said I looked like Berkeley.”

Rodger was a runner who competed in the Marine Corps Marathon three times. He had been a member of the Concert Band at Yale and remained a dedicated clarinet player, transitioning from classical to jazz. He was also an amateur stand-up comic who performed at church retreats and came up with “The Great Zucchini,” the stage name used by his son, Eric, who has become the most popular and successful children’s entertainer in the Washington area.

On a trip to Austria where Ginny was singing in a chorus at the Salzburg Cathedral, Rodger noticed the first sensation of what turned out to be a brain tumor. Ginny remembers leaving the house one day for his surgery and having Rodger tell her to wait a minute while he went to his computer. She found out later he was arranging the finances so she wouldn’t have to worry about them. “Here he was rapidly losing all the strength on his right side, and he was doing that,” Ginny recalls.

Rodger died on November 28, 2002, but The Great Zucchini is still performing.

Gordon Goldberg Bear remembers: Rodger provided good company as a roommate of mine for our junior and senior years. He and I shared an interest in mathematics, which was his major. One afternoon he returned to our suite exclaiming over the class he had just attended. “We worked through the equations of quantum mechanics,” he said, or words to that effect. “Now I understand quantum tunneling” (google it). His eyes were bright with the glint of a scholar. What a fine mind he had.

After graduation he and I fell out of touch, alas, but in 1968 I spotted a letter to the editor he published in Time magazine. He stated that the presidential candidates (Humphrey, Nixon, and Wallace) offered no real choice and concluded, “We’re voting with our feet and moving to Sweden.” I hope someone has documented his entire life, which ended unfairly soon.

Willem Cronje remembers: An honest, direct, man, whose love was mathematics and music.

Larry Taylor remembers: Rodger was a member of the marching band in part due to his extreme enthusiasm for Yale football. His goal was to see the Elis so far ahead of Harvard that when reaching the goal line, the team would line up in punt formation and boot the ball right out of the Bowl instead of scoring another touchdown.

Howard Bernstein remembers: Freshman Year roommate at Durfee Hall, but lost touch after that year.