November 26, 1923–December 7, 2001
BY ROBERT G. GALLAGER
PROFESSOR PETER ELIAS, PROBABLY THE most important early researcher in information theory after Claude Shannon, died from Creutzfeld-Jacob disease at his Cambridge, Massachusetts, home on December 7, 2001. His three children—Daniel Elias, Paul Elias, and Ellen Elias-Bursac—were with him. His wife, Marjorie (Forbes), predeceased him in 1993 after 43 years of marriage. Pete was distinguished not only for his research but also as the head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Electrical Engineering Department during the crucial period from 1960 to 1966 when the department was changing its education from engineering practice to engineering science and when computer science was starting to be recognized as a major part of electrical engineering.
Among other honors, Pete was a fellow of the IEEE, a charter fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1975 and the National Academy of Engineering in 1979. He received the Claude E. Shannon Award, the highest honor of the IEEE Information Theory Society, in 1977. Somewhat belatedly he was the recipient of the Hamming Award, a major medal of the IEEE, immediately before his death.