Thomas & Margaret Huang
1930s - 2020
Colleagues and Friends
Tom was an incredibly talented yet humble colleague who deeply supported those around him in a respectful fashion.
Head & Hoeft Chair Professor
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
It has been a great honor to have Tom as a colleague, mentor, role model, and friend for the past 33 years. When I came to the UIUC campus in 1987 as a starting Assistant Professor, Tom welcomed me with great warmth and kindness. I was immediately struck by the humbleness that he naturally exhibited despite his great stature. Since then, Tom has shown me through his work what truly great scholarship is like. He has a very gentle way to inspire his students. Over the years, I served on many of Tom’s PhD students’ committees. I have always been impressed with the deep, innovative technical work done by Tom’s students. More importantly, I can always feel the deep respect and admiration that the students have for Tom.
On April 25th, 2020, we lost a gentle giant whose life’s work has made tremendous impact on the world. Tom and Margaret’s passing is huge loss for all of us. They have given us the gift of great examples of how to live wonderful, fulfilling lives. They will be dearly missed by all of us. May Tom and Margaret rest in peace in heaven.
I am blessed to have been Tom’s colleague and close friend for over 26 years. Over the last few days since Tom’s passing, I have been thinking about him, thinking about our many interactions including the last conversations, one of which took place just a few hours before his passing. Many people knew Tom and I were special friends; I admired and loved Tom not just because he was a brilliant researcher, but also because he was a wonderful human being, a caring teacher and mentor, a sincere colleague and friend, and a humble and gracious person.
There are so many wonderful stories to share about Tom and his work; his commitment to mentoring students was particularly inspiring to me. During the last year of his life, he continued to come to work and participate in his weekly group meetings, to which I also attended. Although he came in a wheelchair, he was always in high spirits and enthusiasm. He asked tough questions, but also provided encouraging, insightful and helpful suggestions and guidance. This was especially impressive to me, since I knew how much he was struggling with his poor health.
Tom always held his students and colleagues in high regard. I had the privilege of helping Tom’s family and students organize the Huang Symposium, held in the Beckman Institute from September 30 to October 1, 2016, to celebrate Tom’s illustrious career on the occasion of his 80th birthday. During the closing ceremony, in response to a question of who had been his best student, Tom responded sincerely that each of his students was the best in their own way. That answer fully reflected who Tom was: no matter who you were, he always viewed you as the best, treated you as the best, made you feel you are the best, and helped you to become the best. I miss him, greatly.
Franklin W. Woeltge Professor, ECE Department
Co-chair, Integrative Imaging Theme, Beckman Institute
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
We were deeply saddened to hear over the weekend that Tom had just passed away, following the death of his beloved wife, Margaret, 3 months ago. They both were wonderful people, and Tangül and I greatly enjoyed their company, friendship, and hospitality on so many different occasions, whether it was dining, going to concerts, or going on trips. With Tom we even taught one semester (different sections of) an ECE course (313) together, and it was a unique, pleasant experience.
Tom was a true gentleman and scholar, and I had the pleasure and good fortune of interacting with him in different capacities—as a colleague in the ECE department, at the Beckman Institute, on a joint MURI project, and at the Center for Advanced Study (CAS). Now wearing my hat as Director CAS, I send to Tom’s family our deepest sympathy and condolences on behalf of the CAS community. Tom was a Professor at CAS, and was a devoted contributor to and supporter of advancement of science, engineering, humanities and the arts, and broadly scholarship and intellectual activity promoted at the Center. One of the memorable moments during his association with CAS was his delivery of the CAS Annual Lecture in 2010 (October 20, 7:30 pm, Knight Auditorium, Spurlock Museum), titled “Human Computer Intelligent Interaction: Face Tracking, Avatars and Electronic Consumer Relation Management”. Tom had the unique talent of blending into his lectures (particularly those addressed to broad audience, as this one was) humor alongside substantial technical content, which makes the audience entertained while being instilled deep thinking about technological wonders and appreciation of what scientific research could deliver. And this one was no exception, and was in fact a prime demonstration of that unique talent http://cas.illinois.edu/node/1089.
Both Tom and Margaret will be missed dearly.
Professor Thomas Huang - A Noble Role Model
It is with deep sadness that I am writing this piece. My wife Vishnu Priya joins me in expressing our heartfelt condolences to Tom's family. The fact this happened within months of passing of Margaret adds more sorrow and sadness. But Tom and Margaret were inseparable in life. We all worried that Tom may have been devastated by Margaret's passing. I came to know that Tom spent his final months among family members in Indiana.
As a student at Purdue, I attended Tom's lectures on image processing in Spring 1978.He had just returned from a sabbatical in Germany. Tom walked into the class with a coffee mug and a small piece of paper and delivered his lectures. All the students were awestruck by how simply he explained the mathematical results in image processing. I have had the pleasure of interacting with Tom since I graduated from Purdue in 1981. I was greatly inspired by his many contributions, especially on structure from motion estimation from image sequences. I was able to build on his pioneering work, which he supported very much.
Vishnu Priya and I saw Tom and Margaret at many computer vision and image processing conferences and shared many breakfasts and dinners. I still recall how Tom would get up and serve soup for everyone at the table. He put us all to shame by attending all the lectures at various sessions in conferences and taking copious notes. Tom always gave engaging talks at conferences without compromising the technical details. His keynote on Ten unsolved problems in image processing at the 1983 Image and Multi-dimensional Workshop in Lake Tahoe inspired all the attendees.
We had great times together at a conference I arranged in Bangalore, India in Jan. 1988. Tom as usual gave a fantastic lecture and I had the pleasure of taking Tom and Margaret on a day of sight seeing to Mysore, India.
In addition to being an outstanding and influential scientist, researcher and a scholar, Tom was a great human being. He treated everyone with respect and promoted the careers of everyone in the field. He must have written zillions of letters for tenure, promotion and various awards for his colleagues, young and old. I know his students adored him. Tom's record on the number of doctoral students he has supervised is a great testament to his academic legacy.
Tom was my role model.
The fields of signal processing, image processing, computer vision and pattern recognition greatly benefited by Tom's intuition, innovation and intellect.
All of us who have interacted with Tom feel the loss very deeply.
Bloomberg Distinguished Professor
Johns Hopkins University
Tom was an inspiration for my generation who blazed the trail for Chinese researchers as a mentor and academic. I will miss Tom.
Adjunct Professor, Tsinghua University
NAE foreign member
I was fortunate to meet and interact at a personal level as well as on research with Tom on many occasions since 1989 when I first met him when he visited U of T where I was a PhD student. I will always remember him for his wise advice and as a role model for scientific excellence and leadership through innovation, hard work and integrity, while caring for others.
Tom had always discussed problems with profound wit and insights. When he heard a presentation, he saw through the appearances to the subtlest essence, questioned from fundamental modeling, and the quality of that research would shine in the room quietly after a blink. Those around him always felt enlightened and inspired through simple conversations with him; maybe this is the very magic of Tom.
Dean, School of EECS, Peking University
Member, Chinese Academy of Engineering
I was shocked and saddened in hearing the sad news about Tom. Tom is such an important pioneer and leader in our field, and more importantly, a dear mentor and friend to many of us. We are all in debt to his guidance, support, and friendship over the past decades. He will be forever in our mind.
Please accept my deepest condolences. If there is anything I can do to help celebrate Tom's remarking life and achievements, please kindly let me know.
With deepest sympathy,
Senior Executive Vice Dean of Engineering
I am deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Prof. Thomas Huang. Tom and Margaret had been our family friends for many years, since before our daughters were born. I first met Tom and Margaret in 1979, when I joined Purdue University. At that time, Tom was already a world-renowned expert on pattern recognition and image processing. My wife Christine and I did not get to know them well until 1985 when we moved to Champaign and I joined the University of Illinois ECE department. I remember seeing the pair almost every week at the same Chinese restaurant in the late 1980s. They liked playing with our twin daughters Elaine and Catherine, and we would talk about the art of raising a family in Champaign. Catherine later worked with Tom in his research lab, while she was an undergraduate at UIUC -- his mentoring played a large part in her decision to pursue graduate studies, and she would go on to earn a Ph.D. in computer vision.
Over the years, Tom and Margaret traveled all over the world together; we once met them in Rome in the 2000s, and we were amazed to learn that Tom arranged to see a concert there with Margaret months before the trip. It was always clear how dedicated they were to each other.
One of my most recent memories of Tom was when we invited him to give a seminar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2010. Although I don’t work in the same area as Tom, my interactions with him on writing grant proposals have led me to new insights and applications in my work. Tom was always very dedicated to his research, and countless colleagues and students have learned from his wisdom and guidance. His work has significantly contributed to the areas of digital signal processing, image processing and compression, computer vision, multimedia databases, and intelligent human-computer interactions. The community will remember him for his dedication and immense contributions to the world.
Franklin W. Woeltge Emeritus Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Wei Lun Professor of Computer Science and Engineering & Former Provost
Chinese University of Hong Kong
Former President of IEEE Computer Society
Weng Cho Chew
We fondly remember Tom and Margaret with their congeniality. Tom also had an interesting sense of humor which made his speeches always so enjoyable. I especially enjoyed the Graduate Seminars that Tom used to give to the department. They were couched in simple language that many people outside his field can understand. We often had dinner together, and were amazed at Tom's memory: he always remembers what we like and suggest them to be the dishes for the evening. Margaret was always very kind to us, and she always remembers our Chinese names. She always calls us by our Chinese names. That was a treat for us. We often saw Tom and Margaret had dinner at his favorite restaurant, Tang Dynasty, with his graduate students. Occasionally, we run into them having dinner with Greg or Tom junior. We also visited them a couple of times in the assisted living in Brookdale, Urbana. Tom and Margaret will always be in our mind, and part of our living in Urbana-Champaign.
Weng Cho & Chew Chin
So many sad things have happened in 2020, and it's just truly heart-breaking to have to sit down to write this piece. I still have so many ideas and collaboration plans that I want to visit Prof. Huang in person to share and run through. When I spent that warm and nice afternoon with Prof. Huang and his students in his lab ten years ago, I mistakenly thought that kind of happy research time would last forever. When I stood beside Prof. Huang to 'smash' some sponsors who thought our ideas were too ambitious, I mistakenly thought that kind of brave defense time would last forever.
Ten years ago I was an assistant professor at a tier-3 university, extremely poor, no grants, no knowledge about computer vision. Great thanks to Prof. Jiawei Han for bringing me into ARL's NS-CTA project and I got chance to know Prof. Huang. He saved me from my near 'homeless' status. He taught me everything with his greatest kindness, patience and wisdom. He could have chosen any other more senior and intelligent NLP people to collaborate. In addition to ARL NS-CTA, we worked on an NSF EAGER project on our extremely ambitious idea to build a multimedia common semantic space. A few years later DARPA provided me and Prof. Shih-Fu Chang a seedling grant on a similar direction and later it was evolved to a five-years long DARPA AIDA project. Prof. Huang wrote recommendation letters for me whenever I needed.
Prof. Huang completely changed my horizon about how to do good research and how to be a good mentor. He told me that research is all about creativity and craziness. He always gives full credits to his students. His modest, humble and yet persistent attitude is always inspiring to me. Ten years ago I was somewhat disappointed by the status of the NLP field. He told me and my students during our visit to UIUC that he felt that NLP is still more advanced than CV in some aspects such as semantic understanding. That comment greatly encouraged us.
Words could not express my sadness on his passing, and my deep gratitudes for all of the support he gave to me. Prof. Huang is such a great role model to all of us Chinese American scholars. He showed us with examples how to help out junior colleagues.
Prof. Huang, may you find peace, and we will meet again.
Professor of Computer Science Department
Affiliated Faculty of Electrical and Computer Engineering Department
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Tom is my role model for being kind and being humble.
I remember the experience when I was a junior faculty at ECE@UIUC and during our department PhD Qualifying Exam meeting, where we review and vote on the PhD candidacy of each student. When one of Tom's students didn't have high enough exam score, Tom upon his turn stood up and explain in detail to the whole faculty that despite the poor exam result how great this student is in research. And then he said that "I will get down on my knees to beg you to pass this student" (and then Tom put his knee on a chair and lower down). I was shocked that this most decorated member of the faculty would willing to do such thing for his students. Later I understand, when very often at conferences I run into some accomplished researchers who saw my name tag from UIUC would gladly speak to me and proudly introduce themselves that "I was Tom's student from UIUC". And invariably, "How are Tom and Margaret?"
Tom was the true Great Master, who can recognize someone is great and would sacrifice to support that person long before they become great.
I remember mostly seeing Tom inseparable from Margaret. She was always gentle, asked how are our children, and fondly told us stories of Tom. Like how Tom never worried much about money, often took his children to the bookstore to read together and buy more books; until their four children one after another decided to go to MIT. "And that's when Tom's hair turned gray!"
We miss you, Tom and Margaret.
Professor, ECE, UIUC
I knew Professor Tom Huang at two different points in my life. In the early 1990s, I was an assistant professor of industrial engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and joined the Beckman Institute as part of a big grant on “Advanced Decision Architectures” led by co-principal investigators Tom Huang and George McConkie. It was lovely to see Tom and George’s leadership in action – they were obviously smart and capable but also kind and gentle. Years later, in 2012, I came back to the Beckman Institute and once again got to engage with Tom as part of the Beckman leadership team. I also had the honor and pleasure of getting to know his family, and was delighted to help shepherd the new Thomas and Margaret Huang Award for Graduate Research, a student award program at Beckman that started in 2014. This award exists to honor Tom and Margaret in perpetuity. Tom was a true “Beckman original” and I am grateful and honored to have known him.
Associate Director for Research
Beckman Institute, UIUC
I got to know Tom (then "Professor Huang" to me!) in a computer vision class I took from him in the early 80's. Even though computer vision was not a special interest of mine, his enthusiasm and insights made his class one of my most memorable. Later when I was a graduate student, I got to know some of his graduate students; they were universally fond of him. Eventually I joined the UIUC faculty, and throughout my career Tom has been an inspiration. You could not find a friendlier and more nurturing person.
C.-C. Jay Kuo
I remember vividly the first time I met Tom. When we were in preparation of establishing an NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) at USC in 1995, Tom was invited to visit us for advisement. Our ERC, called the Integrated Media Systems Center, was eventually established in 1997. Tom's advice was very valuable.
Tom came to my office for a 30-minute chat. He gave me his business card as an introduction and wrote down his Chinese name at its back. Our distance shortened because of his casual yet kind gesture. Also, we shared the same academic background as alumni of National Taiwan University (BS) and MIT (MS & PhD). it was easy to find a lot of topics to chat. I explained my research. He listened carefully and gave me a few encouraging words. I can still feel his warmth and sincerity after 25 years.
Afterwards, I met Tom and Margaret around 10 times from 1995 to 2015. They were always caring and friendly. I also got to know many of Tom's former PhD students and postdocs. I can clearly see that they have been under the great influence of Tom in research rigor, working ethics and humility. Tom's scholarship will be forever remembered by our community.
C.-C. Jay Kuo
Distinguished Professor and Dean's Professor
Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science, USC
I will always remember Margaret as a wonderful, charming, and beautiful lady. Her elegance and serenity dazzled me when Pierre and I were in Belize for a conference in 1996. With Tom by her side, I could clearly see the meaning of friendship and true love. Their passing, just three months apart of each other, resonates as the impossibility of one to live without the other, as if they had been one united soul – they were.
John C. Hart
I had the pleasure of working with Tom about a decade ago. I was impressed with his generosity and energy. He was a true scientist, driven not by ambition and self promotion, but by a genuine desire to provide all of us with many decades of useful results in computer vision. Much of this enabled the personal facial AI technology we now rely on so deeply to communicate with each other and stay connected as we socially distance to save others.
My story illustrates Tom's collegiality and humility. In the fall of 1985, Tom and I co-taught ECE 290, the course on digital logic and computer design for about 280 second-year students in electrical and computer engineering--even though the subject was outside his technical expertise. Tom was a full member of the instructional team: besides giving lectures, he led a discussion section and collaborated in grading exams. When Tom reviewed the draft of an hour exam that I had prepared, he said that it took him 50 minutes to complete, but he felt students would take even less time. I can report that he did very well on the exam!
For me, Tom Huang's research was an inspiration in the emerging field of digital imaging during my early research career even before I landed in USA. He was initially my hero, but he started interacting with me as a friend and I found that Tom and Margaret were in my close friend circle. We met whenever possible and traveled to many conferences together. I adored and loved him for his passion, honesty, leadership, and his dedication to research. He also had a unique way to make most difficult research issues articulated in an easy way to address them. It is tough to see such friends leave. He will always be one of the fondest memories that I will treasure. And I want to celebrate his life for his research contributions, for his friendship, and for training so many brilliant researchers that are now enriching multiple disciplines.
University of California, Irvine
J. K. Aggarwal
Shanti and I were saddened to learn that Margaret and Tom are no longer with us. We moved away from Austin to be near our daughter in our old age and the news of their passing did not reach us right away.
Tom and I became acquainted through our work on motion analysis and since UIUC is my alma mater, it was easy to develop a close friendship. I cannot recall the very first time that we met but we were often together at conferences and workshops. Our friendship and our interests in research on motion grew and we published research complementing each other’s work. Indeed, we published papers in each other’s books (see listings at bottom). Our friendship lasted our entire careers!
Shanti and Margaret became particularly good friends because they traveled to conferences with us. They spent time together while Tom and I were attending technical sessions. They especially enjoyed traveling to exotic places where IAPR held their premier conference ICPR. One memorable trip was the two-week add on trip associated with ICPR in Israel. When Margaret’s health started failing Shanti inquired about her all the time.
I appreciated the support that Tom provided in my growth in the motion community. Tom was always there with a nomination or a support letter. It is hard for me to imagine attending another conference or workshop without Tom. Both Margaret and Tom will be missed sorely. Our sincere condolences for their families.
S.D. Blostein and T.S. Huang,
“Algorithms for Motion Estimation Based on Three-Dimensional Correspondences,”in
Motion Understanding: Robot and Human Vision,
eds. W.N. Martin and J.K. Aggarwal, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1988.
W.N. Martin and J.K. Aggarwal,
"Analyzing Dynamic Scenes Containing Multiple Moving Objects," in
Image Sequence Analysis,
ed. T. S. Huang, Springer-Verlag, 1981.
J. K. Aggarwal
Cullen Trust Professor Emeritus in Engineering
ECE Dept., 2501 Speedway, The University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX 78712-0240
I became Tom’s student when he arrived at the University of Illinois 40 years ago. Dave Munson, who co-advised me, told me he was “a superstar of image processing,” but I had no idea of his amazing accomplishments. He had pioneered video compression, among the greatest advances of all of engineering. I took his first class at UIUC, and he was the coolest professor I’d ever seen. Tom was funny and relaxed, always with mug in hand, as he inspired us with new image processing ideas and results. In research, I appreciated his keen, inquisitive mind as he guided me onto new problem directions. I was the kind of grad student who would show up only every few months with reems of printouts and tons of questions. I’d give all my findings and confusion, he’d make a few spot-on comments that changed my thinking, and off I’d go, with enough to keep me busy for months more. He had his own ways of keeping me on target - once he called my apartment on a Saturday night, with a brilliant insight that redefined my MS thesis work. I’d been straying from research, self-questioning, and making little progress, but that call shocked and inspired me out of the indolence I’d been in - which he’d sensed. I never looked back after that; my own passion for knowledge was kindled by Tom’s.
As we all got older, Tom’s international role as friend and mentor continued. Just as when we leave home we appreciate our parents more than before, Tom’s role in the lives of his students modified, as we’d look back to Tom for guidance and direction. I mean this broadly, since his “students” included nearly everyone he met. Tom didn’t self-promote, have excess ambition, or criticize; he was always humble, warm, approachable and constructive. So he became the mentor to many others beyond his own students, amongst them many leaders in our community, all deeply affected by Tom’s wisdom and kindness. I believe a significant reason for the amiable disposition of our image processing community has been the overarching and gentle presence of Thomas Huang.
Tom was always present and available, inevitably with his wife Margaret by his side. They were inseparable, and Margaret was an important part of Tom’s presence and strength. He was the quiet center point of every meeting and conference. When I had graduate students with me, I would have them meet their academic Grandfather, and many in the few days since his passing have expressed their recollections of meeting Tom and Margaret to me, and of feeling part of Tom’s immense legacy. I am sure this is true of hundreds of Tom’s “grand-kids” – and “great grandkids.” Throughout my career, Tom was always there, from guiding me to join UT-Austin, to helping to guide my early research work from afar, to later in life, when he was a fan of the things my students and I had done. On my 50th birthday, he told me “You have had an amazing career in your first 50 years; and I am confident that you will better yourself in the next 50 years and beyond. I am so proud of you.” I can tell you, no son could feel more rewarded than when I read those words. That was Tom, and I think many have had similar experiences. He made everyone better, and it is very hard to realize that he has gone. But along with sadness, I feel a great happiness at having been a student of Tom’s, and knowing that such a man could have existed and touched my own life, and those of many others, so profoundly. His is very much a life to celebrate, even as we sorrow.
Cockrell Family Regents Endowed Chair in Engineering
University of Texas at Austin
Tom was an impeccable academic mentor who affected eternity to many and with a subtle yet profound influence. He was a truly great man who made everyone around him a greater and more passionate person!
Empire Innovation Professor
University at Buffalo, State University of New York
I became Tom’s PhD student more than 25 years ago. There are so many things I have learned from Tom, and I do not know where to start. Many of us admire Tom as a great educator and as a great scientist. But even more of us remember Tom as a great person.
When I joined Tom’ group, there was the first digital library project. I was very lucky to be one of the first batch PhD students who tackled this new field. Tom was very open and was always thinking about new ways in addition to his own research field. He encouraged me to join Prof. Sharad Mehrotra’s group to collaborate and get different perspectives. This turned out to be one of the most important guidance in my professional life. Drawing from Tom’s guidance on computer vision, Sharad’s guidance on databases/information retrieval, and my own background in control theory, I was able to develop relevance feedback into image search. It has since become a new line of research in the then newly emerged field. Without Tom’s trust in me and taking on a student whose background was not in computer vision, and without Tom’s guidance on the interdisciplinary nature of research, there would have not been possible for this new research direction.
Tom has a keen sense of humor, though he does not always show it. I remember in our Huang Group Friday meeting one day in the 90’s, Tom showed transparencies (yes, Tom loves transparencies) of “toilet sign” photos that he took when he and Margaret were traveling to different parts of the world. The signs were indeed all very different, came in with different styles, shapes and formats. While we all laughed, we also realized how difficult it is to do pattern recognition correctly.
Tom and Margaret are always together, with complementary ways in influencing and educating us. Many times at the dinner tables at restaurants, we listen to Margaret telling us their stories while they were young. Margaret also remembers the name of every single students of Tom’s, the names of their spouses, and even the names of their kids. I think Tom remembers too. But Tom would just listen to the stories and names, holding Margaret’s hand with a smile.
I regret that I did not visit Tom and Margaret more often. But I also feel fortunate that I was with Tom during the 80th Anniversary Huang Symposium, was with Tom last summer in Urbana, and was with Tom via zoom two days ago.
Tom and Margaret are inseparable. While we are very sad that Tom left us, we all know that Tom and Margaret are together in Heaven.
Yong Rui, Fellow of ACM,IEEE,IAPR,SPIE,CCF,CAAI
Corporate CTO and Senior Vice President
Lenovo Group Ltd.
Alexander (Sandy) Sawchuk
I am very sad to hear of the death of both Margaret and Tom.
Tom was my BS senior thesis advisor at MIT long ago. He was the first person to stimulate my interest in image processing, and I stayed in touch with him since then.
He was a brilliant scholar and teacher, and had the amazing ability to explain complicated ideas clearly and logically.
He was a gentleman, outstanding mentor and exceptional role model. I will miss him greatly, and I extend my deepest condolences to all his family.
Alexander (Sandy) Sawchuk
Leonard Silverman Chair Professor
University of Southern California
Tom was the quintessential scholar -- innovative, passionate, yet humble. He made everyone he interacted with better, and is a role model for us in so many ways.
University of Rochester
Tom will always be my role model as a teacher, a scientist, and a supporter for younger generation scholars.
Founder and CEO, Vion Technologies
Tom is a true scholar, a caring father, and an immortal role model.
Professor of ECE
Professor Thomas Huang and Mister Miyagi
I wish it was not needed to write this piece. Tom was always a standing point and even if I haven’t visited him so often as I wanted I knew he was there answering emails practically at all the hours. He gave the impression he was living in his office, he was always available, always ready to give a good advice. Life is going to be different without him. Every single one of us was sad to hear the news but he decided to go to meet his beloved wife Margaret who could not be without him for too long. We always met them together and I remember jokingly saying that Margaret must have become an expert given the many conferences and presentations she has attended.
Tom was not my original PhD advisor. As such I’m probably the only one of the Huang’s research family who has not graduated from UIUC. Instead, I’ve convinced Tom to be my co-advisor while I was completing my PhD in Leiden, The Netherlands, so I am a sort of adopted son but I was never treated differently from all my other brothers. I was probably one of the few that would receive responses from Tom at strange hours in the night for him so I always felt somehow privileged.
Let me tell a story that will stay with me for all my life. It was July or August 2005 and Tom was invited to a conference in Iasi, Romania. When he received the invitation he was asking if I was around as well. Knowing that he and Margaret never went to Romania I’ve decided to attend and to be their guide during their stay in Romania. I was waiting for them at airport in Bucharest and while we were going towards the city, the taxi driver has asked me if Tom was the actor playing the role of Mr. Myiagi in Karate Kid. At that moment I realized that Tom was looking very much alike to Pat Morita playing this role, but I told the driver that this was not the case. To my surprise, the guy didn’t believe me and kept on saying that he understands why the “famous actor” wants to stay anonymous. I told Tom about it and he said that maybe we should not disappoint the guy. In this way, there is now one person in Romania who has an autograph and a photo with Tom thinking that he actually met the Karate Kid master! Besides the humorous side of the situation, this real story made me realize the similarity between Tom and Mr. Myiagi and I’m not referring here only to their physical similarity. Tom, as his counterpart Myiagi, was always a person with huge qualities but he never liked to show them being extremely modest. He had an incredible kind way of making you believe in yourself and he was able to indicate with very subtle hints the way to improve yourself (in the same way Myiagi mentors Daniel in the film).
Another thing that comes to mind is related to his presentations which were incredible simple but extremely effective. I remember once (I believe it was CVPR 2009) Tom had to present an article on behalf on one of his PhD students who has dutifully prepared fancy transparencies. Tom started the presentation but all of a sudden he said that he wants to present the things the way he understood them and decided not to use the transparencies of his student but instead took an empty one and started to draw the scheme with a permanent marker. Needless to say that his presentation was extremely eloquent and clear but he said as a disclaimer that we should not tell his student that he has not used all the prepared fancy slides!
I could not find the right words to express the influence Tom has had on my academic career and on what I have become. Besides being a better scientist I was bestowed with an incredible research family. Being part of this “exclusivist” club made me realize how lucky I was. Even now, when I tell everyone that I was a student of Tom I see a hint of jealousy and appreciation in the eyes of my interlocutor.
Tom, I feel I lost one of my fixed reference points, and this not only in research but also in life. I will always remember the time I spent with you in Urbana-Champaign and the meetings we always had during conferences when we would all go for lunch or dinner having the feeling to belong to a big happy family.
I miss you very deeply.
Head of Dept. of Information Engineering and Computer Science
Leader of Multimedia and Human Understanding Group (MHUG)
University of Trento
Tom is always a bright lighthouse in my life and career.
Chief Scientist in Artificial Intelligence, Cloud BU, Huawei Technologies
Tom was a great mentor and role model, in research as well as in life.
People who had the chance to hear Tom speak knew that Tom was a captivating presenter. Every presentation he gave was both insightful and humorous — I was always on the edge of my seat, fearing missing a single word he says.
So when I was graduating and preparing for my job interviews, I asked Tom for guidance on how to give a good presentation. He answered me with three points:
if people ask you a question and you do not know the answer, just say ‘I don’t know!’”
Indeed, Tom himself never put an equation in his presentation that he cannot or will not explain its every variable and the total meaning—in the simplest words possible. He always presents to “let people understand the contents”, instead of “let people admire the presenter”. It sounds like a subtle point but the audience can sense the difference right away. And this is a reflection of Tom as a humble, grounded, truth-seeking, and ultimately self-confident scientist at his core. This is the quality I admire, hope to imitate, but probably will never fully achieve—not to his level.
Nowadays whenever I was asked “how to give a good presentation?” by a youngster, I could not think of anything better than these three points.
Co-Founder and Co-CEO
United Imaging Intelligence.
在生活上，他与师母Margaret的恩爱每每都是学生们聚在一起时必谈的话题，早已成为我辈的榜样。恩师对我影响最深的是到新加坡国立大学开始助理教授后，我给恩师发了一封邮件请教“how to be a good professor”，他给我回答了三个词“Just be yourself”。恩师的回复我阐释为“Confident、Unique、...”, 支撑了LV团队在2010年就敢于去挑战PASCAL VOC比赛、然后ImageNet竞赛，在ACM MM上常常抛出一起有趣且实用的想法，也支撑我后续毅然带领学生们一起走向工业界。我将这封邮件转给了我的学生，现在也继续支撑着很多LVers。这三个词将永远支撑我们前行，愿恩师Tom与师母Margaret在天堂安息！
Tom是我们很多人的人生榜样。第一次见到Tom和Margaret是2002年的冬天，Tom和Margaret从北京香港回来在芝加哥在University of Illinois，Chicago稍作停留和那儿的一些合作的老师讨论关于视觉手势识别和人机交互的项目。接机的有Tom当时在读的学生有John Lin，Eric Zhou和Dennis Lin。
吴郢老师带我和喻頲一起去参加讨论。讨论会完成之后和Tom & Margaret在芝加哥中国城聚餐。Tom和Margaret点了一大桌菜，一直和蔼的跟我们说学生生活苦，让我们多吃一点。芝加哥的冬天颇冷，冬天在街上走从密西根湖吹过来的寒风会让人记忆深刻。餐后我们步行去停车场，先生和太太相依而行。我在后面看着，心中产生的感觉是难以用语言描述的。只觉得人生就应如Tom和Margaret这般。
Tom对学生和晚辈的支持和鼓励也是从来没有保留的。他经常说的令人印象深刻的一句话是：Every student is my best student! 在给学生和晚辈写推荐信的时候总是尽全力为大家创造机会。我自己因为各种原因，工作从工业界跳回学术界，又跳回工业界， 这些年没有少叨扰Tom写推荐信。写Email给Tom的时候，Tom的Email总是秒回。记得11年加入Stevens任教，给Tom写Email汇报工作并致谢，Tom的回复：Gang, you will thrive there! 寥寥数字令我备受鼓舞。 Tom, 衷心的感谢您这么多年对我的支持和帮助！
Chief Scientist & VP, Wormpex AI Research
Tom was not just a teacher and advisor, he is a role model in many people's lives. Tom lives in everyone who is influenced by him and will always be remembered.
CEO, UII America Inc.
Raymond Yun Fu
Tom created such a respectful role model and golden standard of academic life for us. As his former student, I gratefully learned not only how to live with great personality but also "never suppress a generous thought".
Professor at Northeastern University
Fellow of IEEE, SPIE, OSA, and IAPR
Tom, who is the president of Academy of Science in Heaven, Newton or Eisenstein? I am sure you are preparing for the orientation.
Tom has left us on 04/25/2020 with so many memories I can never forget. I just want to mention a few things that keep coming to my mind in the past few days.
Tom has a style of hiding deep insights within humor. When I worked with him as a Ph.D. student, he joked, “The advance of computer vision is mostly due to the advance of the computer”. I thought he was describing his experience starting as early as when he used paper tape with punched holes to study image compression. However, later I found his statement perfectly forecasted the major theme of my career. The powerful computers with GPUs (or TPUs) give researchers the ability to learn from big data, which has changed not only my work after my Ph.D. but also almost everyone in the area of computer vision.
Tom once asked a question: “There are so many papers on visual recognition. If every paper improves state of the art by 0.1%, will the problem be solved after 1000 papers?” I did not know how to answer this question well until I have worked for one decade in different companies and projects. The key is, most evaluation sets in the machine learning benchmarks (except a few including Jeopardy, AlphaGo, and etc.) are limited and biased. In theory, we can easily get 100% accuracy on a non-degenerate training set. We can also keep improving the accuracy on limited testing set by adding priors or context. But the accuracy of the testing set is not reliable in real-world applications. The unseen examples will often fail the machine learning models, which works well in the limited training scenario.
A solution to address the above problem is to enlarge the evaluation set. But this answer often makes me a bit frustrated. On the one hand, the barrier of data collection and cost may prevent academia researchers from competing with companies with more resources. On the other hand, data engineering becomes more important than everything else in the industry. I was planning to ask Tom when I meet him next time: what do you think of the current data-hungry paradigm? Can we still aim for elegant and beautiful algorithms for your compression and 3D motion estimation? Unfortunately, I can never meet him again, and can not ask him this question.
But I can imagine, Tom will use his humor to answer my question. I find out an email he sent out two years ago:
“To the IFPers who gave me the great Pavie: I am so happy that our IFPers have developed a culture of loving good wines. I think loving fine wines is just like loving fine mathematics. My prediction is that many of you will use deep learning to explore wine appreciation. As always, the crux is to have a large number of training samples. Happy Drinking. Tom”.
Love you so much, Tom. Happy drinking and happy thinking in heaven.
Staff Research Scientist and Manager
Tom is much more than an academia advisor, he is a role model, a life mentor, and a grandfather.
Director, ByteDance AI Lab US
Edmond Shen-Fu Tsai
I'm grateful for being accepted by Tom to UIUC. At the beginning I let him know that I got partial financial support from Taiwanese government so maybe he doesn't have to fully support me. But he kindly told me to take both and save for the future.
During the last few years of my PhD study I focused on ontological inference, and I remember every now and then Tom would ask me the same fundamental questions: "What is ontology" and "How do you do inference with ontology". He is a true scientific man and was never satisfied by my answer with which I only attempted to publish papers.
This year I have been thinking about checking in with Tom to see how he is doing with Margaret under Covid-19 situation. As lazy and oblivious as I am I never did so, and only now to learn that it's already too late.
Goodbye, Tom and Margaret. I hope you have a great time in heaven.
Edmond Shen-Fu Tsai
I worked with Tom, my phd co-advisor, and many of his other students in expanding the multimedia retrieval and visualization projects in 2006-2011. I also joined Margaret and Tom in the Star Challenge trip to Singapore in 2008.
Tom speaks to the point, sticks to the facts, guides decisive actions, all with his iconic calm and organized style, along with some humor at times. I will forever feel this both from old memories, photos, emails, and from recalling my last call with Tom. In that call, I recall he said: “I don't feel well physically these days, and I shall concentrate on sparing time for my current students." I happen to be near Champaign, so was disappointed it wasn’t a good time to see Tom, but I feel that’s another example where Tom shows how to prioritize and makes the long-lasting impact. Thank you, for all you’ve brought to this world, and for preparing us for the various challenges in this world.
Senior Engineer and Research Manager
The last time I saw Tom and Margaret was in December 2019, where I met them in the assisted living house. They have spent four to five years there, not far from their home where they had lived for more than three decades. I still remembered every Thursday, I dropped off Margaret at their home together with my wife after they walked together in Lincoln Square for two or three hours.
Sometime, Tom was waiting at home to greet Margaret “my honey,” and Margaret would prepare for the dinner with Tom. This tradition had been kept by them for more than five decades since they arrived in United States. No matter what happened, in my memory, Tom never missed any single dinner with Margaret. Yes it was the time of their own.
Unless sometime they shared dinners with their students. Tom was not a person who talked a lot at the dinner table. He usually worked like a waiter for his wife, bringing food into Margaret’s dish. Margaret would then work to keep the atmosphere warm by sharing stories and recent news. Tom would always keep smile on his face, listening to Margaret and our chats. You may never imagine he is a legend in his professional field if you sat over there at the moment.
Yes, Tom is one of the humblest man I have ever seen. He is not only humble and caring for his family and students, but also is humble to the field he has been working on for more than six decades. This makes him a very open-minded person of his age, keeping studying and absorbing the most recent progress in the field. I’d like to quote one of his emails sent to us at the dawn of deep learning era.
“Oct 11, 2012, 2:11PM
As you see from the e-mail from LiangLiang, Hinton's Group is making a computer vision breakthrough with Deep Learning.
The late Azriel Rosenfeld said, " The progress in Computer Vison lies in the progress in Computer Technology." How true. I am sure other people must have had ideas of many-layer neuronets earlier. But the time was not right; the computing was simply impossible." Now, it seems handling many-layer neuronets becomes feasible albeit still slow. Of course, smart training techniques are essential.
At UIUC, we are blessed with supercomputers. As you know, in particular, Blue Waters is going to be operational in 2013. We should take advantage of that by implementing Deep Learning algorithms on the system. Of course, we need to identify an important problem which no one has explored to death yet.
In any case, implementing a Deep Learning platform on Blue Waters (for various applications) appears to be a worthy goal.
From this short note, we see a man who really loves the Computer Vision, not because of his past achievements in this area, but because of being proud of every progress it achieves, just like a father to his child.
Being humble and open-minded, this is what Tom taught me as his legacy. Rest in Peace! We will remember you forever.
April 28, 2020
In Bellevue, Washington
In Memory of my adviser and lifetime model
You know tom is so cool and humors. Tom like sharing bilingual jokes with us and code each joke by number, like when someone say 1, people start laughing, he shared with us his favorite joke is about Deng Xiaoping’s visit to US from Rui Yong.
Being his student I always feel encouraged and motivated by his simple words. I still remember when I first talked my first project with Tom in 2015, He said my English name Zack is powerful name and can solve any problems.
Someone once asked me what is the luckiest thing my life. I said I met my PhD advisor Tom and be part of this IFP family.
I missed having dinner with Tom and Margret. I missed discussing Chinese poem with Margret, discussing future and research with Tom.
At this time I would express my sincere gratitude To Tom and Margret. My them rest in peace together!.
I had the privilege of having Dr. Huang as my mentor and advisor for my Master's degree program and thesis at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I remember his manner as most comforting and encouraging during obvious times of stress in my program activities. The world is surely more advanced now due to his research and advising other students in his passions of image and signal processing.