In Memoriam: Dr. Don Childers (1935-2020)

We regret to announce that ECE Professor Emeritus Don Childers passed away Sept. 29. Dr. Childers was a prolific researcher and a beloved teacher.

Don Childers received his BS, MS, and PhD degrees in Electrical Engineering from USC in 1958, 1959, and 1964 respectively. He started at UF in 1965 and retired in 1996, serving as interim chair of the department in 1977.

His research focused on speech processing, in particular the modeling human speech production. He was the director of the Mind-Machine Interaction Research Center which was well-funded for years. He wrote and co-wrote many papers and books during his career, including one of the first books on digital signal processing, in 1975. He authored books in other areas such as spectrum estimation, speech processing, and probability & random processes. He graduated many PhD students including serial entrepreneur (and big Gator supporter) Sachio Semmoto and former faculty member Tony Arroyo.

Don Childers was a fellow of IEEE and a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America. He was awarded the prestigious George Westinghouse Award by ASEE for excellence in engineering education.

Outside of his academic life, Dr. Childers was an avid golfer and, as Dr. José Príncipe remembers below, he loved jazz and nice cars. He is survived by his wife of 67 years Barbara and their two children Darin and Dawn.

A few ECE professors have shared some memories, and with their permission, we share them below.

Don Childers was one of my mentors (with Jack Smith) during my graduate education here in the ECE Dept. I met Don first in 1974, as the department graduate coordinator, and he was the one that directed me to a little-known area at the time—digital signal processing—that was crystalizing from numerical analysis. I came to UF to study microwave engineering for a Master’s, but the professor I had selected was out on sabbatical leave…. Hence, Don gave me two options: either return to Portugal with a paid return trip, or select another area of study. I was impressed with his knowledge of statistics and filtering, so I decided to change my area of study to DSP. This moment locked my career path and I owe it to Don. He wrote with Allen Durling one of the first books with Digital Filtering in the title, in 1975. You can still buy a copy of his book in Amazon for 580 dollars!!!!

Don and I shared our affinity for Jazz and good food. He drove at the time a Cadillac, but had a photo of his Porsche prominently displayed in his office, so we had the same taste for cars too. He was an excellent cook and a gracious host, so our families had many gourmet dinners together. Don was always on top of the latest technology, so he jumped early on to digital sound, and gave me all his old tapes (but kept his vinyl LPs….). I still enjoy his music selections when I am in Portugal for the summer, where I keep my analog stereo, which I love more than the “pure” digital sound, perhaps because of the mellow distortion…
–José Príncipe

Don Childers was one of my favorite ECE professors. He was so kind and so generous, as you can tell from his kind eyes in the attached photo. The hallway and the workplace felt different when he was around. I felt warmth and safety in the workplace because of his presence. He gave his course EEL 6537, Spectral Analysis, to me from the first day I joined ECE more than 27 years ago. He gave me good advice to avoid some student problems. His lab was so tidy and clean and well decorated. He gave me most of the books and journals he collected during his career when he retired. I can only remember him helping me and he never asked for any returns.

–Jian Li

The ECE department extends its heartfelt condolences to Dr. Childers’ family.

If you would like to share thoughts or memories about Dr. Childers, feel free to email and we will be sure to include here.