Remembering Bob Alden, 1937 - 2016

With the passing of Bob Alden on May 23, IEEE and IEEE Canada lost a visionary, and a selfless volunteer.

It is difficult to overstate his impact. The very structure of what we today call "IEEE Canada" - a merger in 1994 of what was then IEEE Region 7 and the Canadian Society for Electrical and Computer Engineering (CSECE) -- came about in large measure from his groundwork as Region 7 Director in 1988-89. He also played a leading role in establishing the IEEE Canadian Foundation in 1992, and during his 12 years as President (2001-2012), expanded it into a national organization operating in both official languages.

Bob was a key player in IEEE's adoption of e-mail in the early '90s. He assisted staff in creating electronic support services and in planning the original IEEE web site. Bob's expertise was frequently called upon during the early phases of IEEE e-mail aliases and mailing lists. But he also directly helped individual members realize the benefits of this new communications technology; his column      The artwork from Bob Alden's long-running column in The Institute
"Travelling the Information Highway with Bob Alden" was a staple of The Institute for a whopping 75 issues between 1992 and 2003.

Bob was widely recognized by IEEE for promoting electronic communication, but his area of professional interest was actually in power engineering. Earning his Ph.D. degree from the University of Toronto in 1968, he spent most of his career at McMaster University as an instructor, researcher and research director. He also worked as a power engineer in Canada, Australia, and the United States. He led the development of the Power Research Laboratory at McMaster in 1984, and became its first director.

During Bob's career, he supervised more than 20 post graduate students at the master's and doctoral level, and published about 75 technical papers in scholarly journals and conference proceedings, primarily in the area of applying computer-based methods to predicting the performance of large interconnected electric power systems. Other academic appointments included teaching power engineering classes at the University of Toronto and the University of Sydney. He was elected IEEE Fellow in 2005 for "contributions to eigenvalue analysis of power system stability."

Bob Alden (far left) receives Hamilton Section 50th Anniversary Banner along with (in order from L to R) Ray Findlay (Section Member and 2002 IEEE President), Cathie Lowell (IEEE Canada Administrator) and Scott Lowell (Hamilton Section Chair). On the far right, Mo El-Hawary (IEEE Canada President) congratulates the Section.

An IEEE volunteer for 40 years, Bob was a student member in the late '50s of the two organizations that merged in 1963 to form IEEE: the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and the Institute of Radio Engineers. In 1971 he was recruited for a position on the Hamilton Section Executive. He quickly demonstrated a grasp for Section priorities and a willingness to work hard. He became Section Vice-Chair the following year, and served as Section Chair in 1974-75.

Starting in the early '70s, Bob participated in a working group representing the different organizations servicing the electrical engineering profession in Canada, also including members from industry and academia. His perspective was "believing that Region 7 must become the Canadian society" representing electrical engineering. He continued this activity through the late '70s along with volunteerism at the IEEE Regional level. In the early '80s, Bob's volunteer focus was with the IEEE Power Engineering Society, serving on the administrative committee (now the governing board). He was "surprised" to be asked in 1986 to run as IEEE Region 7 Director-Elect, and "even more surprised" when he won. During his tenure as Director, he established the IEEE Canadian Review, a "key building block in the formal creation of IEEE Canada," as he later described it. Following his term as Region 7 Director, he served as IEEE Vice-President for Regional Activities, enabling him to "complete or assist" in some of the steps needed to gain IEEE support for the merger with CSECE.

Bob Alden presents a special award to volunteer Isabel Deslauriers at the 2004 IEEE Canada Awards Banquet in appreciation of exceptional services for the IEEE Canada web translation project; Photo Credit: Dave Upham.

Bob rejoined the IEEE Canada volunteer team in 2002 as webmaster and served until 2006 when he became the IEEE Canada Awards & Recognition Committee Chair for a three-year term. Having moved to Mississauga after retiring from McMaster in 2001, he also became very active in IEEE Toronto Section. He was the founding Chair of the Toronto Section Life Member Chapter, redesigning and managing the Section website from 2003 to 2006. He then served as the Section Publications Chair until January 2010 when he became the Liaison for the IEEE Canadian Foundation. Bob also served on the IEEE Foundation as a Director from 2004 to 2009.


Bob Alden and ICF Treasurer Luc Matteau present 2009 WIE Prize           IEEE History Committee Chair Richard Gowan congratulates to April Khademi.                                                                                 Bob Alden on receipt of his 2009 History Committee                                                                                                                          Recognition.

Bob received numerous awards from IEEE, with advancement of electronic communication being a recurring theme. In 1992 he received the Larry K. Wilson Transnational Award for promotion of electronic mail. In 1999 he was honoured with the William W. Middleton Distinguished Service Award for "challenging IEEE volunteers and staff to maximize their use of electronic communication in all IEEE activities." In 2002, his achievements in this area were recognized by the IEEE Haraden Pratt Award for "outstanding and sustained leadership in many areas of the IEEE especially in the use of electronic communication." He also received the 2009 IEEE History Committee Recognition.

From IEEE Region 7, in 1984 he was awarded the Centennial Medal for "extraordinary achievement," nominated by the IEEE Hamilton Section. IEEE Canada recognized his exceptional accomplishments in the creation of IEEE Canada, the IEEE Canadian Foundation and the IEEE Canadian Review through its 1999 Outstanding Service Award (now renamed W. S. Read Outstanding Service Award). He received this award jointly with "legendary" IEEE volunteer Dr. Ray Findlay, who became the first President of IEEE Canada in 1995, and went on to become IEEE President in 2002. Bob was awarded the Third Millennium Medal in "recognition and appreciation of valued services and outstanding contributions."

In 2010, Bob was awarded the John B. Stirling Medal from the Engineering Institute of Canada (EIC). The citation read, in part: "for his concept, planning and implementation of a strategy that culminated in creating IEEE Canada as a Member Society of the EIC while retaining its relationship within IEEE as Region 7." He was earlier elected Fellow of EIC in 2005.

Bob Alden and IEEE Canada President 2006-2007 Bob Hanna share a light moment at IEEE Canada Spring 2013 Board meeting.

Further tribute will be paid in the next issue of the IEEE Canadian Review, including remembrances from many of those who worked with Bob Alden as fellow volunteers and colleagues throughout his career.

Contributed by Bruce Van-Lane, IEEE Canadian Review, with sources provided by Dave Kemp and Mo El-Hawary. Direct quotes are taken either from published manuscripts of Bob Alden, or are award citations. Readers interested in a full account of the formation of IEEE Canada are encouraged to download Bob Alden's article from the Fall 2009 issue of the IEEE Canadian Review

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