After a nearly six-year battle with leukemia, Paul Hudak, professor of computer science and master of Saybrook College, died last night surrounded by his family. He was 62 years old.
Hudak, who came to Yale in 1982, was a beloved master, leading Saybrook for nearly six years. But his influence extended far beyond his college and his department, where he was a towering scholar in the field of computer science. He served as faculty advisor to students in the Yale Undergraduate Jazz Collective, which played Friday concerts at the Saybrook Underbrook. A lover of sports and the outdoors, he also coached middle school and high school soccer and lacrosse for nearly 20 years.
First diagnosed with leukemia in December 2009, Hudak demonstrated relentless optimism about his illness. On his personal webpage on the site of the Yale Haskell Group — an association of computer scientists that was instrumental in the development of the Haskell programming language — he documented his battle with cancer, from his admission to Smilow Cancer Hospital to his May 2012 delivery of the Saybrook Commencement address, which he gave “with an oxygen tank under [his] robe and breathing cannula in [his] nose.” Other posts are replete with exclamation points and subtle humor. “Germs are bad,” he wrote about his 2010 move to a sterile apartment.
In June of 2010, when doctors recommended a stem cell transplant as the only course of treatment that would extend his life by more than two years, he and his wife, Saybrook Associate Master and Director of Residential Dining Cathy Van Dyke, dubbed it the “see the grandkids option,” Van Dyke said. Their granddaughter Aubrey Lynn Rosander was born in January, and Hudak got to hold her two months later.
“Our entire family has been buoyed by the outpouring of support from the Yale community, former students and from Master Hudak’s computer science colleagues from around the world since the earlier announcement of his failing health came from Dean Holloway,” Van Dyke said. “Master Hudak and I have always found great joy and energy being with our Saybrugian family, and their continued support through this long journey has been immeasurable.”
Despite his diagnosis, he maintained an active presence in campus life — even after his illness forced him to step down from the mastership in December. In addition to sponsoring the Jazz at the Underbrook concert series — which he helped found — Hudak led a band called Saybop, in which he played piano with other student musicians, said Alexander Dubovoy ’16, president of the Undergraduate Jazz Collective.
During the last week of the Jazz at the Underbrook season earlier this month, Dubovoy said, students invited musicians from across Yale and New Haven to commemorate Hudak and his influence on the local arts scene. Although he was extremely ill at the time, Dubovoy added, Hudak still tried to attend the celebrations. Students ultimately provided him with videos of the events.
“That was the way Master Hudak was,” Dubovoy said. “Even weeks before passing away, he still tried to attend and be a part of arts events.”
University President Peter Salovey said that he and Hudak both shared a deep passion for music. Hudak was a skilled jazz pianist, Salovey said, and students today may not realize that Hudak performed at venues around New Haven for many years in a band called “Collectively Speaking.”
His love of music made its way into residential college life as well. Saybrook student Camille Fonseca ’16 said one of her fondest memories of Hudak was of him playing jazz standards on the piano to welcome students to family dinner on Sunday nights. He also hosted “Music in the Master’s House” events, where students were invited to perform for their fellow Saybrugians.
Hudak’s passions also extended to sports and outdoor recreation. At one intramural football game last year, he entered the game as quarterback for the final play, Magdalena Zielonka ’17, a Saybrook intramural secretary, told the News after Hudak announced his decision to step down. And Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway recalled Hudak’s incredible energy playing C Hoops Basketball on a neighboring court.
“He never stopped running,” Holloway said.
Hudak co-founded Hamden Youth Lacrosse in 2001, a nonprofit organization for elementary and middle school students to learn the “honor of the game.” He served as director of the girls’ program there for six years and was also the first varsity lacrosse coach for Hamden High School. A former player himself — as an undergraduate, Hudak competed on the Vanderbilt University team — Hudak always held lacrosse as a special passion.
“Paul’s hard work and dedication to the sport of lacrosse in the town of Hamden and to the girls who played for him has left a lasting impression on all,” said Dominick Sannino, president of Hamden Youth Lacrosse. “He set the foundation so people like myself can continue to provide opportunities for the youth to play the ‘fastest game on two feet.’”
Additionally, Hudak was a member of the Faculty Committee on Athletics at Yale, which meets once a month to discuss issues regarding Yale and Ivy League varsity sports.
In 2008, Hudak was one of three professors instrumental in founding Yale’s Computing and the Arts program, an interdisciplinary major that allows students to combine their interests. At Yale, he taught several courses on computer music alongside other CS classes.
Hudak was one of the founders of an entirely new, purely functional programming language — a programming paradigm that models computations as the evaluations of mathematical expressions — called the Haskell language, the first version of which was defined in 1990.
The language’s creation was a significant accomplishment, and has been particularly helpful for security guarantees, according to Mark Santolucito GRD ’19, one of Hudak’s former advisees. Santolucito said Hudak was one of the founding fathers of functional reactive programming.
Even beyond his research, Hudak made lasting contributions to the CS department, where he taught for 33 years. During his tenure as department chair from 1999 to 2005, Hudak made an important effort to expand the CS’s diversity, hiring four female senior female professors to a department that had existed for nearly three decades without a single tenured woman, according to CS professor Julie Dorsey.
“I think I speak for many when I say that Prof. Hudak — as a colleague, scholar, (former) department head, college master, teacher, and friend — is one of the people who has touched my life more than any other,” Dorsey said. “He was in equal parts brilliant and humble. He showed everyone with whom he interacted how it should be done.”
CS professor Ruzica Piskac said Hudak was “one of the reasons [she] came to Yale.” After he invited her to speak in one of his classes, Hudak hosted her in the Saybrook Master’s house. Then, on a walk around campus, he told her to apply for a job at Yale.
Piskac added that Hudak will be missed far beyond campus, a sentiment echoed by many others in the department.
“He is the most complete person I have ever seen, embodying qualities that you don’t believe can coexist … extremely kind, patient, gentle yet also super sharp, smart, and creative, and also highly eloquent, and totally cool,” CS professor Zhong Shao said. “He has made enormous impact on so many people in different walks of his life, but most of all, he, by himself, is the best role model which all of us all strive to become. He has certainly influenced me in a very profound way, not just career wise but also how to be a great person.”
CS professor Daniel Abadi said Hudak achieved a difficult balance — being both a top scholar in his field, but remaining down to earth. He was “a real mensch,” CS department chair Joan Feigenbaum said.
Pierson College Master Stephen Davis — who described himself as a “grateful beneficiary” of Hudak’s wisdom during Davis’s first years as a master — said Hudak was an “ebullient presence” in meetings, despite his health struggles.
Silliman College Master Judith Krauss said he was “200 percent” committed to his role of master from the first day he was asked.
“It was the perfect medium for this multi-talented, vibrant man — his love of jazz and music; his engagement with athletics and sports; his cutting-edge familiarity with technology; and his teaching talents all came together in the Saybrook Mastership,” Krauss said. “He has been taken away from us way too soon but gave us a lifetime of his spirit and energy.”
Salovey described Hudak as “one of Yale’s great citizens,” and a true friend. He added that as master of Saybrook, Hudak followed in the “formidable” footsteps of former Yale College Dean Mary Miller and left his own unique legacy of leadership, compassion and community spirit.
Hudak was beloved for his teaching and introducing generations of students both to the foundations of computer science and to advanced programming languages and concepts, Salovey said.
“My heart goes out to his wife Cathy and their family, and the entire Saybrook community, and I — along with so many others at Yale — will miss him for his warmth, wit and wisdom,” Salovey said.
Though students said Hudak’s passing did not come as a surprise, given the timeline of his illness, they emphasized his unwavering positivity throughout.
“For the longest time you could tell his health was deteriorating, but he continued to be really selfless and never really brought attention to his own struggles,” Saybrook student Layla Khuri ’16 said. “He just always made sure to be there for us as much as he could.”
Hudak is survived by his wife, five siblings, his daughters, Cristina and Jennifer, and his granddaughter, Aubrey.
A memorial service will be held in Battell Chapel on May 3 at 1:30 p.m., giving members of the Yale community a chance to come together in celebration of Hudak’s life. His family members have asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society or Be the Match Foundation.