Obituary: Alfs Berztiss / Noted Pitt computer science professor

Oct. 12, 1933 - Oct. 22, 2013

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Alfs Berztiss was a professor of physics in Australia when he started to dabble in the then-emerging field of computer science. It was a well-timed area of study. Mr. Berztiss became an early expert in computer science, authoring one of the first textbooks published on the subject.

Mr. Berztiss, of O'Hara, died Tuesday of pulmonary fibrosis. He was 80.

Mr. Berztiss was born in Latvia but fled as a child with his parents, who were political refugees during World War II. He spent the war in a United Nations displaced persons camp in Germany and moved to Melbourne, Australia, after the end of the war.

It was there that he met his wife, Mara, who was also living in what had become a thriving Latvian community in Melbourne.

With his budding expertise in computer science, he came to Pittsburgh from Melbourne University -- first for a sabbatical in 1968 and then for a permanent position in 1970 at the University of Pittsburgh.

"Computer science was a new field at that time," said his wife. "He was just interested and they needed people at that time -- it was quite different than now."

Shortly after he arrived at Pitt, he authored "Data Structures: Theory and Practice," one of the first textbooks published in computer science. The book was translated into five languages and had multiple printings.

He also authored two additional textbooks in his time at Pitt, where he taught until the late 1990s.

Mr. Berztiss' research focus was software engineering, said Pitt computer science professor Panos Chrysanthis, and he was the force behind the specialized master's degree in software engineering that was discontinued after his retirement. His research aimed to enable the development of reliable applications that access shared databases similar to web and e-commerce applications today, Mr. Chrysanthis said.

In retirement, Mr. Berztiss pursued passions like world travel, cooking and stamp collecting. In just the last year, he and his wife traveled to Germany, the Dominican Republic and New York's Catskill Mountains.

For their 50th wedding anniversary the year before, they had toured U.S. national parks, including the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon.

A member of the American Philatelic Society since he moved to the United States in 1970, Mr. Berztiss specialized primarily in collecting Irish stamps.

He contributed two articles this summer to the magazine of an Irish stamp collectors association based in Germany.

"Alfs always said that you can learn a lot about history from postage stamps," said his wife.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two daughters, Leonora, of Point Breeze, and Dagmara, of Karlsruhe, Germany; and three grandchildren.

The family will hold a visitation Wednesday between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Weddell-Ajak Funeral Home in Aspinwall. The funeral will be private.

Donations can be made to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.


Anya Sostek: asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308.

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