Obituary: Mario R. Barbacci / Researcher helped found CMU software institute

Aug. 28, 1945 - Oct. 23, 2012

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Mario R. Barbacci left his homeland of Peru in 1969 and became Carnegie Mellon University's first Ph.D. student in computer science from his country.

By the time he left CMU 35 years later, the gentlemanly researcher with a passion for photography had helped found the school's prestigious Software Engineering Institute, where he spent two decades in computer work.

Mr. Barbacci died last Tuesday in the Squirrel Hill home he shared with his partner, Josephine Olson. He was 67 and was diagnosed six years ago with primary progressive aphasia, a form of dementia that robbed him in recent years of his ability to speak and walk.

Before his retirement in 2004, he held a variety of SEI positions, including associate director, project leader, program director and senior member of technical staff. He was known as an innovative analyst of how computers interact with one another, dating back to an era when the field was far less sophisticated than it is today.

The Lima native obtained his Ph.D. in 1974 within CMU's Department of Computer Science, where he was a research scientist from 1969 to 1985.

"He helped create a language that described computers and how they were built," and he did it while possessing a quiet, sociable manner that provided many humorous insights over the years, said Charles Weinstock, a longtime friend and senior member of SEI's technical staff.

Mr. Barbacci made a special contribution to the university in 1984. He was a member of a small team that wrote its proposal to obtain a new federal contract to study and make use of advances in software engineering to benefit the Department of Defense and private industry. The team's proposal won, resulting in creation of an institute that now has more than 500 employees operating under a federal contract worth more than half a billion dollars.

Well-respected for his abilities by peers, Mr. Barbacci became president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Computer Society in 1996.

He had a special interest in and talent for black-and-white photography, which he made use of both in Pittsburgh and on frequent world travels.

Mr. Barbacci, who never married, was a devoted brother who helped his three sisters settle in the United States once he was here. He spent the past 12 years with Ms. Olson, whom he met through computer dating when that means of connecting was still rare.

Their home became full of examples of both his photography and many stuffed animals he had collected, especially of moose he took special interest in after spending a semester in Sweden.

In addition to Ms. Olson, he is survived by one brother, Carlos of Lima, and his sisters, Martha Barbacci of Miami, Gaby Barbacci of Gales Ferry, Conn., and Norma Barbacci of New York City.

No public service for Mr. Barbacci has been planned. Arrangements were by McCabe Brothers Inc., Shadyside.

obituaries - education - neigh_city - science

Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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