Silvio Osvaldo Navarro
30 October 1927 – 3 April 1967

Photo of Silvio Navarro

The Computing, Computer Science, and Electrical Engineering professions mourn the loss of a leader, Silvio O. Navarro. At the time of his tragic death he was the Director of the Computing Center, Chairman of the Department of Computer Science, and Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Kentucky. His influence was international and commensurate with his productivity and insight which were inspirations to those who knew him.

Silvio was born in Cuba where he received the José Marti Award as the nation’s outstanding student. At the age of nineteen he entered the University of Houston where he received a B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 1951. He then attended Texas A & M where he received his M.S. and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering in 1953 and 1955 respectively. He remained at Texas A & M as an instructor and later as an Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering and Assistant Research Engineer.

This marked the beginning of a colorful, although short, career in which he blazed a trail that remains a challenge for men of greater longevity.

In 1959, Dr. Navarro came to Kentucky as an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Assistant Director of the Computing Center. He assisted in the establishment of the University of Kentucky Computing Center. In 1960, he was named Assistant Director of the Project on Computers in Engineering Education sponsored by the Ford Foundation at the University of Michigan which has proved to be a great success and is considered a milestone in the use of computers in engineering education. Silvio was appointed Director of the University of Kentucky Computing Center in 1961.

Silvio Navarro was an outstanding lecturer and teacher of both digital and analog computer fundamentals, techniques, design, and research thereof. His work was so outstanding that his services were constantly sought by groups all over the world. Sponsored by UNESCO in 1965, he was one of the organizers of the Computing Center at the University of Concepción in Chile, South America. He spent the summer of that year in Concepción lecturing to the faculty, preparing course outlines, organizing a program library, and aiding in the general implementation of the new Center. In the summer of 1966, he returned to South America again as a UNESCO consultant for a lecture and consulting tour of four universities in Chile. While there, he wrote various text materials in Spanish to permit fast absorption by the students. He also lectured at the National University of México on the use of computers in simulation and in biomedical areas. He had anticipated a similar tour this summer to México and Chile for UNESCO and to Brazil for the international program at the University of Houston. Dr. Navarro also aided in the organization of the First Latin American Symposium of the Academic Scientific Centers of Calculation in which he planned to participate in September 1967...

He made many contributions to texts including his chapter on a hypothetical SAMOS computer in the Stanford Mathematical Study Group (SMSG) computer text, Algorithms, Computation, and Mathematics, presently used in many schools. He published numerous articles and papers for dozens of journals and symposia. His most recent article on future biomedical computers resulted in over 400 reprint requests from all over the world. He had only recently consented to assist in another computer education project sponsored by the American Society for Engineering Education.

He generously gave his time as a visiting lecturer at other universities. These included NSF Advance Science Seminars in Houston, the Conference for Engineering Executives in Texas, and the Computer Workshop for Biomedical Researchers in Michigan.

Silvio personally developed a unique computer language for the IBM 650, methods for the automatic programming and simplification of analog computer circuits, automatic dispatching of electrical systems, and was instrumental in establishing one of the first computer-operated electrical systems in the United States. He designed and built the Texas Engineering Experiment Station electronic analog computer and applied himself to statistical prediction of transformer demand, phase balancing, voltage spread, power loss, solution of differential equations, Bessel functions, elliptic integrals and factor analytic techniques. He developed and first taught three computer courses at the University of Kentucky in the Department of Electrical Engineering and proposed, justified, and developed a curriculum in Computer Science at the University which resulted in the creation of the new Department of Computer Science.

Silvio was President of the Lexington Section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, past President of the Kentucky Chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery, listed in American Men of Science, and a member of the New York Academy of Sciences, Sigma Xi, Pi Mu Epsilon, Tau Beta Pi, Eta Kappa Nu, National Society of Professional Engineers, and the Kiwanis Club.

Above all else, Silvio Navarro was an extraordinarily warm and sincere human being who thoroughly knew the meaning of human dignity which was evidenced by both his approach to family, friends, and associates in his daily life, and also in his deep-rooted understanding of the true value of a democratic society. He identified with people living under dictatorships and spent a great deal of time explaining the evils of Communism which his family had experienced first hand. His door was always open to refugees seeking the freedom that he so proudly cherished in his naturalized American homeland.

Silvio was a devoted citizen of his country and even though his work day was long, he felt a responsibility to participate in the affairs of his country. He devoted many hours preparing and delivering talks to various civic, religious, social, and professional groups in the community. He did not wait for others to serve the needs of Lexington but was always willing to do his part in community and in charitable activities whether it involved standing in downtown Lexington on a cold December Saturday ringing a Christmas bell or selling soft drinks on a warm evening a the Kiwanis Fourth of July Fireworks Display.

Because of his accomplishments and our warmest personal feelings, Silvio will live in our hearts and minds forever.

Silvio leaves behind a lovely wife, Ana Maria, and six wonderful children, five boys and a girl whose ages range from four to twelve. A Silvio O. Navarro Memorial fund has been established to aid in the education of his children and is being administered by the First Security National Bank and Trust Department, Lexington, Kentucky.

From the Kentucky Register, the newsletter of the Computing Center, May 1967.

Link to Biographical Notes