William Dean Foust
- April 22, 2021
William Foust, pioneer in language syntactical analysis and computer languages formation, and long-time software programming manager, passed away on Good Friday, April 2. He died from natural causes, and was 85 years old.
William Dean Foust was born in Kokomo, Indiana on December 5, 1935, to parents Clarence Donald and Helen Irene (Gardner) Foust. He had an older sister Ann, and the two were close. Ann and William lost their mother in 1941, to anesthesia complications during a routine operation. Their grandmother Gardner stepped in to help raise them, along with stepmother Alice shortly thereafter.
William was academically gifted, ran cross-country at Kokomo High and was the Indiana state Latin champion. He was accepted at Harvard in 1953, where he studied five languages, earned an A.B. cum laude in linguistics and applied mathematics, and later a master’s degree in linguistics. While at Harvard, Mr. Foust married Darlene Irene O’Harra in June 1956; the two had built a relationship while in high school.
After graduating in 1957, he worked at the Harvard Computational Lab until 1962, and, together with colleagues, published papers on language syntactical analysis and automated translations. This scientific work morphed into compiler design and early software development, at the time new computer languages were being formed, and was ground-breaking in the industry’s evolution.
Mr. Foust was manager of COBOL compilers for the UNIVAC Division of Sperry Rand Corp. and served as its representative on the national CODASYL COBOL Committee. He would go on to manage commercial software systems and programming for Computer Applications, Inc, International Telephone and Telegraph Data Systems, RCA, Hetra, then again for UNIVAC, and then Monroe, ultimately starting his own firm Advanced On-Line Systems in 1974.
William was active throughout his life in Unitarian Universalism, starting with the UU First Parish in Cambridge, followed by the Cherry Hill, NJ, Main Line , PA, Morristown, NJ and Santa Barbara, CA churches and fellowships. He and his family participated in numerous foreign exchange programs, and he traveled to China on a United Nations sponsored teaching assignment in 1984. He was an avowed pacifist, a world federalist, and a strong advocate of human rights, egalitarianism, and social justice.