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Demetrius Paris: Passionate Intellectual

Atlanta, GA

Written by Dr. Roger Webb and Dr. David Hertling.

Demetrius Paris had a remarkable 39-year career at Georgia Tech, serving as a faculty member, as director of the School of Electrical Engineering, and as vice president for research of the Institute. During his 20-year tenure as school director, Demetrius established a highly successful graduate research program, thereby enabling the School to become recognized as one of the premier programs in the nation.

Demetrius succeeded Ben Dasher as school director in 1969. Dasher had enjoyed a remarkably successful 15-year tenure as school director, installing a modern curriculum, jump-starting the doctoral program, moving the School into the new Van Leer building, and nearly doubling the size of the faculty. However, when Ben stepped down as director, the School had yet to establish a viable graduate research program. Demetrius Paris, who had served as assistant director of the School since 1967, was well aware of this daunting challenge when he applied to become director. When he was named director, he, in his typical style, entered the fray with a plan.

Demetrius’ path to Georgia Tech and School directorship was circuitous. He was born in Stavroupoli, Greece, a town in the Macedonian region of northern Greece, on September 27, 1928, and was christened Demetrius Theodore Paraskevopoulos in the Greek Orthodox Church. He was the only child of Theodore and Aspasia Paraskevopoulos. His father was a pharmacist, a scholarly man who could read and converse in seven languages and was an avid student of Byzantine culture and heritage. Demetrius’ early childhood was pleasant and uneventful, but in early 1941, the Germans invaded Greece and the brutal three-and-a-half-year occupation, followed quickly by severe political upheaval, clearly had a lasting influence on Demetrius and his future. His father, realizing that Greece would not soon stabilize, unselfishly sent Demetrius to the United States, specifically to the small town of Durant, Mississippi, where he had a distant relative. So the 19-year-old Demetrius, absent familiarity with either the culture or language, arrived by boat in New York, cleared the immigration hurdle, and, by train and bus, made his way to Durant, a small town in the center of Mississippi. Demetrius’ sponsors in Durant were A.K. “Charlie” Dinas and his wife Mary, both Greek immigrants who migrated to Durant, opened a small café where Demetrius worked, and raised three sons, with whom Demetrius bunked. Additionally, Demetrius enrolled in Holmes Community College in nearby Goodman, Mississippi, where he honed his language skills.

After two years at Holmes College, Demetrius transferred to Mississippi State University in Starkville, Mississippi. His sponsors in Durant referred him to a fellow Greek immigrant, James Marmaduke, who, with his American wife Amalie, operated a café in Starkville where Demetrius worked. Elsie Dorsett, Amalie’s sister, was living with James and Amalie at the time. Elsie had recently been widowed when her husband died from a heart attack, leaving Elsie with a three-year-old daughter, Cheryl, and a yet-to-be born son subsequently christened James Dorsett (Jimmy). So Demetrius and Elsie met through the Greek connection, and soon she was addressing him by the Demetrius diminutive, Taki. They were married January 5, 1952.

After receiving his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering with honors from Mississippi State University in 1951, Demetrius accepted a job with Westinghouse Electric in Atlanta and moved his new family there. He subsequently left Westinghouse, joining the avionics section of Lockheed Aircraft specializing in developing radomes for aircraft antennae. He also enrolled in the graduate program at Georgia Tech. Demetrius was only about a year into his tenure at Lockheed when Ben Dasher offered him a position as assistant professor of electrical engineering at Georgia Tech. He accepted and began his lifelong career with Georgia Tech in the fall of 1959. Upon joining the faculty, he immediately began pursuing his Ph.D., which he completed in 1962. His thesis entitled A Variational Principle and its Application to Problems in Electromagnetic Theory was done under Professor Ken Hurd.

Demetrius’ early career was remarkably successful. In 1963, he was promoted to associate professor, followed by full professor in 1966. He was a medium-sized man with an open countenance, a ready smile, and an engaging manner, well-liked by faculty colleagues and students alike. Ed Joy, a now-retired electrical engineering faculty member, and one of Demetrius’ first Ph.D. students recalls him fondly:

“As an undergraduate at Georgia Tech, Demetrius was my favorite professor, and I took all the courses he taught. After a stint in the United States Navy, I returned to Georgia Tech as a graduate student, again taking every graduate course Demetrius offered. His enthusiasm was contagious, and soon I too became an ‘electromagnetics geek.’ Demetrius got me engaged with Scientific Atlanta which sponsored my Ph.D. dissertation research on near-field antenna measurements, a field in which I remain engaged to this day.”

In 1969, Demetrius, together with his colleague and former thesis advisor, Ken Hurd, published a classic undergraduate textbook Basic Electromagnetic Theory, which was widely acclaimed and was adopted by several U.S. electrical engineering departments. Over 14,000 copies were sold.

After Ben Dasher stepped down as school director in 1969, Demetrius applied for the position. He was appointed and installed at the beginning of the 1969-1970 academic year. He had served the previous two years as Dasher’s assistant director and was well aware of the primary challenge before him. Demetrius inherited the program with 19 over-burdened, tenure-track faculty. The undergraduate student population was large and growing, requiring multiple sections of required courses and the graduate program also required significant teaching commitment. The resultant faculty teaching load was oppressive. It is small wonder that in 1970 that there was only one funded research project in the School and the funded research budget was $47,000.

Demetrius realized the compelling need to increase the size of the faculty to relieve the overwhelming instructional burden and to increase the funded research program to support the graduate program. His plan was simple and straightforward, albeit challenging to implement: recruit and hire outstanding Ph.D. graduates of established programs with research experience in areas of perceived high research potential and opportunistically recruit well-established faculty (water walkers) in the same areas. The example of developing the digital signal processing (DSP) research area will suffice to illustrate the plan implementation and results.

In 1972, Demetrius recruited Tom Barnwell who had done his Ph.D. at MIT. In 1974, Demetrius utilized the newly established John and Marilu McCarty Professorship to recruit Ron Schafer from Bell Labs. Ron, a 1961 graduate of the University of Nebraska, completed his Ph.D. at MIT in 1968, becoming one of the first to do Ph.D. research in DSP. Upon graduation, he joined the technical staff at Bell Labs where he quickly established himself as a leading researcher in DSP. By now, DSP was becoming recognized as a distinct field of electrical engineering with its very own IEEE society. Russ Mersereau, another newly minted DSP graduate from MIT, was recruited in 1975. 

These three, later joined by others, quickly developed what is arguably the nation’s premier DSP program, acquiring significant research support from private industry, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Army Research Office. They developed course work, associated textbooks, and teaching aids, and they produced copious amounts of intellectual property and well-trained graduates. A major outcome of the DSP program development was Georgia Tech obtaining membership in the prestigious Joint Services Electronics Program (JSEP). 

Demetrius’ tireless efforts to convince JSEP leadership that Georgia Tech could play effectively in this long-standing Department of Defense (DoD) university research consortium were rewarded in 1979 with JSEP funding for DSP projects. Under Ron Schafer’s leadership, the Georgia Tech JSEP program soon expanded to include projects in optical communications and electromagnetic measurements. From 1979 until 1997 (when all JSEP activities ended), Georgia Tech’s JSEP program supported an average of eight faculty and 10 doctoral students per year, with funding of over $500K per year. The Georgia Tech DSP program continues to thrive under the leadership of Jim McClellan, who succeeded Schafer as the McCarty Professor.

President Joseph Pettit arrived at Georgia Tech in 1972 with the avowed mission of transforming the Institute into a significant graduate research operation. Educated as an electrical engineer and having served on the Stanford electrical engineering faculty before becoming dean of engineering at Stanford, President Pettit realized the critical role that the School of Electrical Engineering must play in the transformation. In particular, President Pettit was well aware that the absence of a strong research program in microelectronics would jeopardize his Georgia Tech transformation goal, and he set about effecting a remedy. He formally announced the inauguration of the Microelectronics Research Center (MiRC), naming John Hooper, a longtime electrical engineering faculty member, as the founding director and defining the center to be multidisciplinary, reporting directly to the President’s Office.

Creation of adequate laboratory space was clearly the first priority. Demetrius offered up the mothballed rotating machines laboratory on the first floor of Van Leer. President Pettit allocated renovation and equipment funds, lab space and offices were created, and the MiRC lab space problem was partially solved—only partially because it was impractical to renovate the Van Leer space to provide either clean room level ventilation or evacuation of toxic chemical waste. 

John Hooper, with Demetrius’ blessing, asked existing faculty members Bob Feeney and Jay Schlag, along with newly recruited Dave Hertling, to lend their considerable expertise to the project. This core team, aided by some faculty from other units, aggressively set about acquiring and installing equipment and soliciting faculty from across campus to utilize it. The success of their efforts is attested by Atlanta coming in a surprising second to Austin, Texas in a nationwide competition to host the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC), a research organization funded by a consortium of U.S. electronics companies. The Hooper team contributed significantly to the Atlanta bid, and the report issued by the selection committee paid attribution to the MiRC.  And “second place” counted since President Pettit’s subsequent proposal to the Board of Regents resulted in the funding of a major new research facility, the Joseph Pettit Microelectronics Research Building.

With the complete solution of the MiRC laboratory issue in sight, Demetrius set about recruiting faculty to effectively utilize it. With the help of John Hooper, he recruited Ajeet Rohatgi from Westinghouse Electric in 1984. Ajeet, a well-recognized photovoltaics expert, quickly established a research laboratory, secured long-term support from the Department of Energy, and embarked on the development of a premier photovoltaics research center, which is still active. Over time, Ajeet’s lab developed technology which produced silicon-based photocells that set long-standing records for conversion efficiency and eventually led to commercialization.

Using the Byers Endowed Chair, funded by alumnus Ken Byers, Demetrius recruited Carl Verber from Battelle Laboratories and Dick Kenan, a long-time Verber colleague. He subsequently added two additional distinguished faculty members, Dick Higgins who ultimately became director of MiRC, and Phil Allen, a well-established expert in CMOS technology.

The result of the Pettit/Paris initiative that created the MiRC and the Hooper team is that Georgia Tech now operates three clean room equipped facilities: the Pettit facility, the Marcus Nanotechnology facility (opened in 2010), and the Institut Lafayette at Georgia Tech Lorraine (opened in 2014). These facilities, operating under the auspices of the Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology (IEN), now have aggregate research funding approximating $110 million per year.  

An early initiative in Demetrius’ research program development didn’t follow the “plan.” It came about through his affiliation with the Rome Air Development Center (RADC) and in particular with an avionics research program operated by Dr. Woodson (Woody) Everett. Woody had formed a coordinating organization called the Northeastern Center for Electrical Engineering Education (NCEEE) with the business office at RADC and program coordination effected through the Department of Electrical Engineering at nearby Syracuse University. Through this affiliation, Demetrius was able to secure several research contracts for his faculty, some in collaboration with Syracuse University faculty. The connection was productive from the RADC viewpoint, leading to a proposal that Everett’s operation be moved from Syracuse to Georgia Tech, including the transfer of several senior faculty from Syracuse.

The reservations to this proposal expressed by some existing faculty members were sufficiently persuasive to cause Demetrius to rethink and negotiate. The result was that NCEEE and the Syracuse faculty remained at Syracuse. A new center, the Southeastern Center for Electrical Engineering Education (SCEEE), with a branch office in Orlando, Florida serving as the business center, was created. The Georgia Tech School of Electrical Engineering assumed the research coordination role. SCEEE operated effectively until the late 1990s, providing research support not only for Georgia Tech, but also for many other southeastern electrical engineering schools. While RADC and SCEEE played an essential role in initiating research support for several school faculty, it did not become a central force in school research program development. 

During Demetrius’ tenure as school director, he successfully recruited over 50 new faculty members, adding some 40 tenure-track faculty positions to the School. There were commensurately increased enrollments in the graduate programs, and external funding for research increased from $140K to nearly $5 million annually. The School became ranked in the top 10 such programs in the nation. In short, Demetrius successfully executed his plan.

So how did this Greek immigrant, arriving in this country as a teenager with little knowledge of either American English or American culture, become a true leader in American engineering education? First and foremost, Demetrius brought Greek passion and unrelenting adherence to his principles to everything he did. His time at Holmes College was devoted to learning the language. He emerged speaking American English, devoid of a Greek accent or southern dialect, with the only evidence of it being his second language being its impeccable utilization. Shortly after moving to Atlanta, Demetrius bought a modest house in the Garden Hills area. His financial circumstance quickly evolved to where he could easily afford a much grander domicile, but having established a home, Demetrius lived there until he died, fastidiously maintaining the house and yard. He and Elsie proudly invited friends, students, potential faculty, and potential donors and supporters to their home and all relished the ambiance (and the food). Demetrius raised Cheryl and Jim as his own, and each still refers to him as “Daddy,” but he never formally adopted them. His answer as to why was simple but remarkably reflective. He didn’t want his children to in any way dishonor their heritage.

Even though thoroughly Greek, he became, in his son Jim’s words, “a flag-waving American.” He adopted American culture, becoming a fan of major league baseball and college athletics, and a devotee of country music. His enjoyment of country music led him to learn to play the guitar, and he would play and sing to and with his family. When asked “how come?” his answer was simply that American country music reminded him of the Greek folk music he enjoyed growing up.

The other aspects intrinsic to his success were Demetrius’ remarkable affinity for people, his ability to select partners and associates with skills that complemented his own and, most importantly, his ability to convince them to join his team.

While he would never admit to anything analytical about his courtship with Elsie, the result confirms the point. Demetrius’ passion and devotion to theory sometimes dominated his common sense, and his openness with people tended to be noncritical. Elsie, on the other hand, was all about common sense, not easily perturbed, and had an uncanny phoniness detector. Their son, Jim, recounts with glee Demetrius’ initial attempt at air conditioning the house. He bought a small window unit, installed and plugged it into the wall socket. Elsie cautioned him that he should probably get an electrician to check the service panel before turning it on. Assuring her that he’d made the calculation, he threw the switch and the old fashioned “instant blow bottle fuse” instantly blew. Chagrined, Demetrius acknowledged that he had neglected to account for the compressor starting current and hired an electrician to upgrade the service panel.

Demetrius’ selection of Ken Hurd to co-author his book was entirely analytical. Ken was a physicist by training and, while certainly knowledgeable, was not nearly as passionate a devotee of electromagnetics as Demetrius. But, as Demetrius learned from his thesis endeavor, he was a meticulous and effective editor. So, while the intellectual content and organization of “Paris and Hurd” was largely Demetrius, the clarity of presentation certainly benefited from Ken’s participation. Likewise, in selecting an associate director for the School, Demetrius looked for someone to counter his self-acknowledged tendency to overthink decisions and attempt to resolve second order effects before pulling the trigger. In selecting Roger Webb as associate director, he chose someone whose style was more “just do it,” than measure and manage unintended consequences. The resultant compromise was usually effective.

Demetrius was a principal in establishing Georgia Tech’s major initiative in international education, Georgia Tech Lorraine (GTL), which was initially only an electrical engineering program. He selected Hans (Teddy) Püttgen, a professor of electric power, to become the initial director of GTL. Teddy’s facility with the French language, and more importantly, French culture enabled him to navigate the dangerous shoals of French political waters, bringing to GTL undeniable success rather than yet another failed or inconsequential foreign entanglement.

In 1988, Demetrius was offered the position of vice president for research. He accepted and moved to “the Hill.” He took pride in the fact that he was the sole member of the “upper administration” who had a Georgia Tech degree. He applied himself assiduously to the vice president for research (VPR) role and accomplished it in his usual efficient and competent manner. But, being primarily a management position and mostly absent of development opportunity, it was not a good fit for either Demetrius’ natural proclivity or skill set, and he derived little satisfaction from it. So, upon the arrival of President Wayne Clough, he stepped down from the VPR position and returned to the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering in 1995. As a side note, the “Computer” part of the School’s name was added in 1993.

Roger Webb, who had succeeded Demetrius as school chair, asked him to function as an advisor to his office and to the faculty on research development, a task which Demetrius enthusiastically embraced. He advised faculty on targets for research proposals, assisted in proposal preparation, and provided most effectively the school interface to the Office of Contract Administration (which had reported to him as VPR).

Early in his Georgia Tech career, Demetrius had suffered from a leaky brain aneurysm which took him out of action for a few months, but from which he completely recovered. Later, he had heart surgery and became a devoted adherent of careful diet and exercise and was seemingly a healthy 69-year-old. On Friday, August 21, 1998, Demetrius went to work at Georgia Tech just as he had done for nearly 40 years. The following morning, Demetrius was beginning his usual Saturday yard care routine when he suffered a severe headache. Probably recognizing the symptoms from the previous occurrence, he asked Elsie to take him to Piedmont Hospital, but lost consciousness at home. He was transferred to Piedmont where they diagnosed a ruptured brain aneurysm. He never regained consciousness and passed away on August 29, 1998. As he would have wished, Demetrius died “with his boots on” having lived a useful and successful life and bequeathing Georgia Tech a remarkable and enduring legacy.

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Demetrius Paris Plaque

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Last revised May 15, 2020