Peter Lyngbaek

(March 9, 1955 - October 13, 1991)

Peter Lyngbaek once took a course to Americanize his Danish accent, but fortunately it failed. His charming accent and boyish good looks will be the easiest things to remember.

Peter was one of the first people to bring in the stunning news, on a bleak January morning in 1986, of the tragic explosion of the Challenger space shuttle. We suffered the same reaction on a recent Monday morning. Peter was struck down by a diabetic attack on October 13, in the rising arc of his young life and career.

His star was indeed rising. At age 36, Peter had just completed a major career milestone, and was celebrating in characteristically zestful style with his son Kristian and his parents at Yosemite when he collapsed. Other commitments kept his wife, Manon Janssen, from joining them on that trip. She was home with their younger son Steffen.

Peter balanced many tracks in his life as researcher, development project manager, husband and father, all the while keeping his diabetes under control. Just a few days before his death, Peter gave an immensely successful tutorial on object oriented databases at the OOPSLA conference in Phoenix. At the same conference, Hewlett-Packard unveiled OpenODB, the object oriented database product in which Peter played a leading role. For five years he was one of the chief researchers developing the Iris prototype at HP Laboratories. Then, taking a brave giant step in a new direction, he spent the last two years on loan to the Commercial Systems Division, coordinating the technology transfer and managing the development of the OpenODB product. He was about to wrap that up and return to research.

Peter joined HP Labs in 1984 after receiving his PhD in Computer Science from the University of Southern California.

Peter excelled at USC, publishing and presenting several research papers to launch his career as a highly respected computer scientist. His spirit will live on in the wonderful memories shared by the many good friends he made in Los Angeles. According to a student who followed Peter at USC "his excellent research and outstanding achievements have always been an inspiration".

A key member of the team at HP Labs, Peter was highly respected by everyone who knew him. He quickly established an excellent reputation in the professional community, as the author of numerous papers and as a participant on many conference committees and panels.

Technology transfer in Cupertino was a rough voyage through uncharted waters, needing Peter’s perseverence and optimism to survive through two divisions, two lab managers, three section managers, and a project management turnover. Colleagues liked his open, friendly, and professional manner, his supportiveness, and his honesty.

Next on the horizon was a planned trip in December with Manon to India, where Peter was to present a paper at the International Conference on Management of Data in Bombay.

Through it all the family was uppermost. Peter disliked leaving his family behind for business trips, and he often spoke proudly, sometimes ruefully, of the achievements and antics of Kristian and Steffen. Peter and Manon enjoyed visiting their families in Denmark and Holland, and the families often visited them here.

What else do we remember? A young woman asking "are you looking for a youth hostel?" as Peter wheeled a suitcase full of clothes and food across a square in Florence before VLDB in 1983. Sharing a cottage on a deserted beach on the island of Bali, before the 1984 VLDB in Singapore. The tri-lingual household: Kristian speaking his mother’s Dutch and father’s Danish, with English coming along later at nursery school. Cutting out traditional Danish decorations at Christmas parties. A ricetaffel dinner auctioned off for United Way. Sharing outdoor concerts high on the moonlit hillsides of Paul Masson winery... His laughter. His smile.

There are suddenly many things we’ll never do together again. He will be sorely missed.

Peter’s friends and colleagues

At Peter’s memorial service...


Peter will indeed be sorely missed. But he will live on in his works, his family, and in the hearts of his friends.

Peter’s name joins a long list of stunning and unjust losses. My first such experience was the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Later came John and Bobby Kennedy, Anwar Sadat, Martin Luther King, Ernie Pyle, James Dean, Sal Mineo, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Croce, John Lennon, Christa McAuliffe on the Challenger, and the students killed at Kent State.

We each have our own list, our own painful memories, including the loved ones we have lost. I think we each felt the same way each time.

This long list of unexpected deaths gives us a perspective on life. It reminds us that life is mysterious, life is fragile, life is precious, life is short.

These unexpected deaths also put our own lives into perspective. Let’s remember Peter by getting our values clear and our priorities straight, by taking care of the important things now, by not getting petty and mean over the little things that clutter our lives.

Let’s remember Peter by remembering to value life, and by remembering to be nice to one other.

Farewell, Peter.

Bill Kent
Villa Montalvo
October 18, 1991