In Memory: Joe Yaver

SPIE executive director 1969–1993 was a visionary leader.

01 January 2017

The SPIE community was saddened to learn of the sudden death on 29 November of Joe Yaver, executive director of SPIE from November 1969 until 1993.

Yaver, 83, was a visionary leader who had a profound role in building and shaping SPIE’s leading role in the global optics and photonics industry and greatly expanding the breadth and scope of SPIE technical activities.

Among his many accomplishments, he was credited with launching the OE/LASE symposium in Los Angeles, CA (USA), the precursor of SPIE Photonics West, and the Technical Symposium Southeast in Orlando, FL (USA), the forerunner to SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing.

He also increased the scope and reputation of the Proceedings of SPIE, the foundation of today’s SPIE Digital Library, in support of the Society’s goal to provide the latest optics and photonics developments to the largest number of people.

Yaver wrote of his passion for the Society and the field of optics and photonics in From Photography to Photonics — 50 Years of SPIE the SPIE anniversary book published in 2005.

“SPIE introduced me to a world that was destined to be one of the great enabling technologies of the century,” he wrote. “It provided me with an opportunity to meet many of the leading figures in one of mankind’s greatest achievements: the exploration of space.”

He recalled the honor of meeting many of the field’s luminaries, such as Harold “Doc” Edgerton, Rudolf Kingslake, Brian Thompson, Lewis Larmore, and astronauts Walter Cunningham, Ken Mattingly, and Henry Hartsfield, Jr.

“I was proud to be part of SPIE’s pioneering endeavor to build bridges to the scientific communities in Europe and Asia and to be the first American-based technical society to establish a chapter and office in what was then the Soviet Union, under Mikhail Gorbachev,” Yaver wrote.

James Wyant, the 1986 SPIE president, who described Yaver as a “genius” at building relationships with the optics community around the world in the anniversary book, called Yaver “an amazing person who did amazing things.”

“He had a great impact on the world of optics,” Wyant said.

Numerous other past presidents joined SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs in remembering Yaver and expressing condolences to his wife, Agnete Yaver, who worked alongside him in building SPIE and advancing its mission.

“I am deeply grateful for what he did for SPIE, for our entire community, and for all the staff over the years,” Arthurs said. “I am humbled by his extraordinary legacy with our organization and for his guidance since I took his old role in 1999.”

During Yaver’s tenure, SPIE moved its headquarters from Los Angeles to Bellingham, WA (USA), and the SPIE membership grew from 1200 in 1964 to 12,000 in 1993. He partnered with other scientific societies and associations to establish major conferences in Europe and Asia, in line with the Society’s role as an international organization.

Even during retirement, “Joe was an invaluable resource and constant supporter of the organization he molded and brought to the doorstep of the 21st century, said Robert Lieberman, the 2016 SPIE president. “Joe Yaver will be sorely missed by the SPIE family and fondly remembered by all who knew him,” Lieberman added. “I salute him and his many accomplishments.”

Bob Sprague, who was SPIE president in 1991, remembered Yaver as “a driving force” at SPIE for many years. “I worked with him very closely as president and all my years on the board, and he was a tireless advocate for SPIE,” Sprague said. “I really enjoyed all those times and found them extremely productive. This is a very sad loss for SPIE and the world of optics. Joe will be sorely missed!”

Chuck DeMund, SPIE president for 1973 and 1974, recalled taking a walk with Yaver while attending an early SPIE seminar in New York City. Yaver stopped in front of an unremarkable building. “He proceeded to tell me that this was where he had studied acting under one of the greats, Sanford Meisner,” DeMund said.

In Meisner’s view, great acting depends on “the actor’s impulsive response to what’s happening around him,” Yaver told DeMund.

“Evidently, Joe learned more than a little from his mentor,” DeMund said. “He ‘acted’ his way through many situations, many involving people and technologies that he only knew a little of, almost always with palpable success.

“Joe’s theatrical skills are what I will remember best. SPIE certainly owes him many resounding curtain calls for sensing where the audiences for our ever-growing capabilities were and how to get them into our ‘theater.’”

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