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Remembering U alum, computer graphics pioneer and philanthropist John Warnock

The University of Utah community is saddened by the loss of alum John Warnock—a scientist, humanist and trailblazer in computer graphics.

Warnock passed away on Saturday, Aug. 19 at age 82. A native of Salt Lake City, Utah, Warnock earned four degrees from the U and used his vision, passion and intellect to launch Adobe Systems Inc., a business that revolutionized graphics, desktop publishing, and web and electronic document technologies. Today, Adobe is one of the largest, most recognized software brands in the world.

“John is without doubt a member of the pantheon of Utah alumni,” said U President Taylor Randall. “He was a visionary technologist, pioneer and a true luminary of our times. His legacy is woven into the fabric of the digital age and tools we now use daily. His accomplishments are central to the University of Utah’s trajectory, distinguishing us as a leader in research and innovation.”

John Warnock, keynote speaker, delivers his speech.A dedicated four-time alum, Warnock delivered the 2020 General Commencement address and visited campus last March to celebrate the 50th anniversary of computing at the U. Warnock received bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and philosophy (‘61), a master’s in mathematics (‘64), and a doctorate in electrical engineering/computer science (‘69) from the University of Utah.

In addition to his prowess in technology, Warnock published an art book through University of Utah Press. He and his wife, Marva, provided a foundational gift of nearly $6 million for the John and Marva Warnock Engineering Building at the U and also created four endowed chairs and an endowed art residency program. They have also provided major support to the Moran Eye Center.

“I remember John telling me that, when he was a young man, he really needed the College of Engineering, so when he learned the College of Engineering needed him, he couldn’t say no,” said Richard Brown, dean of the Price College of Engineering. “He has given back in ways that have had a huge impact on thousands of students who came after him.”

Read the College of Engineering’s remembrance of Warnock here. The College of Science also honors their distinguished alum here. A recognition piece from the College of Humanities can be read here.

Following his graduation from the U, Warnock worked at technology companies including Evans & Sutherland Computer Corporation, Computer Sciences Corporation and IBM. In 1978, he joined Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center as a principal scientist, working on device independent interactive graphics. There, he and colleague Charles Geschke developed a printer protocol called InterPress. After Xerox declined to pursue the idea, the two struck out on their own.

In 1982, Warnock and Geschke co-founded Adobe to explore a new approach to printing technology called PostScript. Their innovations included scalable type, computer graphics and printing processes. Within a few years, Adobe ignited a desktop publishing revolution. Today, Adobe offers a suite of user-friendly software publishing and digital image products that still push creative boundaries.

Warnock was Adobe’s president for two years and then served as the company’s CEO for 16 years. He was Adobe’s board chairman from April 1989 to January 2017, sharing that position with Geschke from September 1997 onward. He served as a member of Adobe’s board of directors until the time of his death.