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Canada Brilliant tech pioneer Roger D. Moore gave generously to the music community

Roger D. Moore’s life was like an opera with two distinct, equally impressive acts.

Roger D. Moore.

Eric Frick/Handout

First, Mr. Moore, who died on March 21 in Toronto at the age of 79, was a pioneer in Canadian computing. As the “technical brains” of the Toronto-based company I.P. Sharp Associates, where he served as vice-president from 1964-1987, he helped design the type of cloud-computing and network technology that undergirds much of our modern, hyperconnected world.

Second, he was a champion and generous patron of the music community. He donated to dozens of arts organizations, mostly in the Toronto area, commissioned new operas and provided seed money to countless young and emerging musicians and composers.

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There was a unifying theme, like a running melody, that tied his two passions together: innovation. Mr. Moore did appreciate the classics – he named his dear departed cat Papagena, after the soprano role in Mozart’s The Magic Flute, and supported the stalwart Canadian Opera Company.

But he told Canadian Opera magazine, which ran a profile of him in 2010, “the one thing that has guided me is the need for new music, particularly new opera.” A new generation of singers deserved something new to sing, he believed, not just “museum pieces.”

One of his most substantial gifts was endowing the Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition at the University of Toronto. Don McLean, dean of the faculty of music, said the fund covers, “in perpetuity,” the cost of bringing a composer to the university to teach and perform challenging, innovative works with students for a week during the annual New Music Festival.

Like virtually everyone who relates a story about Mr. Moore, Mr. McLean broke into an impression of him: “Don, you’ve got some really good dead composers. How about some living ones this time?”

He was “a hoot to talk to, a real character,” Mr. McLean said.

“Roger was the poster child for the somewhat eccentric, absolutely brilliant technical person,” said Lib Gibson, who ran the software division at I.P. Sharp and worked with Mr. Moore starting in 1970. “But he was so quiet and so modest, and he worked for a quiet, modest company. If he was American, his horn would have been tooted to high heavens.”

Roger Duncan Moore was born in San Bernardino, Calif., on Nov. 16, 1939, to Frank and Sidney Moore, co-owners of a local newspaper, the Redlands Daily Facts. He appreciated music from a young age, encouraged by his grandmother, who studied voice in Germany, and he liked to listen to the Metropolitan Opera on the radio as a teenager. However, he called himself the “musical klutz” of the family, and never played an instrument seriously.

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Instead, he channelled his creativity into a mathematics degree at Stanford University, where he was attracted to computing and worked on translating algebra into programming language.

In April, 1963, Mr. Moore took a job programming the Saskatchewan Power Corp.’s FP6000, which his colleague Ian Sharp called a “great giant beast” of a computer. The Ferranti-Packard machine, which was a miraculous multitasker for its time, ran the province’s gas and electrical distribution system while simultaneously performing everyday tasks such as payroll administration.

Ferranti-Packard was soon sold, and a small team, including Mr. Moore and Mr. Sharp, set up a new computing company, I.P. Sharp, in Toronto in December, 1964.

“You hear a lot these days about the cloud. What we were doing in those days was the cloud,” said Mr. Sharp, who was the company’s president. “All the software governing that network was implemented by Roger.”

Mr. Moore had a memory on par with one of those early computers, little patience for those who could not keep up and was sometimes “lacking in social graces,” Mr. Sharp said. “If you asked him a technical question, he would say, ‘There’s a good answer to that question on page 394 of this particular book.’ ” And he’d be right.

Mr. Moore’s work on technologies known as packet-switching and time-sharing helped computers quickly handle many different tasks and communicate with multiple users around the world at once. This allowed, for example, collaborative research and stock trading to be computerized efficiently. In 1973, the Association for Computing Machinery awarded Mr. Moore and two collaborators the Grace Murray Hopper Award, a prestigious annual prize, for their work on the programming language APL\360.

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According to company lore, software designed by Mr. Moore allowed Morgan Stanley’s computers to chug along while other systems melted down and lost data during the stock market crash of 1987.

That same year, Reuters bought I.P. Sharp, dropping a windfall into the lap of Mr. Moore, who was a major shareholder. He stayed on for two years, then retired around the age of 50 and turned to philanthropy.

Ms. Gibson recalls her years working with Mr. Moore fondly. “He had bright red hair and quite a significant handlebar mustache when he was younger. He got a Santa Claus look as the beard turned white,” she said.

Like Santa, Mr. Moore, in his later years, made a habit of granting wishes. In an environment in which artists wait months for uncertain government funding, he would happily give a few thousand dollars to various musical projects on an ad-hoc basis.

Mr. Moore rescued Toronto’s Tapestry Opera’s Composer-Librettist Laboratory from closing, becoming the only regular sponsor after a key donor pulled out. The week-long intensive, which brings composers and playwrights together to brainstorm new works of opera, has given rise to 10 major world premieres and more than 200 artistic collaborations so far.

Roman Borys, a cellist in the Gryphon Trio and executive and artistic director of the Ottawa Chamber Music Society, said Mr. Moore was like an angel investor: generous, but hands-off.

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“He understood the creative process. He was never overtly critical,” Mr. Borys said. “It was such a gift for an arts community to have somebody like Roger. You didn’t have to take him out to dinner and wine and dine him. You picked up the phone.”

Mr. Moore would, however, have opinions on the results of his generosity, and would always, always want to see them – often cycling to local performances from his lakeside condo west of Toronto, no matter the weather, and arriving at the opera with his bicycle clips still on, sporting a scruffy suit and an outlandish tie from his extensive collection.

A while back, Mr. Moore’s friend, soprano Stacie Dunlop, and her partner, photographer Eric Frick, headed to an airy, light-filled studio space in west Toronto. Mr. Frick snapped photo after photo of a delighted Mr. Moore as, one by one, he produced nearly 200 ties out of a series of white grocery bags.

The resulting photographic slide show was set to music by Jason Doell, another composer Mr. Moore had supported, and debuted at a concert Ms. Dunlop gave on Nov. 13. It doubled as Mr. Moore’s 79th birthday celebration. She made him a three-tiered chocolate cake.

“I was very lucky to have Roger in my life – he supported the commission of an opera, two workshops, one arranging fee and one CD project that I performed on and produced. But most of all, he supported me as a human being,” Ms. Dunlop said in an e-mail.

In recent years, Mr. Moore took up gardening, bread baking and a meticulous project to catalogue every Canadian Opera Company production since 1950 by date, performer and opera title. He was a fixture at Pebbles Bar, near his home, and loved to take in burlesque at Zanzibar and live music at the Cadillac Lounge. He recently got hooked on the smartphone game Pokemon Go and could often be found cycling around the city in search of Pokestops.

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Mr. Moore was an extremely private person. His friends in the music community say he showed up to concerts alone. Most never met his romantic partners (though he had a few over the years) or spoke to him about his family life. His sister, Francie Moore, a nun, died in 2015, and he leaves a brother, Jeffrey Moore, who resides in California.

Mr. McLean, of U of T, said Mr. Moore was modest when asked about his technical achievements, saying, “I’m sure you’re really not interested in what I did back then.”

Those who were interested, though, could see the connection between his two selves.

“There’s a parallel there,” Mr. McLean said. “To create something new, and then make it work – Roger was fascinated by that.”

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