Obituary of Zenon Walter Pylyshyn

December 6, 2022

It is with deep sadness that we announce the end of the remarkable life of Zenon Walter Pylyshyn on December 6, 2022 in his 86th year.

Zenon’s parents, Anna and Yuriy (George), immigrated to Canada from Ukraine in the 1920s.  Yuriy was a tailor and both he and Anna worked in Montreal garment factories.  Zenon did not have the benefit of books in his home or university graduates in his life during his childhood, but he was a brilliant student with boundless energy.  He graduated with a degree in Engineering Physics from McGill University and then an MSc in Control Systems and a PhD in Experimental Psychology from the University of Saskatchewan.  From 1966 to 1994 he was on the faculty of Western University in London Ontario as Professor of Psychology and of Computer Science as well as an honorary professor in the departments of Philosophy and Electrical Engineering and Director of the UWO Centre for Cognitive Science.   In 1994 he joined Rutgers University as Board of Governors Professor of Cognitive Science and Director of the Rutgers Centre for Cognitive Science.  He has received numerous fellowships and awards, including the Donald O. Hebb Award from the Canadian Psychological Association “for distinguished contributions to psychology as a science.” In 1998 he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and in 2004 he was awarded the Jean Nicod Prize and delivered the Jean Nicod lectures in Paris.

Zenon was known for asking brave and foundational questions about the nature of the mind. His work on the human cognitive systems behind perception, imagination, and reasoning has had a lasting impact in the fields of psychology, philosophy, and computer science.

Zenon was propelled by passionate curiosity throughout his full and meaningful life.  He was grateful for the opportunity to work, live and travel in different parts of the world.  He followed politics, took his civic responsibilities seriously and was particularly furious about political events in recent years.  He loved music and theatre, read widely and was a skilled and adventurous cook. He was dedicated to his friends.  He loved his students and was committed to supporting their careers.  He adored his wife, Anne Telford, and his family.

He will be missed by Anne, his children Sonia (Fidel) and Joel (Virginia), his brother Gerry, his stepchildren Pattison (Sarah), Emily (Mark) and Colin (Vicky), his grandchildren Zoe, Naomi and Mateo Ortiz, Henry Pylyshyn, Ronnie, Finlay, Eden, Samara and Elijah Telford, Zavion DeJesus and Audrey and Felix Jacques, his oldest friend John Black and the many friends, colleagues, and students whose lives he touched and enriched.

Thank you to the very special staff at Calvary Hospital for the wonderful palliative care Zenon received in his last weeks.

In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate a donation to Planned Parenthood or to, or another charity promoting access to education for vulnerable communities.

A memorial and celebration of Zenon’s life will be held in Toronto, Ontario in the spring of 2023.

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