March 2, 1949 - April 29, 2020
Dennis John McFarland (age 71) of Albany, NY, died of natural causes on April 29, 2020. He was the cherished husband of Loretta Malta and the devoted father of John, Christopher, and Michael McFarland. Dennis was born on March 2, 1949 in Stamford, Connecticut to Louis John McFarland and Luella Ruth Wedding McFarland (both deceased). He and his brother Neal (also deceased) were raised in Covington, Kentucky in a house that their father built. Dennis was an offensive tackle on his high school varsity football team and a lifelong athlete who skied, roller-skated, and hiked weekly in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains. His final hiking trip was to Bald Mountain on April 20, 2020. Dennis earned a PhD in Physiological Psychology with a minor in Pharmacology from the University of Kentucky in 1978. He was a Research Scientist at the New York State Department of Health Wadsworth Center from 1978 until his retirement in 2018. Dennis was a pioneer and principal founder of the now burgeoning field of brain-computer interface (BCI) research. BCIs allow paralyzed people to use their brainwaves to communicate and improve neuromuscular control for conditions such as stroke and cerebral palsy. Dennis was the co-inventor of a BCI developed at the Wadsworth Center, which honored him with a Pangborn Award. He was an internationally renowned innovator and holds a number of important patents. His contributions shaped BCI research and development from the beginning and will guide it far into the future. His work was featured in a 1993 front-page story in the New York Times, a 2008 episode of 60 Minutes, and a 2006 Today Show episode in which Katie Couric spelled the word “peace” with her brain waves. Dennis also conducted seminal research on auditory processing and auditory processing disorders. He was instrumental in developing the concept of modality specificity as a criterion for validating diagnoses, and was honored by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association for his significant contributions to research and to the professions of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology. Dennis published over 120 peer-reviewed articles. His papers received awards from the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and he served as an Associate Editor for their journals. He edited a book on mental abilities and co-authored/co-edited books on BCI and auditory processing. In addition to possessing an encyclopedic grasp and deep understanding of the development, history, and status of psychology as a scientific enterprise, Dennis was a superb applied mathematician, statistician, and computer programmer. His programming skills were described by a colleague as placing him in “an elite class all his own” and were all the more impressive given that he was self-taught. Dennis was also respected for his high standards and even higher integrity. He will be greatly missed by his immediate colleagues, his students, and his many friends and collaborators throughout the world who valued him as a unique, erudite, and always welcoming advisor and unimpeachable authority. His gift for teaching and mentoring did not end in the lab, as his three sons are pursuing careers in physics, biophysics, and software engineering. Dennis was a caring, honest, and unpretentious man with a wonderful, dry wit. His sensibility blended an openness to experience with careful thought and deliberation. Dennis was a voracious reader and conversant on topics ranging from psychology, neuroscience, virology and physics, to evolution, genetics, and politics. He was an accomplished cook, who was known for delicious quiches, stir-fries, and chili. He was beloved by all knew him as a kind and gentle man who always put others ahead of himself. He made an indelible impression even on those who only knew him for short time. As noted by a former collaborator, “His loving temperament was a rare gift for all those around him.” A memorial service will be held at a future date. His eulogy is below. Eulogy It is with intense sadness that I write this eulogy for my beloved husband, Dennis, on behalf of myself and his sons John, Christopher, and Michael. There are many words that describe Dennis: loving, brilliant, funny, honest, ethical, kind, and gentle. His vast personality encompassed contradictions. He was analytical, but emotional and romantic. He was an abstract thinker, but practical. He was skeptical and critical, but never judgmental. He was intellectual and opinionated, but unassuming. He was a renowned scientist, but modest and unpretentious. But the word that kept coming to my mind was essential. Dennis was my oxygen. I fell in love with him soon after our first date on April 29, 2000, remarkably 20 years to the day he died. But the day that sealed it for me was when he shoveled my car out of the snow after an epic storm. Dennis shoveled snow the way he did everything else, that is, impeccably. He cleared a good three feet all around the car so that there was absolutely no way I couldn’t get out. It was award-winning, and he won my heart for good that day. Dennis was a loving and dedicated father. He was extremely proud of his sons, all intelligent, accomplished, and kind gentlemen like their father. He spoke often of their hiking and ski trips: of skiing behind his sons and lifting them up to straighten their skis when they fell; of complaints on an arduous hike on Giant Mountain; of streams fallen into, a tree set on fire in an attempt to smoke out a nest of wasps that had stung them, of food stolen by bears; of giving up and simply turning away when warnings to not get too close to the edge were ignored. Dennis accepted and loved his sons unconditionally. He was that rare parent who provided guidance and support without judgment. He was their best friend and they were his. Dennis came from a wonderful family. Sadly, his mother died before I met him; and I only met his father once before he died. But Dennis spoke of them often. His father was a WWII veteran and contractor who built their house. Dennis resembled his mother, who by all accounts was as kind, patient, and as gentle as he was. His stories about his sons echoed those he told me about hiking with his brother Neal, who died last year. Neal was very much like Dennis, right down to having a caring Italian-American wife, Sandy. She and their children Neal Jr., Billy, and Marcy are now grieving their father and their uncle. I like to imagine that Dennis and Neal are together on a great hike in the sky. Dennis also spoke fondly of their Florida fishing trips on visits to their uncle and aunt. He was proud of his cousin Douglas McFarland, a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in Animal Science at South Dakota State, who also inherited the McFarland clan’s intelligence and proficiency for science. The high regard and deep affection in which Dennis was held by his many friends, colleagues, students, and collaborators around the world was apparent in the heartfelt condolences we received. His obituary evidences his brilliance and scientific contributions. At work and at home, Dennis was essential. He was the guy in the background who quietly rolled up his sleeves and did the math. Dennis could handle anything. He was the calm in a storm. He was my personal statistician, IT consultant, and everyday hero. He excelled at anything to which he applied his formidable mind. He woke me gently every day with a cup of coffee, cooked delicious meals, grew our garden, and coaxed our grass to flourish. He was a wonderful travel companion. Dennis was authentic, funny, and always interesting. His mind was expansive and deep, and sometimes difficult to follow, but always worth the journey. On one early date I was so smitten that I started singing Cole Porter’s “You Do Something To Me” and it became our song. I was graced and so lucky to live ‘neath Dennis’ spell for 20 years, embraced by the quiet strength of his love that permeated my life. Dennis was my oxygen. He was essential and he became my essence. Dennis was, is, and always will be my best friend and soulmate.
Dennis John McFarland (age 71) of Albany, NY, died of natural causes on April 29, 2020. He was the cherished husband of Loretta Malta and the devoted father of John, Christopher, and Michael McFarland. Dennis was born on March 2, 1949 in Stamford,... View Obituary & Service Information
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