After nearly 48 years of teaching computer science, 38 of those at TCU, longtime department chair and faculty member James Comer is preparing to say goodbye to a university that changed his perspectives and opened his eyes to the meaningful impact of teaching.
“I never envisioned myself teaching, but after I stumbled into it I grew to adore it as well as getting to know the students each year,” Comer said.
Originally from Odessa, Texas, Comer grew up in a single-parent family after his father passed away during World War II. Comer began working at an early age, and eventually followed the path of many family members by joining the military after high school. In the Navy, he was stationed on the USS Essex aircraft carrier in the North Atlantic for nearly four years during which several significant historical events took place such as the Cuban Blockade and Former President Kennedy’s assignation.
Following his deployment, Comer attended Odessa Junior College, then transferred to the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in industrial engineering.
After receiving his master’s degree and beginning a teaching position at Lamar University, Comer realized that teaching was something he was passionate about. At Lamar University, he was the only computer science professor at the time and taught four different courses during the fall, spring and summer semesters.
Eventually Comer left Lamar to pursue his Ph.D. in computer science at Texas A&M University and returned to UTA as a faculty member after earning his doctorate degree. While he was working at UTA, the computer science department at TCU was established.
Computer science at TCU began as a division of the mathematics department. However, in 1981, the administration decided that because computer science was emerging rapidly as a career field, it needed its own department. Comer and two of his UTA colleagues were hired as the original members of the new department.
When Comer arrived at TCU, there was only a single computer on campus located in the basement of Sid Richardson. This computer was used by all students and for anything related to research and the administration.
Comer was the chair of the computer science department on two different occasions for a total of 23 years. This allowed him to steer and direct the department and to work directly with students and faculty. He hired and recruited many of the current faculty members during his tenure.
“We took a fledgling program and turned it into a strong one that I would consider one of the finest in the state,” said Comer. “When I speak to my peers from other universities many of them are in awe of the resources and opportunities made available to us at TCU.”
TCU is a special place to Comer both to his professional career growth and personal experiences such as watching his children earn degrees from TCU. His wife also worked at TCU in the Department of Biology and for TCU Advancement.
“Many of my fond memories of TCU are tied to the people I have encountered here and the friendships I have made over the years – for example I have enjoyed working with Dean Phil Hartman and I have known him since the very beginning when we both started working here.”
“It is bittersweet and difficult for me to imagine no longer teaching at the university – let alone working at all after so many years of teaching each day,” Comer said. “Even though I went to Texas A&M, my allegiance has grown toward TCU over the years and I truly hold TCU in the highest regard for the impact it has made in my life.”
“I’ve known James for over 30 years and have had the pleasure of working with him extensively in my six years as Dean,” said Dean Phil Hartman. “He has been a model department chair, and he is an important reason why the College is the collegial place it is. James is also a good friend, and I wish him a most happy retirement.”
In retirement Comer will continue his hobbies of woodworking, collecting coins and antique clocks as well as tending to the farm where he and his wife raise registered longhorns.
This fall, Comer is on sabbatical, and in January his retirement will officially begin. He hopes that his legacy will include recognition of how much he loves and appreciates TCU.