[EDITOR'S NOTE: Thank you to John Breslin for authoring this guest post remembering our friend and colleague, George Thomas.]
When writing about a person’s significant achievements, it would be so much better if the person themselves could hear the good things you were saying about them. Unfortunately, the person I am writing about, George Thomas, passed away last week after a long battle with cancer. However, I think it is important to note the huge impact that George had on Government Linked Data, Linked Data in general, and on his friends and colleagues in the Semantic Web space. If there’s one name that Government Linked Data ‘goes with’, it would be George Thomas.
Although I only physically met George a handful of times, I would count him as one of those who influenced me the most - through his visionary ideas, his practical nature, his inspiring talks at conferences like SemTechBiz, and his willingness to build bridges between people, communities, and of course data.
For those who may not have met him, George worked in the US Government for the past 12 years - most recently as an enterprise architect in the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) - and previously he held Chief Architect/CTO roles in other agencies and various private companies.
I first came across George when he was Chief Architect at the CIO’s office in the US General Services Administration. He had given a presentation about how Semantic Web technologies similar to SIOC could potentially be used to “track the dollar instead of the person” on Recovery.gov. Later on, DERI’s Owen Sacco and I collaborated with George on a system to create and enforce fine-grained access control policies (using PPO/PPM) for the HHS’s Government Linked Data on IT investments and assets stored in multiple sources. (George also sung DERI’s praises in a blog post on Data.gov - “Linked Data Goes With DERI” - echoed in this article’s title.)
George was the Chief Architect for Healthdata.gov (video), the ‘one-stop shop’ for healthcare-related Government Linked Data from the US Government. I remember him organising some exciting metadata and sign-on challenges around the service in 2012. He also worked with Jim Hendler, Jeanne Holm, Chris Musialek and many others on transforming the Open Government Data (OGD) from Data.gov - the world’s largest OGD-sharing website - to Linked Open Government Data.
George held a wide range of working group leadership roles in cross-agency collaborations and standards bodies: Semantic Web and Linked Data Lead for the Data.gov Program Management Office; Co-Chair of the Federal CIO Council Architecture and Infrastructure Committee (AIC) Services Subcommittee; Invited Expert in the W3C eGovernment Interest Group and Co-Chair of the W3C Government Linked Data Working Group; and Steering Committee Member of the Object Management Group (OMG) Government Domain Task Force.
He also taught Service Oriented Architecture as a faculty instructor at the Graduate School, and I’ve heard many say that George was a born teacher outside of the classroom: giving informal on-the-fly tutorials with ease and explaining Semantic Web and Linked Data concepts in ways that just made sense.
In addition to all of the above, George was a musician into performance works - having studied computer music at the JHU Peabody Conservatory, a UMBC graduate, a computer graphics enthusiast, a strong supporter of open source technologies and net neutrality, and a fan of fusion cuisine (he brought me to Zengo in Washington’s Chinatown to try it out). I’m sure there’s lots more about George that you can share in the comments...
Our thoughts go to George’s wife Suzanne and family at this difficult time.
* Photo of Solar Mural: Creative Commons image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/anntatti/3012766802/.
** Video Screenshot: George Thomas from a video about HealthData.gov. This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code. The full video is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ny2mo3z61ds