By: Dan Culhane, USITT President

Our industry lost a true visionary on Friday, Feb. 8, with the death of Fred Foster, the CEO of ETC. Fred was an innovator, a mover, and shaker in the world of theater. He transformed the world of lighting technology through the development of lighting consoles and the lighting instruments that define the field today. Either innovation alone would be monumental but both taken together have truly changed our industry forever. And perhaps most importantly, Fred was a genuinely kind and gentle person who was always approachable and helpful. His loss will be felt throughout the industry.

I first met Fred while I was in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in the early 1980s. Fred had attended the same program several years earlier. He knew I was a technical direction student with an interest in computers. At the time I was programming on a Terak computer running USCD Pascal. The system had an 8″ floppy drive, with an 8″ disk holding a whole 80 kilobytes of capacity. One day, Fred, while cutting through the scene shop on his way to a meeting or perhaps just to visit, stopped and showed me a new type of floppy disk that he was evaluating. It had a hard shell and it was just 3 1/2”, much smaller than the 8” disks that I was using. I remember very clearly him telling me that it had 1.44 megabytes of capacity! Unbelievable to me that such a tiny disk could carry that amount of information. Years later, Fred was fascinated by CNC routers. What did they have to do with lighting? It did not matter to Fred. He was soon using them to make pieces for trade shows and various offices. Fred’s curiosity was insatiable. He always had all of the cool toys.

Fred was enormously generous with his time and talent. ETC’s support of USITT, the Conference and Stage Expo was well known and Fred never missed an opportunity to support and mentor students at the USITT conferences each year.

All through his life, Fred was curious about everything and everyone around him. This kept him young and connected to the industry he loved. We should all strive to emulate Fred and stay curious.

Fred, you will be missed.