Theodor (Ted) Sterling was born and raised in Vienna, Austria. In 1940, when Ted was just 17 years old, his family fled to the United States, leaving their home to escape the Nazi menace. Upon arriving in the United States, Ted and his family were completely impoverished. Taking work anywhere he could find it, Ted drove a truck and enlisted in the U.S. Army. At the end of the World War II, he returned to school, finishing grades 9 to 12 in a single year. By 1955, he had two degrees from the University of Chicago and a doctorate from Tulane. Academic appointments at Alabama, Michigan and Cincinnati followed.
Ted Sterling joined SFU in 1972, establishing the university’s Computer Science department and serving as its first chair. Seeing the potential of computers for academic research, Sterling was among the first in the fields of epidemiology and risk analysis to use the new technology in analyses of massive public health databases.
However, Sterling was no stranger to controversy. As a pioneer in the field of computer applications, he was aware of the potential threats computing technology would soon pose to individual privacy, and was among the first to warn the public of these impending dangers.
Throughout his academic career he met those who challenged his conclusions with arguments based solidly on research data. SFU colleague and friend Barry Beyerstein, who chairs the Sterling prize committee says, "The Sterling prize itself is the perfect metaphor to describe Ted's remarkable life. It honours those who combine intellectual clarity and innovation, steadfastness and courage in the face of opposition."
In addition to many fellowships and awards from various professional societies, Ted also received an honorary doctor of science degree from SFU in 2001. After a decade of battling the effects of Parkinson’s disease, Ted Sterling died of pneumonia on January 26, 2005 in Vancouver.