In Memoriam: Adrian Burton Jovanovic

POSTED ON: July 17, 2017

Cooper Union trustee Adrian Burton Jovanovic died on June 17 as a result of a tragic hiking accident near his home in Seattle. A 1989 graduate of the Albert Nerken School of Engineering, Mr. Jovanovic was deeply committed to the mission of his alma mater while also highly active in other civic organizations. He served as a Seattle Commissioner of Music, co-founded a non-profit organization called The Court of Last Resort, and served on numerous boards, including the Seattle Symphony, MusicWorks Northwest, and the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

His greatest legacy at Cooper was his tireless, passionate work as co-founder of the Committee to Save Cooper Union (CSCU). In a recent letter to commemorate Mr. Jovanovic’s accomplishments in that role, former trustee Mike Borkowsky ME’61, Professor Toby Cumberbatch, Acting Dean of the School of Art Mike Essl, and trustee Scott Lerman described a huge outpouring of support for a free-tuition model but noted that “it was Adrian’s creation of CSCU that channeled that broad community passion into a cogent legal argument and lawsuit that would succeed in validating the core intent of Cooper Union’s Trust.” Afterwards, Mr. Jovanovic was elected to the Board of Trustees as a CUAA-elected alumni trustee because of his advocacy for the school. He took this appointment with his characteristic seriousness, intelligence, and energy, working with his colleagues to heal the school and move towards the shared goal of returning to free. Having regularly donated to Cooper, he was named a member of the Innovators Society. His many efforts for the school were recognized when he was awarded the CUAA Alumnus of the Year Award in 2016.

Professor Essl recalls that during their days on the CSCU, he and Mr. Jovanovic “spoke every day. He was a trusted partner and ally, and I felt we were in good hands with him.”

Mr. Jovanovic grew up in New York City with his older brother, Oliver, and their parents, Sabina, formerly a first violinist with the New York City Ballet, and Svetozar, a chess master who taught chess at the Dalton School. His grandfather had been a violin maker, and in a 2006 interview, Mr. Jovanovic noted that music was an integral part of his childhood as was chess. By the time he was 4 years old, he had already won his first chess competition. When he won another tournament at the age of 11, he used his winnings to purchase an Atari 800, having grown fascinated with computers. When he arrived at Cooper, he studied programming with Professor Bob Hopkins, who recalls him as “a terrific student,” one bound for much professional success. Mr. Jovanovic also founded the school’s division-winning tennis team and was president of the engineering honor society Tau Beta Pi.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, he worked as a programmer for financial firms, before moving to Washington state to work for Microsoft as a program manager and software design engineer, working on multimedia titles such as the Encarta Encyclopedia. In 1994, he founded his own company, eMedia, a highly successful software company that provides customers with tutorials to learn voice, music theory, or to play an instrument. eMedia was awarded the Deloitte & Touche Fast 50 award and named one of Washington state’s top 100 software companies by Washington CEO magazine.

Mr. Jovanovic, was an avid nature and music lover. He brought his love of music to his adopted city by serving as a music commissioner in Seattle beginning in 2015. Kate Becker, director of Seattle's Office of Film and Music, described Mr. Jovanovic as a great supporter of The Creative Advantage, an initiative to bring arts education back to all Seattle public schools by 2020. "Adrian worked to ensure that all people, and especially underserved young people, have access to music education," Ms. Becker said.

Recently Mr. Jovanovic made his home a sanctuary for himself and friends by hiring Nick Robertson AR'04 and Isabelle Gizzard A'03 to design a deck with solarium on the roof of his Seattle home in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood. In an interview last February, he noted that he loved having social gatherings and occasional concerts on the roof, as well as taking in the 360-degree views of the Puget Sound and the Seattle skyline. He also loved hiking in a nearby park, home to old-growth forest.

Many who knew him, both on campus and off, have reflected on the great loss to The Cooper Union and the many institutions he championed. His determination and focus will be greatly missed and, as Professor Hopkins reflected, the loss is deeply personal. "There are many here, who, like me, feel the loss of a student and friend."

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.