David T. Shidle, a career NSA crypto-mathematician, dies

David T. Shidle, a retired National Security Agency crypto-mathematician who was also a pig fancier, died Monday from cancer at Howard County General Hospital.

The Ellicott City resident was 75.

“Every encounter with Dave was a learning experience,” said Lew Shipp, of Columbia, who was NSA branch chief when he worked with Mr. Shidle. “He showed us all that the smartest guy in the room could also be the warmest, funniest and wisest.”

David Thomas Shidle was the son of Joseph Shidle, a coal miner, and Ann Pawuk Shidle, a cafeteria worker. He was born and raised in Commodore, Pa., where he graduated in 1960 from Purchase Line High School and was his class valedictorian.

“From the time he was small, he exhibited an insatiable curiosity he inherited from his mother and an ability to fix anything from his father,” wrote his wife of 44 years, the former Eva Spradling, in a biographical profile of her husband.

He attended Michigan State University on a scholarship, and in 1964 received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.

That same year he became an intern at the NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade in crypto-mathematics — the use of advanced math in ciphers to protect information.

Mr. Shidle “achieved the maximum score on the math test that we were required to take,” said his wife, who was a NSA cryptanalyst. “He was such a genius.”

He embarked on a 37-year cryptologic career “that saw him rise to one of the most pre-eminent U.S. crypto-mathematicians of the later part of the 20th century,” she said.

“He was known not only for his accomplishments, but for his mentoring of other cryptologists in the fields of cryptanalysis, crypto-mathematics and signals analysis,” said Mrs. Shidle who retired from the NSA in 2001. “He worked in a number of management and technical jobs, tackling our country’s most difficult problems.”

From 1972 to 1973, he worked in research at the Institute for Defense in Princeton, N.J., and from 1979 to 1982, held a similar capacity at Government Communications Headquarters, an NSA sister organization, in Cheltenham, England.

In 1986, he was named senior cryptologic executive, a position he held for a decade before returning to his “true love, cryptanalysis,” his wife said. He remained in that position until retiring in 2001.

“Working for him years ago was the best time of my career,” said former colleague Albert Blaszak of Ellicott City.

He was a member of the Kryptos Society, an organization that promotes the cryptologic community; and the Crypto-Mathematics Institute, which promotes the complex mathematics pertaining to the field.

Mr. Shidle was the recipient of a Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 1977 and was the first winner of the Crypto-Mathematics Institute’s President’s Award in 1978. In the late 1990s, he was presented the Kryptos Society’s Peter Jenks Community Service Award.

Mr. Shidle’s musical interests ranged from rock ‘n’ roll to country, blues, jazz and opera. He was interested in the history of World War I and II, astronomy, animal sanctuaries and rare animals.

He maintained an interest and curiosity about all electronic gadgets from computers to cell phones.

“Dave would buy electronic gadgets, take them apart, and put them back together again. He could also repair them,” his wife said.

Mr. Shidle developed an interest in pigs after his son and his daughter-in-law purchased a pig and named it Rainbow.

“He started studying everything he could about pigs, and he visited Rainbow once a week,” Mrs. Shidle said. “You know pigs are very intelligent.”

In 2016, another pig that caught his interest was Wee Wee, a two-week old piglet that fell off a truck during a snowstorm on Route 40 near Hagerstown. Wee Wee had been heading to auction and a likely destination to a slaughterhouse. A couple had been driving along the highway with their children when they spotted Wee Wee in a snowbank. The family rescued the pig and later donated it to Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville.

Mr. Shidle heard about the pig and “visted Wee Wee several times, one time with my son,” his wife said. She also noted that one of his philanthropic interests was the Ironwood Pig Sanctuary in Marana, Ariz.

“He was fun to work with, fun to talk to, fun to be with. He was known for suddenly appearing in just about any venue in full Elvis regalia,” Mrs. Shidle said.

“He was self-effacing and one of the kindest people on earth,” she said. “Everywhere he went he related to, engaged and entertained people at every level.”

Services are private.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Shidle is survived by a son, Stephen Shidle of Crofton; a brother, Joseph Shidle of Palatine, Ill.; and two sisters, Ginny Shidle Farmer of Dryden, N.Y., and Marilyn “Kay” Shidle Shank of Middlebury Heights, Ohio.


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