Preston Newman was a man of science, a biologist-turned-computer engineer who concluded that bliss was a long hike on a Sierra trail with his wife and as many of their four children as could arrange to come along.

Newman, a Virginia-born Santa Rosa resident who worked most of the past three decades for Hewlett-Packard and its successor in Sonoma County, Agilent Technologies, died Sunday at home following a long illness. He was 61.

Newman's work and his backpacking excursions ended shortly after he began treatments for brain tumors more than two years ago.

"He dealt with it gracefully, the Southern gentleman that he was," said Jane Hildreth Newman. She'd met her future husband when both were students at Virginia Tech and she fell in love with him on a wildflower hike.

James Preston Newman Jr. was born and grew up near Virginia Tech. His father and his father's father served on the faculty there; the school's Carol M. Newman Library is named for the latter.

Preston Newman studied biology at the college and earned both a bachelor and master's degree. He worked briefly as a freshwater biologist and did well, but decided that computer science would make a better career.

As a young married man he moved across country and earned a bachelor's degree in computer science at Oregon State University. Then he earned a master's in electrical engineering at Stanford, despite having never pursued an undergraduate degree in that major.

Hewlett Packard hired him as a computer programmer in Santa Rosa in 1980. Through the next 24 years he worked up into a variety of positions at HP, including management posts.

He left Sonoma County in 2004 and took a job with Tektronix in Oregon. Almost three years ago he returned to Santa Rosa and to Agilent.

In his free time, Newman savored time with his family — preferably in the great outdoors. An ardent hiker and backpacker, he was especially fond of the John Muir Trail and hiked nearly the entire length of it.

His family was ever more important to him the past two years, as the fight with brain cancer forced him to give up the work he loved and the outdoor adventures.

Newman's last outing came in May, a short walk and a lunch at Spring Lake Regional Park. "He was happy," Jane Newman said.

In addition to his wife of 37 years, Newman is survived by his children, Carolyn Anne Newman-Naranjo of Inver Grove Heights, Minn.; Mary Grace Newman of Chicago; November Skye Preston of Oakland and James Hildreth Newman of Santa Rosa.

Newman's family invites friends to a celebration of his life at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Luther Burbank Art and Garden Center on Yulupa Avenue.