|UW Mathematics||Autumn 2007|
Message from the Chair
Victor Klee, 1925-2007
The Mathematics Department lost one of its most distinguished members on August 17 when Victor L. Klee passed away a few weeks short of his 82nd birthday. Born in San Francisco in 1925, Klee obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia in 1949. He stayed on there as an assistant professor for four years before moving to the University of Washington, where he quickly rose through the ranks to become a full professor in 1957. He spent the remainder of his career here, except for several years on leave as a research fellow or visiting professor at various universities around the world, and he retired in 1998.
Klee’s mathematical interests were wide-ranging. He wrote well over two hundred papers on topics in the fields of geometry, functional analysis, optimization, graph theory, and combinatorics; the unifying theme that runs through most of this work is the study of convex sets. According to his longtime colleague Branko Grünbaum, “his most valuable mathematical achievement was in the theory of convex polytopes. Klee’s path-breaking and seminal papers on polytopes, published in the 1960s, mark the beginning of the theory that flourishes at present, and he has to be considered the father of the whole field.” Klee’s work is also marked by an appreciation of both the pure and applied aspects of his fields of interest.
Klee made many other contributions to the Department and to the mathematical community. On the local level, he was the founder, and for many years the leader, of the Geometry and Combinatorics Seminar, which remains a vital part of the life of the Department to this day. On the wider stage, he held several official positions in professional organizations, including the presidency of the Mathematical Association of America in 1971–73, and served on numerous editorial boards and committees.
Klee’s dealings with people were always characterized by a friendly, unassuming, and helpful attitude. He was an enthusiastic mentor of young mathematicians, and there are many people now who remember his advice and encouragement with gratitude. Thirty-six students wrote their doctoral dissertations under his direction, including our own Bob Phelps. (There are other “family connections”: Klee’s own doctoral advisor, E. J. McShane, was the father of Virginia Warfield, who is featured in another article on page 14, while Bernd Sturmfels, advisor to our own Rekha Thomas, was one of Klee’s students.)
Klee’s achievements received worldwide recognition, including honorary doctorates from universities in California, Belgium, and Germany. He received the MAA Award for Distinguished Service to Mathematics in 1977 and was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The Department has been fortunate to hire several young people recently in the areas of mathematics that were dear to Klee’s heart, thus ensuring that the legacy he created will endure. But Vic Klee was one of a kind, and he will be sorely missed.