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In Memoriam: J. Jerry Uhl

J. Jerry Uhl of Homer and professor emeritus of the Department of Mathematics, passed away in his sleep at home Sunday, October 25 , 2010. Jerry was born in Pittsburgh, PA on June 27, 1940. He spent his pre-college years in Hampton Township, Allison Park, PA. He is survived by his sister, Laurie Swanson and brother-in-law, Fred Swanson, of Key Colony Beach, Florida; nephews Eric and Peter Swanson; nieces Lela and Gala Chapman; six great nephews and nieces. Jerry was preceded in death by his sister Leslie Uhl and his infant nephew John Chapman.

Jerry was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the College of William and Mary. He completed a Ph.D. in mathematics under the direction of M.M. Rao at Carnegie-Mellon. Jerry spent two years in the Army as chief of the Scientific Analysis Section of the Defense Intelligence Agency Computer Center, where he was introduced to spit and polish and hierarchical authority.

Jerry came to University of Illinois in 1968. He quickly became one of the world’s leading Banach spacers, writing two books: Vector Measures with Joe Diestel and The Mathematics of Non-linear Programming with Tony Peressini and Francis Sullivan. In addition to writing, he supervised the Ph.D. studies of Barry Turett, Elias Saab, Paulette Saab, Kevin Andrews, Frank Page, Bob Geist, Larry Riddle, Russell Gordon, Minos Petrakis, and Maria Girardi.

Jerry spent the last twenty years of his career developing groundbreaking, Mathematica-based pedagogy for teaching mathematics. Often, he was invited to speak at international as well as national conferences regarding his ideas on reforming the math curriculum. His students describe him as a teacher/mentor/friend who helped shape the way they thought. He had a childlike spirit that was hard to match.

He was a person of strong likes, strong dislikes, strong principles and sharp focus. According to one of Jerry’s colleagues, Jerry had a more diverse group of friends outside of the math Department than anybody that he knew. Part of this was his singular ability to make new people feel like they belonged in his universe. Whether working with students, the man in the street, waitresses or local Homerians, Jerry truly cared to be of assistance to them. His compassion for those with challenges was woven through his entire life. True to form when Jerry contracted cancer, he devoted himself to helping others beat it as he had. Jerry may have been the originator of “buying local.” He certainly supported local businesses in Homer and Ogden and he will be missed in many ways.

In addition to mathematics, trains and Bernese Mountain Dogs were two of Jerry’s greatest passions not to mention his love of grilling, eating and parties at his log home in Homer to entertain his many friends. He is cited four times in The Beautiful Bernese Mountain Dogs: A Complete American Handbook. He tried his hand at breeding Bernese Mountain Dogs and became pretty much of an expert on the breed. But as with his math students he mostly loved the enumerable dogs and puppies that he had over the years. From an early age Jerry loved trains. He traveled by train whenever he could, collected memorabilia and yes, was extremely knowledgeable on the subject.

A memorial celebration of Jerry’s life was held in Altgeld Hall on Saturday, November 6, 2010. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Jerry Uhl NetMath Fund (#343558) which provides a partial scholarship for high school students attending the NetMath Program at the University of Illinois.