Image

8:28 PM / Sunday January 29, 2023

26 Jul 2010

Famed mathematician David Blackwell is dead at 91

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
July 26, 2010 Category: Stateside Posted by:

Associated Press

 

BERKELEY, Calif. — David Blackwell, a pre-eminent mathematician and the first black scholar in the National Academy of Sciences, has died. He was 91.

 

Blackwell died of natural causes at a hospital on July 8, University of California, Berkeley officials said. He was the first tenured black professor at the campus, where he taught for nearly 35 years.

 

Blackwell was known as a problem-solver who contributed to many areas, including probability and game theory.

 

Berkeley statistics professor Peter Bickel said Blackwell had a talent for making things appear simple.

 

“He liked elegance and simplicity,” Bickel said. “That is the ultimate best thing in mathematics, if you have an insight that something seemingly complicated is really simple.” Blackwell referred to himself as “sort of a dilettante” in an interview for the 1985 book “Mathematical People: Profiles and Interviews, explaining he chose problems because he wanted to understand them, independent of what field they might fall under.

 

Blackwell was born in Centralia, a small town in southern Illinois, on April 24, 1919. He was the oldest child of a railway worker who had a grade-school education. He entered the University of Illinois at 16, earning a doctorate in 1941, when he was 22.

 

After graduation, Blackwell was appointed a postdoctoral fellow, alongside Albert Einstein and John von Neumann, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. He left in a year, however, after being blocked from becoming an honorary Princeton University faculty member, as was customary for fellows, because of his race.

 

Blackwell worked for short periods as a statistician in the U.S. Office of Price Administration, at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., and at Clark College in Atlanta. He was courted by Berkeley, but his appointment was blocked — again because of his race. In 1944, he joined the faculty of Howard University. By 1947, he was head of the mathematics department, a position he held until 1954, when he finally was hired by Berkeley.

 

Blackwell taught at the university until his retirement in 1988. After that, he routinely visited his department to discuss statistics with colleagues, his son Hugo mentioned. “He was totally dedicated to his field, and always thought that it’s not what you have, but what you think, that is important,” he said.

 

Blackwell was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Institute of Mathematical Statistics, American Mathematical Society and American Philosophical Society. He won the John von Neumann Theory Prize from the Operations Research Society of America and the Institute of Management Sciences in 1979. He also wrote two books, published more than 80 papers and held 12 honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, Carnegie Mellon, Howard and other universities.

 

David Blackwell is survived by four of his eight children; Hugo of Berkeley; Ann Blackwell and Vera Gleason of Oakland; and Sarah Hunt of Houston. His wife Ann Madison Blackwell died in 2006 after 62 years of marriage. Four of his children are deceased.

 

A funeral is tentatively scheduled for July 31. UC Berkeley is planning a memorial service in the fall.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Leave a Comment

Recent News

Stateside

Shapiro takes oath of office to become 48th Pa. governor

January 20, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email ABOVE PHOTO: Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks after taking the oath of office...

Sun Report

January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month

January 20, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email By Emily Walter,  Office of Domestic Violence Strategies, Mayor’s Office of Engagement for...

Commentary

SUNrise: cj speaks…  Talents and gifts

January 20, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email One of my favorite spaces to go to show my talents and gifts...

Seniors

Caring for Older Adults:  Managing heart attack treatment and follow-up care

January 20, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email FAMILY FEATURES As the proportion of older adults in the U.S. continues to...

Politics

A side-by-side look at the Trump, Biden classified documents

January 20, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email ABOVE PHOTO: The letter from House Oversight Committee chairman Rep. James Comer, R-Ky.,...

Food And Beverage

What’s Cookin’? 7 Bean Stew

January 27, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email Tweet Share Pin Email Related Posts What’s Cookin’?: 7 Bean Stew What’s Cookin’?...

The Philadelphia Sunday Sun Staff