Narrative in Memory of Ward Cheney (1929-2016)
We meet today to celebrate the life of Ward Cheney. This is an outline of his life by the people who gave it colour and richness, and to whom he gave so generously of himself. We'll share some laughter as well as fond memories.
You're hearing me pronounce Ward's name as Cheeney. A little about Ward's surname and its pronunciation: After Dick Chayney became Secretary of Defense, he began pronouncing his name Chayney. Before that, he had been Congressman Dick Cheeney from Wyoming. As you know, he later became Vice President Chayney.
When Dick Chayney became nationally prominent, people often asked Ward if they were related. After looking at a genealogical website, we learned that Ward and Dick Chayney were indeed distant cousins. They were descended from an ancestral couple who settled in Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1635. From two different sons of that couple.
Of these two brothers, as Ward put it: Dick Chayney was descended from the brother who was taken to court by his widowed mother for failing to support her, while Ward, on the other hand, was descended from the brother who É was hanged.
At least the execution of Ward's ancestor had the distinction of being written up by none other than Cotton Mather, in his work, Pillars of Salt.
Over the following centuries, the Cheney fortunes improved, and Ward's father grew up in the Cheney Mansion in Orange, Massachusetts, which is how the home is still labelled in the guidebooks for the town of Orange. The large home was inherited by Ward's great-grandfather from a great aunt.
Not that the Cheneys were wealthy. The family supplemented their income by leasing rooms to people from Boston who wanted to escape the summer heat.
In addition, Ward's grandmother, Eva DeWolf Cheney, was a classic industrious New Englander. She owned a factory in Orange, Massachusetts that made aprons and house dresses, called Orange-Maid. Eva sold her factory at a nice profit to a Boston firm, and the proceeds provided the funds to send their only child, Ward's father - Elliott Senior - to Dartmouth for his undergraduate degree and Princeton for his doctorate. As well as a tour of Europe after completing his Ph.D.
Elliott Senior met his future wife Carleton Pratt on shipboard. These were Ward's future parents. They were both on their way back to New York City after their European tours, Elliott Senior traveling alone, and Carleton with her mother Grace Brailey Pratt.
As the family story goes, Elliott saw Carleton sitting beside her mother on deck chair. He said to her, "The only thing bluer than the sky are your beautiful blue eyes."
They were married a year later, in 1925. Their first child, Ward's older sister, was born in 1927, when Elliott Senior was on the physics faculty at Middlebury College, Vermont. Their new daughter was named Carleton after her mother.
Two years later, in 1929, Ward was born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Although he was named Elliott Ward Cheney, Jr., he was always called Ward.
In Gettysburg, Ward's father was on the faculty at Gettysburg College. After the stock market crash, the family of four was permanently joined by Elliott Senior's mother and her second husband: that is: Eva DeWolf Cheney - she of the apron factory - and her banker husband Walter Ranney, who had lost all their money in the stock market crash.
If one were to talk about Ward's extended family, there weren't any extensions. Not only was Ward's father an only child, his mother was, too. Because neither of his parents had any siblings, Ward and his sister grew up with no aunts, no uncles, and no cousins. It also made Ward and his sister the focus of two sets of doting grandparents.
Ward's maternal grandmother, Grace (Brailey) Pratt, was also a pianist, and her excellent musical skills set the high standard for Ward's own music education. Ward's sister learned from an old family letter than one of Grace's teachers had been a pupil of Franz Lizst.
Ward's mother's parents resided in New York City. When Ward was in high school in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, he used take the train to New York City to visit them. Grace, the pianist, always had tickets to a concert or recital lined up for them to attend.
However, on one memorable occasion in 1947, Grace had tickets to something different - a Broadway show. It was 'On The Town', with music by a new young composer who was still in his 20s ... named Leonard Bernstein.
The experience of the Broadway show stayed with Ward. In later years he enjoyed watching the film version of 'On The Town' on TV, starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Ward remembered many of the lyrics and could sing along with the musical numbers.
Ward's grandmother Grace, the pianist, was fluent in French, and at that time in her life, in the 1940s, she was secretary to the chairman of the French Department at Columbia University.
Grace's husband, Frank Pratt, was an engineer. Earlier in their marriage, her husband Frank's engineering career had them living for many years in Mexico and South America. As a result, Ward's mother, as a girl, grew up in convent schools in Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro, as well as a French-speaking convent school in Philadelphia. Ward's mother was fluent in French, Spanish and Portuguese, and to the end of her life she subscribed to a Spanish language news magazine, which she read cover to cover, underlining items of interest.
Back in the early Nineteen-Teens, when Ward's mother was growing up in Mexico City, Grace Pratt put her piano skills to work. She earned extra money for the family by playing piano for the silent movies.
Grace's husband, Francis Edward Pratt, was descended from generations of native New Yorkers. His engineering degree from New York University prepared him for mining ventures in Latin America.
Frank Pratt's father was the noted artist Robert M Pratt of the National Academy of Design in New York City. One of his paintings was auctioned yesterday at Christie's in New York, called The Little Connoisseur, which is a picture of Ward's grandfather as a boy.
When in Mexico, Frank Pratt took hundreds of photographs on glass plates of vistas, rural scenes, people, and especially, pictures of soldiers in the Mexican Revolution. Ward donated the collection to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in 1975, a total of 423 of his glass negatives and photos.
The other set of grandparents - on Ward's father side - lived in Ward's household as he was growing up.
So, Ward and his sister grew up in a household of six: Ward's parents, his paternal grandparents.
When Ward was growing up in the 1930s, the family's evening meal was an important event of the day. Every night it was silverware, candlelight, and cloth napkins in sterling silver napkins rings. Ward and his sister took turns on who got to light the candles and who would ring the chime that announced that dinner was ready.
Family entertaining during the week included dinner guests, and guests for a weekly bridge game.
In 1934, Elliott Senior realized he could make more money by joining the staff of a new products-testing firm called Consumers Research, located in Washington, New Jersey. This was the precursor of Consumer Reports. Ward's mother also joined the Consumer Research staff.
The family first lived on Belvedere Street, then later bought a house on Carlton Avenue, across the street from Washington High School.
Ward began taking clarinet lessons in Washington, New Jersey. He also received piano instruction from his father, who was an accomplished pianist and church organist.
But his boyhood wasn't all music lessons. Ward's father had been in the boxing club at Dartmouth. He thought his son should learn the manly art of self defence. He taught Ward all the moves and set up a punching bag in the basement. Ward's sister said she could hear Ward practice daily on the punching bag.
Murray Cohen's Narrative.
The following is a letter from Murray Cohen, sent to me last fall. Murray was Ward's boyhood friend from 1935 to 1942 in Washington, New Jersey, before Ward's family moved to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Murray went on to become an electro-optical engineer, specializing in infrared imaging and celestial tracking devices. Murray also is a musician and composer, and for many decades has been a member of the Long Island Composers Alliance. In Washington, New Jersey, where Ward and Murray were classmates, Murray's family owned the main department store in town.
Here is Murray's letter:
We boys in the 1930s and earlier wore short pants in our first few years of school. We then graduated from short pants to knickers that came below the knee. By adolescence, we graduated to long pants.
When we were dressed in short pants, in the winter our mothers added long woollen stockings, which were held up by a garter attached from our underpants.
Knickers were gathered below the knee with an inner elastic fabric, and knee-length socks were added. I had fights with my mother to go from short pants to knickers, and then from knickers to long pants. I was the next-to-last boy to make the transitions. Ward was the last.
Ward played clarinet during assembly in our grammar school auditorium. He was small for his age. But when it came to schoolyard fist-fights, he was no slouch. Although he was small, he was fast and tough, so that even some of the older boys couldn't best him. And if Ward didn't think he could win, he could run fast enough to stay out of trouble.
On some Saturdays, Ward and I and three of our friends would pack lunches and ride our bikes to Point Mountain. We discovered an abandoned copper mine that was just large enough to crawl into and explore. Ward was the first to volunteer to enter.
My parents used to go to Florida for the winter, and my brother Aaron and I would be boarded by Mrs Harper, who lived next door to the Cheneys. One evening I looked outdoors and saw two giant streaks of light spread across the sky. I knocked on the Cheneys' back door because I knew Ward's father was a scientist. I almost shouted that there was a comet.
Ward, his father and his grandfather came out and looked at the sky in wonder. I learned that it wasn't a comet, but the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis. I was a bit disappointed because a comet is more spectacular, but later that spring we had the most remarkable display of Northern Lights ever seen as far south as New Jersey.
Ward came from a very intelligent and articulate background, his father being a physicist. I was often surprised at the amount of information Ward had as a young boy. He didn't volunteer it. You had to get into a topic with him, and after that, things of a second and third order would emanate.
For example, in the third grade I became interested in astronomy and started to learn about the planets. Ward already knew all the planets from Mercury out to Pluto, how many miles they were from the Sun, as well as comets and the asteroid belt.
Ward also knew who Einstein was, his accomplishments, and also that Einstein was Jewish, which I believe caused him to have no problem with my Jewish heritage. This was the 1930s, after all. With my other friends, there was always a feeling of not being accepted in their social life, such as not being invited to their birthday parties after coming to mine. And there were comments. But I never heard a disparaging remark about the Jews from Ward. I was welcome in the Cheney household and after school I would often play on their upright piano.
Ward and I were the top students among the boys in our class. I was sometimes ahead of him in certain areas and sometimes a little behind.
Every Friday there was an assembly in the auditorium, and it was the 6th grade's turn to put on a program. Our teacher Mr Davis decided it should be a science program. I asked Ward what he thought I should demonstrate. He suggested the principle of the pendulum, in which the length of time it completes its cycle depends on the length of the string and not how large the mass, or amplitude of the arc.
Ward's own demonstration turned out to be a show-stopper. It involved a milk bottle, a peeled hard-boiled egg, and some bits of paper and matches. He showed the students how the egg was too large to fit through the mouth of the milk bottle. Then he dropped in the paper and a lighted match, and replaced the egg. The egg danced for a moment as the hot air escaped. Then you could hear a whoosh as the egg went through the opening, and it hit the bottom with a plop. The students gasped and applauded. Ward explained the difference in atmospheric pressure and how the same principle affects the weather and barometer readings.
Ward left in the 8th grade to move to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, when his father got a job as physics professor at Lehigh University. I was really sorry that my friend was moving away. We didn't see much of one another after that, but I still carry lots of memories from our time at school together. Ward was a bit different from the other kids, and a lot of that was the wonderful home environment given by his dad and mother.
This is the end of Murray Cohen's narrative.
In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Ward attended Fountain Hill High School and Lehigh University, where he was in the marching band at both institutions. He continued to pursue classical clarinet, and took a bus every week to another town to study with an exceptional clarinet teacher.
At Lehigh, Ward worked in school bookstore, and he also made money by forming a dance band in which he played the saxophone.
In his college summers, Ward worked for the U. S. Forest Service in Idaho. Their task was to spray for blister rust in the pine trees. The men in his crew wore backpacks that a held open containers of herbicide (one of the dioxins) - which splashed over their shoulders and the men climbed through the brush. The particular dioxin they used is what we now call: Agent Orange.
One summer Ward in the Forest Service, became smitten with the beautiful cook at his camp, the daughter of a Congregational minister. After Ward's graduation from Lehigh, he and Beth were married and moved to Lawrence, Kansas, where Ward was a doctoral student at the University of Kansas.
While working on his doctorate, Ward built a house for his family, by himself, from scratch. Daughter Margaret born in Lawrence.
Ward and Beth's son Elliott was born during the summer in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania And son David came 18 months later in La Jolla, California.
Ward worked in the aerospace industry in Southern California, and then joined the math faculty at UCLA. From there he went to the University of Texas at Austin in 1964.
This is a narrative put together Margaret Cheney and her two brothers:
My brothers Elliott and David and I consider ourselves fortunate to be the children of Ward Cheney. His personality and career combined loving care with maximizing the health and education of his children. Here's what it was like to grow up with him as a father.
One wouldn't think a career in mathematics would require extensive travel for a family. Over a span of 12 years, we lived in 16 houses in California, Texas, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Seattle, Michigan, Sweden, England and Switzerland.
We travelled extensively throughout Europe and learned that there is more than one way to live, talk, eat, and think. For example, in Sweden, we learned how to bow and curtsey to our elders. And in school, we remained standing behind our desks until our teacher gave us permission to be seated.
Because of our travels, my brothers and I developed a broader view of the world than our peers in school. We were flexible, adaptable, and able to approach problems from multiple viewpoints. And this early travel made it easy for us, later in life, to travel and live abroad.
Besides European travel, we also crisscrossed the United States by car, with destinations in: California, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Seattle, Texas, Colorado, New York, Michigan, and Washington, D.C. We always stopped at interesting places such as national parks and several Civil War battlefields. Traveling cross country by car was different in those days. We relied on paper maps, road atlases, and Triple A recommendations on motels.
Cars were less reliable, and having one's car break down on an interstate highway could leave the traveller stranded and forced to rely on strangers to stop and help. On one such occasion inn the 1950s, Dad stopped to help an African-American woman with her children, and got her car running again, after she had spent hours on the side of the highway with no one stopping to assist. The unspoken message to us children was that we don't ignore the plight of others who are in need of help. Mom later said the lesson she learned was that Dad was a good person, even though he didn't go to church.
One winter we were driving west before dawn across the flat north Texas cotton fields. Dad offered a nickel to the first one who saw the sun come up behind us, and told us to look at the tops of the telephone poles for the first rays. This was mostly a ruse to keep us quiet for a few minutes, and we stared intently at the phone poles.
Dad was very safety conscious. He bought large cars and had seat belts installed long before they were required by law, and insisted that we wear them.
Dad placed a high value on keeping fit, especially after reading Ken Cooper's book on aerobics. Our parents stressed that we should find a form of exercise that we could continue for life, such as swimming or tennis.
Mom and Dad took group tennis lessons when we were small. When we children were old enough, we, too, took lessons, and we sometimes played doubles as a family.
During our years in middle school, he decided we should join a swim team. Not only would it keep us out of trouble, it would build our adolescent muscles and have a permanent beneficial effect on our physique. We all swam competitively for a while, and we still swim for exercise.
We have fond memories of spending time at the pools in Lausanne and Seattle, camping and hiking in the Sierras and Cascades, sailing our small sailboat (a Penguin) in Lake Austin, and skiing at Monarch Pass in Colorado.
Dad loved the outdoors, and we made many camping, hiking and ski trips. We had good hiking boots and down sleeping bags from REI long before such gear was fashionable.
Months ahead of our ski trips, we would gather in the living room after dinner for calisthenics. Dad would count for the various exercises: deep knee bends, rising on toes, toe touching, sit-ups, running in place, and push-ups. Dad's plan was for us to add one more push-up every day, although he eventually plateaued at about 30.
Dad went to a climbing school and learned how to use an ice axe and crampons. With these skills, he climbed Mt. Rainier. When we children ranged in age from 5 to 8, as a family we climbed Mt. Whitney. We also climbed Mts. San Jacinto, Lassen, and San Gorgonio.
In Switzerland, we hiked up the Gornergrat from Zermatt. The experience was unusually memorable because Mom and Dad forgot that elevations on European topographical maps were measured in meters rather than feet.
For 56 years in Austin, Dad spent every lunchtime at Gregory Gym on the UT Campus, where he would run, swim, and lift weights. He noted his daily exercise and weight on a tiny space on a 3X5 card. After his exercise, he returned to his office for a can of V-8 juice, his favourite way to ingest vegetables.
Classical music was very close to Dad's heart, and he had a fine system of stereo components. His record collection was enormous, eventually reaching 44 linear feet of classical LPs before he began replacing it with CDs. He always put on music for our family meals.
Dad was an excellent clarinettist and during his youth played in a city orchestra. He continued to play chamber music throughout his life. He practiced his clarinet every evening, often to a Music-Minus-One record, with the sound of the whole orchestra or chamber ensemble playing with him.
Dad made sure we three children took music lessons. For David, it was the oboe, and for Elliott, the cello, which became his career. I took piano lessons.
During our required hour of music practice after dinner, I played the piano in the living room while my brothers simultaneously practiced in their bedrooms. Remarkably, Dad was able to supervise our practice from his study. Amid the cacophony of notes, with his perfect pitch he could spot a mistake and would yell, "Margaret, E-flat!"
Recently my brother David admitted that he sometimes wasn't practicing his oboe at all. Instead he was playing a tape-recording of himself, while he relaxed on his bed and read books. My parents finally let David stop taking lessons because, in their words, he didn't seem to be making progress.
Dad is primarily responsible for helping us to develop discipline. He set an example by his consistent work habits.
At one point I wrote a note to my parents that if I stopped lessons, it would save money, and also that the piano teacher's breath smelled bad. Dad was so amused, he saved my note over the years. However, I wasn't excused from piano lessons till I left for college.
When I balked at practicing the piano and wanted to quit, he said, "You don't want to be a quitter, do you?" We learned that continued work brought results.
If we complained to Dad that we didn't have enough time for all our activities, he would ask, "OK, you spend 8 hours sleeping, 7 hours in school, and one hour practicing your music. That still leaves 8 hours. What are you doing with those 8 hours?"
In the early 1960s, Dad began work on his approximation theory book, which Mom typed on a typewriter modified to have mathematical symbols. This became his classic 1966 Introduction to Approximation Theory, which is still in print.
Dad enjoyed building electronic gear from Heathkit build-it-yourself kits. This produced his first stereo equipment as well as a shortwave radio that sat on table in the living room. [The shortwave is in the background of the photo on lower right, page 6, of the program.]
Dad showed my brother Elliott how to solder and helped him put together electrical kits. He also taught him the basics of working on cars: how to set points, check timing, and adjust valves.
In many of our houses, Dad and Mom embarked on masonry projects: everything from laying bricks for a patio or walkway to paving to control water runoff. While our parents did the skilled work of mortaring and laying the bricks, we children had the task of bringing them the bricks from a stack in the driveway. Invariably there were spiders and insects on the bricks, and we learned always to wear gloves.
Dad had a longstanding interest in photography and developed pictures in his own darkroom. Thanks to this hobby, our childhood is richly recorded in photographs.
Dad was the family banker and kept accounts for us children on 3 × 5 cards. We got a weekly allowance and were paid extra for Saturday housework. Mom and Dad would assign the tasks: vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms, washing the car.
During one summer, Dad arranged for me to help write and run some computer programs. He gave me the equations and the sampling points, and I wrote up a little Fortran program, punched the cards for it, and ran them at the campus computing centre for him.
Dad worked in his study till after our bedtime. Around 10 p.m. he put on record and moved to the kitchen to prepare his favourite meal of the day: his bedtime snack. This consisted of a baloney sandwich, Fritos, Guinness Stout, and as a finale, a glass of port with a handful of mixed nuts. He ate so sparingly the rest of the day that he never gained weight from this nightly indulgence.
Sometimes after we were in bed, we could hear Mom and Dad discussing departmental politics or us children.
In the late 1960s, Dad changed his style of dress. He stopped wearing business attire of white shirt, necktie and tailored slacks. Instead, he grew a beard, changed to wire-rimmed glasses, and started wearing brown corduroy pants and blue shirts.
Dad always carried his keys on a clip that attached to a leather tab that hung from his belt, so the keys were always in his right back pocket. He never, ever misplaced his keys. (And never misplaced a cell phone because he never owned one.)
Dad and Mom believed that saving for their children's education was a, quote "sacred duty" - Dad's words literally. He was supportive of all levels of our education. They bought houses in the best school districts. When we were little, Dad drilled us with arithmetic flash cards, timing us to get our speed up.
Dad subscribed to the theory that there's no such thing as too many books. He had an enormous library, and books were frequent gifts within the family. Dad saved the colourful Sunday funny papers and used them for gift wrap.
My paternal grandmother [pictured on page 6 of the program] was widowed in 1959 and lived nearly four more decades, to age 97. Dad was a devoted son: He sent gifts, visited her twice a year in Pennsylvania, and called her weekly from Austin. If he was overseas, he wrote letters to her weekly.
He always said the way to be sure a task gets done is to schedule it, and he scheduled his letter-writing and phone calls. It was an excellent formula for his personal and professional life.
Dad had an excellent sense of humour. He had a large collection of humour books and he enjoyed the old films of Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton. On the flip side of the coin: he refused to watch movies depicting graphic violence. When video recording became possible, he would tape movies on television. He explained that he didn't have to watch TV because he had a machine to do it for him.
Dad is primarily responsible for helping us to develop discipline. He set an example by his consistent work habits.
Dad always conducted himself with honesty and integrity, and was upset when others didn't. He defended personal liberties and supported policies that help the disadvantaged and the environment.
Dad set an excellent example for us in terms of working hard, staying fit and healthy and also being kind and fair. He also was fun to be around, introducing interesting topics of conversation and making frequent jokes. We all miss him, but his influence continues on in our lives.
Margaret Cheney July 2016
Alan Feldstein, professor emeritus of mathematics at Arizona State University, wrote in January of this year:
For an entire week we addressed the various issues I had researched. Basically, Ward and his class helped me debug my work - to be sure it had no errors. Fortunately, all was fine.
Fifty years ago Ward was an enthusiastic mountaineer. In this vein he taught me to exercise and strengthen my legs. He advocated using the stairs instead of the elevator, and he always took two steps at a time.
Please be sure that Ward understands how much I appreciate the many nice things he has done for me over the years. I wish him all the best.
However, the real attraction to UT was the fact that Ward told me that he was planning on building up a group in Approximation Theory, and also that he was hiring George Lorentz that year. The group expanded a few years later with the addition of Hubert Berens and Jorg Blatter, so in the mid-1970s, we had a full five faculty colleagues in Approximation Theory. We organized the first Texas Conference on Approximation Theory, which has been held every three years since - the most recent being this year.
Ward was an exceptionally kind and gentle soul. He always had time to mentor a young faculty member, and we often discussed problems Our interests were not close enough to result in any joint papers, but I had his students in my classes and he had my students in his. Ward became one of my best friends and supporters.
The 1970s were a much more social time for the math department than in later years. Nearly every week there were departmental parties at faculty homes following colloquium talks. We saw Ward and his wife frequently, and also met his family when the party was at his home. For a number of years we also shared a sailboat, which we kept on Lake Travis.
Ward has a number of interests outside of mathematics. He was an accomplished photographer and took pictures of all the math faculty. And he was a dedicated runner and swimmer. Every day instead of eating lunch, he would be at the track or pool.
He also was a fine musician and played his clarinet in various chamber music groups for his entire life. We often saw Ward at various concerts and recitals around Austin.
After I left UT I saw less of Ward, but we still got together at math meetings. The last time was in April 2013, when David Kincaid brought Ward to the closing dinner for the Fourteenth Texas Approximation Theory Conference, which Ward was instrumental in founding, 33 years earlier. Ward looked good and seemed to enjoy himself, but I was sorry that he no longer seemed to recognize his colleagues. Ward played a major role in the development of Approximation Theory, as well as my own professional development, and I will miss him greatly.
Larry Schumacher, August 1, 2016
Above all human endeavours, mathematics is pre-eminent in its striving for absolute precision.
Some of Ward's advice:
Where possible, use English words instead mathematical symbols because it's easier for others to read.
Never use mathematical symbols in the title of your dissertation because it's impossible for the librarian to alphabetize.
Remember that the lines of a mathematical theorem are sentences. If you have an equal sign, that's your verb.
Keep your theorems down to four or five lines, which makes it easier for the reader. State your definitions separate from the statement of the theorem. And so on, for 13 pages of advice.
Dr Michelle Quirk is originally from Romania. In November 2015 she emailed Ward's daughter Margaret:
Dr Cheney was very kind to be my faculty adviser. My research at that time, which was with Los Alamos, was on principal component filter banks for multi-component imagery, under the auspices of the JPEG-2000 Standard.
My husband James says that Dr Cheney 'walks on water.' I was mortified that I might give Dr Cheney a paper written in my poor English, so I digested his list of advice, which made me a better writer.
Dr Cheney is unique: one of the kindest human beings ever, and a fabulous mathematician. Many of us were amazed at how much we learned during his office hours, hearing him ask those enlightening, guiding questions.
My heart aches since hearing of his illness, ... and I feel once more that the world is an unfair place.
Daniel Wulbert is retired from the mathematics department at the University of California at San Diego. He writes:
First let me set the context. I grew up in the Chicago inner city where fewer than 30 per cent of my high school class graduated, and less than one per cent went to a four-year college. Neither I nor my friends nor my immigrant parents understood what I was starting: What was expected of me in graduate school. What mathematics comprised. Or what constituted the life of an academic.
Ward came to the University of Texas about the time I came as a graduate student. We graduate students were in awe of him. He had a professional reputation of eminence. He played classical clarinet. And he had a written book that is still the most scholarly mathematics book accessible to undergraduates. His arrival marked a change in the direction of UT mathematics. He was 35 years old.
Ward started my dissertation research by giving me a list of a few dozen questions, not necessarily profound. The list was handwritten in fountain-pen ink. The offshoots and trails of those questions spawned my dissertation. I came into his office at the end of every day and told him whatever I had worked on the previous night.
When something interested him, he would sit back, visibly settle in, and offer me a cookie from a desk drawer. My friends amused themselves by comparing me to one of Skinner's pigeons.
I was awarded my doctorate in 1966, and that summer we all embarked for a year in Lund, Sweden, Ward as a visiting professor and myself as a post-doc on a grant from the Air Force.
My wife and I had an apartment near the Lund University campus, while Ward and his family had a house further away. I had just turned 24. Ward was 37. His children were ages 8, 9 and 11.
I worked late every night on our math research, which was on existence and unicity in best approximations. And every day Ward and I fused together any progress we made and then refocused our research accordingly. We swam in the pool. It was a marvellous year, and a chance for me to see how to develop projects. But especially, it was a time for me to progress from a graduate student into an "adult."
One dinner, early in the academic year, Ward announced it was time for me to stop calling him Professor Cheney. That I had a doctorate, we were working together, and we were colleagues. I should henceforth call him "Ward." He said there was a Scandinavian ritual for this: Two people, with steins of beer, interlock their drinking arms and quaff the beer. The ceremony notwithstanding, I felt pretentious using Ward's first name.
The following summer Ward arranged for us to move from Lund to Lausanne, Switzerland. He found a large apartment with enough room for my wife and me to sleep in one of the bedrooms.
At night we played Go on the balcony and debated almost anything, switching sides every other night. Ward's children played Go with us on a quarter board. They learned to ask in French to rent a rowboat. And they wrote formal proposals for permission to stay up late.
Now one can see how that time previewed their maturing into the musical, active, intellectual people that Ward was so proud of. I remain emotionally attached to all Ward's children.
For my time as Ward's doctoral student, and for a year as a post-doc, Ward was my mathematical idol and my personal mentor. Ward shaped my values about mathematics, commitment and playfulness.
In all the years after, we traded emails and teasing comments. I remember such epigrams as, "All good mathematics is done at the kitchen table." And he referred to a mathematician's convoluted proofs as, quote, "cards held close to the chest."
Years later, at a mathematical meeting, I brought my 4-year-old daughter. Ward entertained her with multiple rides in the hotel's glass elevator.
Ward surprised me by mentioning it was my birthday. I asked how he knew. He responded matter of factly, "You're special to me." He could have no idea how I would cherish that kindness 40 years later.
I remember Ward as a youthful, vibrant, brilliant, mischievous man. I see him swimming in the pool. Or nimbly baiting us with spurious arguments. I see him meticulously drafting papers in with his Parker Sonnet fountain pen.
Ward, my mathematical father, my dear friend. I never told you - but I hope you knew - that I know your Erdös number is 2 and your birthday is June 28.
I remained friends with the Gillmans and attended their math and music parties. Five years later, the Gillmans hosted a party honouring Paul Erdös. Ward had a different wife, very young. He had married a 19-year-old undergraduate. Although they stayed married several years, she wanted children while Ward didn't want to raise another family. So it was understandable that it didn't work out.
In December 1982, I got a call from Len Gillman that Ward's young wife had left him. He said he and Reba wanted to invite Ward and me to dinner. In so doing, they accomplished another of their matchmaking successes. I believe they paired up eight or ten couples into happy marriages.
An aside about that party for Paul Erdös: Reba called me beforehand and asked if I could come early to help her put corn plasters on Paul Erdös's toes.
For the audience who isn't familiar with the name, the late Paul Erdös, spelled E R D O S, was a brilliant but eccentric Hungarian mathematician who wrote research papers with more than 500 co-authors. [pronounced AIR-dish]! Oakland University maintains a website of Erdös's 511 co-authors, plus all of their co-authors. If you wrote a paper with Paul Erdös, you are referred to as an Erdös 1. If you wrote a paper with one of his co-authors, you're an Erdös 2. And so on. A fun game.
Later that evening at the party for Erdös, I met Ward's second wife. I had no inkling then that I would become wife number three.
When I moved in with Ward, I had just turned 39. I was by far the oldest woman he had begun a relationship with. He was accustomed to dealing with students - and with his children and with a second wife who was the same age as his children. Ward wasn't prepared for someone with a career, her own home, and a great sense of humour. Shortly after we started living together, Ward said pleasantly, "We'll get along just fine if you do everything I say." I responded cheerfully, "What a great idea. And on even-numbered days you'll do everything I say - I'll start a list." Ward never mentioned it again.
Ward was in fact a treasure to live with. He was easy-going and a fascinating conversationalist. He loved the food I cooked. And what woman wouldn't want to cook for a husband who insisted on doing the dishes every night.
And I do mean every night. When Ward stopped spending summers in England in 1997 - and was in Austin for his birthday - he usually preferred to have his birthday dinner at home rather than go out. I would beg him to let me do the dishes. "Ward, it's your birthday. Please take it easy. I'll do the dishes." But he wouldn't hear of it and would start clearing the table and loading the dishwasher.
I remember telling Ward that he had the best kisses in the whole world. To which Ward replied, "And you know this from personal experience?"
Ward's math meetings took him to the far corners of the globe, often to rather unusual locations. Paul Nevai, editor of the Journal of Approximation Theory, pointed out that he first met me in 1983 in St. John's, Newfoundland, and again the following year in Varna, Bulgaria.
Ward had a few traits that were peculiar to him. For example, he disliked eating food with his fingers. He ate toast or a banana with a knife and fork. He ate Fritos by putting them in a bowl and using a spoon.
A pet peeve of Ward was referring to children as "kids." He always called his own descendants as his children and grandchildren.
Ward had a collection of fountain pens. He had bottled ink in blue and black, but also made his own ink. He filled dozens of notebooks by fountain pen with his beautiful, neat notes and calculations.
Ward had a delightful sense of humour. A young woman was about to examine his eyes in the optometrist's office. She said, "Dr Cheney, I was your student." Ward replied, "I sure hope you got an A."
We were having structural work done on our house in West Austin. The contractor and structural engineer were there, as well as a young man on the floor with the equipment for ground-penetrating radar. Ward walked in the door, and the young man said, "Dr Cheney, I was your student." Ward replied, "And look at you now, down on the floor playing with toy cars."
In 1983, the math department had a visiting professor from St Andrews University, Scotland, who was working with Ward. George Phillips had a great sense of humour. He called me "Victoria A.D." because, he said, there's already a Victoria B.C.
George was walking with Ward from campus back to our house, Ward walking his bike. George was astonished when Ward stopped to pick up a dirty comb from the street, as though he'd found a rare treasure. Ward would bring these home and put them in the dishwasher.
George was so amused that he rallied the other faculty members to look on the street for combs for Ward.
But Ward had his standards: the combs had to have most of their teeth and not be run over too many times.
You remember the film 'A Beautiful Mind', when mathematician John Nash was presented with fountain pens by his colleagues. Ward's faculty colleagues presented him with an old shoebox with about half an inch beat-up combs.
Ward never used the combs he found; he only used a brush on his hair.
Ward never talked about spiritual issues and he didn't go to church - unless there was a sung mass at All Saints. His first wife, Beth, told me that religion was an issue that she and Ward, quote "agreed to disagree on."
Nevertheless - whether through her influence or from Ward's parents and growing up in the Episcopal Church, every Sunday morning, unfailingly, Ward would put on a record of either a Bach cantata or a mass.
Beth was widowed in 1988. Three years later she was very ill with cancer. Ward and I took care of her. There was nothing heroic in this; it's what people do who live in the same city. She was the mother of Ward's children, who all lived out of state and had academic schedules.
By the same token, Ward's sister in Philadelphia had the responsibility of looking after their mother, while Ward and I could only visit twice a year.
Ward and I brought groceries for Beth, fixed meals, and took care of the house as she became increasingly weak. We eventually set up a chart and asked her friends from Westminster Presbyterian to join us in signing up for two hour shifts to stay with Beth.
One day Beth's friend, D'Aun Taylor, called and said she knew the signs, and it was time for Beth to go to the hospital. Ward's children flew to Austin and stayed at her house, but held vigil at the hospital.
Our phone rang at 4 a.m. on a September morning. Margaret called to say their mother has just died. Ward and I hurried over to Seton Hospital.
Ward was very affected by what he saw. Beth had lost her hair to the chemo and was no longer in a wig. Her skin was yellow because the cancer had spread to the liver. But she looked supernally peaceful.
After a short while, the nurse shooed Ward and me out of the hospital room. We returned home in the early, grey dawn. Before breakfast, and without saying a word, Ward put on the Brahms German Requiem. He sat at his desk, not moving, and listened to the entire work, an hour and 15 minutes. He got up only once to turn the record over.
Brahms said he wrote his German Requiem for the survivors. Unlike the Latin requiem mass, which is for the repose of the departed soul, Brahms' German Requiem opens with the words from the Beatitudes, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted."
Ward lived for many years in his house on Harris Avenue. It was near campus, and he rode his bicycle to the math department every day. I lived there 24 years myself before we moved to West Austin a decade ago.
In our campus neighbourhood there were several members of the UT music faculty: notably piano professor Danielle Martin in the 3300 block of Liberty. And in the other direction, on the corner of Texas Avenue and Liberty, flute professor Karl Kraber and his wife, violist Joan Kalisch.
Both Danielle and Joan were very well connected to the classical music scene in New York City, and Joan played every season with American Ballet Theatre.
The homes of Dani Martin and Ward, as well as Fritz and Joan, all had a large music rooms on the back, with windows on three sides.
I often went for evening walks in the neighbourhood. In mild weather the windows of the professors' music rooms were open.
Because Fritz and Joan's house was on a corner lot, their music room was only a few feet from Liberty Street, and one evening there was especially beautiful violin music. I changed my route to walk back and forth by Fritz and Joan's house.
The next day I said to Joan, "That was a really great student playing in your music room last night." She said, "Oh, that wasn't my student. That was Joshua Bell."
Some of our neighbours assumed that Ward was on the music faculty because of his nightly practicing and his advanced level of playing, particularly with his Music-Minus-One records.
Here is Ward with the finale of Glinka's 'Trio Pathétique'.
his interesting childhood,
his success as a father,
his role as a teacher,
his mentoring of graduate students,
his ability as a mathematician,
and his skill as a clarinettist.
Ward was a unique and irreplaceable friend and family member - a genuinely good person - who was much loved by all who were close to him.
Author H Jackson Brown wrote, "Live your life so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you."
This holds true in the hearts of Ward's family members - and also for the colleagues and students who had the privilege of working with him - and for his many friends over a lifetime.
Ward's son Elliott will now play the Sarabande from Bach's Cello Suite No. 1. This will be followed by ten seconds of silence while we hold Ward in our thoughts.
Afterwards, the family will exit. Please enjoy the exit music and feel free to exit at your leisure and join us at the reception.
JOC/EFR September 2018
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