September 16, 2021

Passings: Ellis Cumberbatch, Advocate and Architect of CGU’s Math Programs, 1934-2021

AN IMPORTANT LEGACY: Ellis Cumberbatch "revitalized the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, implementing an applied focus that thrives to this day," said Provost Patricia Easton in a community-wide email about his passing.

The Claremont Graduate University and Institute of Mathematical Sciences communities are mourning the death of emeritus Professor Ellis Cumberbatch, who passed away earlier this month.

Cumberbatch was an instrumental figure in the development and expansion of math programs at CGU and in The Claremont Colleges. Provost Patricia Easton informed the CGU community of his passing in the following message which also outlines his legacy at CGU.


Dear CGU Faculty and Staff,

It is with much sadness that I write to you of the recent death of a beloved colleague, Professor Ellis Cumberbatch. Ellis passed away earlier this week on September 5 at the age of 87.

Ellis was a pillar of CGU Mathematics since arriving in Claremont in 1981. He earned his PhD in Applied Mathematics at the University of Manchester in 1958. His dissertation foretold the design of an ocean-going ship hull that would allow it to travel in excess of 230 miles per hour. His mathematical contributions and research interests ranged from differential equations and fluid mechanics to semiconductors and industrial modeling.

His vision and foresight were instrumental at CGU.

Ellis published widely and had an enormous impact on the mathematical sciences at CGU and in Claremont. With colleague Jerry Spanier, he revitalized the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, implementing an applied focus that thrives to this day.

His vision and foresight were instrumental in establishing the Financial Engineering program (jointly with the Drucker School of Management), the PhD in Engineering and Computational Mathematics (jointly with CSULB), and the Claremont Center for the Mathematical Sciences. During his tenure at CGU, he served as dean, department chair, and director of the Claremont Mathematics Clinic.

Through sustained efforts over many years of clinic projects, Ellis and his students made important contributions to understanding and modeling transistors, even anticipating quantum effects that are becoming important as their sizes are reduced.

Ellis Cumberbatch in 1987. (Photo credit:

He continued to be an active member of our IMS faculty well into his retirement, in 2009, including a one-year appointment as dean in 2011-12.

Ellis is survived by his long-term partner, Suzanna Stafford, and children from his first marriage, Guy, Louis, and Evelyn Cumberbatch; his daughter Ellen is deceased. He is also survived by grandchildren including Guy’s children, Adam and Christopher Cumberbatch, and Evelyn’s children, Boaz and Lily Kaffman. Suzanna’s daughter, Jeni Hess Brage, and Jeni’s two children, Shelby and Cassidy Brage, were also close to him. Ellis is also survived by his sister, Pamela Dagger, of Blackpool, England.

For those who would like to remember Ellis, the family will be assembling a memorial book and invite friends and colleagues to write messages of remembrance in a few short lines or paragraphs. They will collect them in this book. Contributions may be sent to his son, Louis, at: 

Cumberbatch (center) with colleagues DBOS Professor Kathy Pezdek (left) and SES Professor Mary Poplin during the Commencement Forum “Leadership Outside the Lines” (sponsored by Transdisciplinary Studies Program) held in Albrecht Auditorium May 12, 2017.

Cards of sympathy and condolence may be sent to: The Cumberbatch Family, 644 West 10th St., Claremont Ca 91711. The family requests no flowers, but if people wish to donate to the charity of their choice in Ellis’s memory, that would be warmly appreciated.

Ellis’s dry wit will remain with us always. It is fitting to end with the words of Mary Elizabeth Frye, spoken with a Manchester accent, “Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not there; I do not sleep.”

Patricia Easton