March 28, 2024

In Remembrance of a Great Friend and Extraordinary Colleague, Jerry Spanier

IMS Jerry Spanier Tribute

The below tribute was written by Institute of Mathematical Sciences Professor John Angus:

Professor Jerome Spanier, a longstanding and highly respected member of CGU and the community of Claremont mathematicians, passed away on March 1. He was 93.

I first met Jerry in 1990 when I interviewed for the open position in Mathematics at what was then Claremont Graduate School. He was the dean of faculty (what we now call provost) and vice president for academic affairs while John McGuire was president.

Jerry had come to Claremont in 1971 after working in industry for 16 years. He was appointed dean of faculty in 1982. One of the lasting legacies of his leadership role at the University is CGU’s Writing Center, which he co-founded in 1985.

Within the mathematical sciences, Jerry’s impact was extraordinary. From the outset, he had the foresight to realize that the future of the department lay in applied mathematics. In 1973, he established CGU’s innovative Math Clinic program, in which students and a faculty member work on challenging problems for industry and government sponsors. Fifty years later, the clinic program continues to thrive.

In 1981, Jerry recruited Ellis Cumberbatch to CGU. Ellis, himself a beloved and monumental figure in the Claremont mathematics community who passed away in 2021, always credited Jerry with being the driving force for building applied math at CGU.

Jerry also recognized the unique talents of his colleague Bob Williamson, a brilliant and multifaceted individual who was trained as a pure mathematician, and who passed away in January of last year. With Jerry’s encouragement, Bob pivoted toward applied mathematics, where he played a key role in making the Math Clinic prosper in its early years. Coincidentally, Jerry’s brother Edwin, a professor of mathematics at UC Berkeley, had been Bob’s PhD advisor.

After serving eight years as dean of faculty, Jerry retreated to his faculty position in the Math Department and took over as chair, resuming his highly successful academic career. He continued to make seminal contributions in the development of Monte Carlo methods, algorithms that use random sampling to perform numerical calculations and that constitute a cornerstone of modern simulation.

Eventually, Jerry founded the Claremont Research Institute of Applied Mathematical Sciences (CRIAMS) and housed it within the CGU Math Department. He used CRIAMS as a conduit for recruiting projects from industry for the Math Clinic.

In 1997, Jerry formally retired to emeritus status, becoming a research professor at the UC Irvine Beckman Laser Institute (BLI), where he continued developing accelerated computational methods for biomedical problems up until his recent passing. These methods have enabled near real-time simulation in support of clinical diagnoses and treatment protocols.

Jerry touched the lives of many of our distinguished alumni, doing his utmost to advance the careers of his numerous PhD students. One of them, Carole Hayakawa, accompanied Jerry to UC Irvine. After receiving her math PhD in 2002 from CGU, she was awarded a postdoc position at BLI and then continued to work with him as a project scientist for more than 20 years on mathematical models for laser-induced radiative transport. Even after moving to UCI, Jerry kept in touch with the CGU math program and graduated at least four more CGU math PhD students, two of them as recently as 2011.

When a new provost arrived in 1991 and instigated an effort to terminate CGU’s Math and Philosophy departments, Jerry mobilized the faculty and the full Claremont math community to fight the attempt. He prevailed, and the math program flourished.

We became the School of Mathematical Sciences in 2003 which, through eras of academic reorganization, developed successful and profitable programs that supported and sustained the creation of the present Institute of Mathematical Sciences.

More information can be found in an obituary for Jerry that appeared in the Claremont Courier on March 7.