Skip to main content

Paul Gilbert


Paul W. Gilbert was born on February 14, 1916 in Rochester, NY. He earned a BA in 1936 and an MA in 1937 from the University of Rochester. He received his Ph.D. from Duke University in 1940, taught at Texas Technological College 1940-1942, and served in the U.S. Air Force 1943-1946, the last academic year at US Military Academy. When Don Kibbey left West Point to join the SU faculty in 1946, he invited Paul to join him. Paul served as an associate chair of mathematics for 26 years from 1955 until he retired in 1981, under three successive department chairs (Kibbey, Hemmingsen and Graver), and was highly praised by each of them. "There isn't anyone better" Kibbey said, he is "a supremely competent person." "He seems to know more than anyone about what goes on in the department" according to Graver, and his retirement "will be a big shock." "As a faculty member, he's been first class," Hemmingsen said. "We all goof things up, but I don't remember Paul Gilbert goofing anything." Although he wrote his dissertation in topology, when the need arose for someone to teach numerical analysis or statistics, he learned it and did the job. Otway Pardee commented that Paul's computer programs never had any bugs. Paul himself put it typically modestly that he "kind of filled in where I was needed." He had 3 Ph.D. Students: Luke Zaccaro (1957) in topology, and Jesse Lewis (1966) and Frank Carrano, Jr (1969) both in numerical analysis.

He was promoted to full professor in 1967. Paul served in the Army reserves for 20 years while at SU, spending 17 of those years at West Point, reviewing its math curriculum, recommending changes and sometimes teaching there, and retiring as a lieutenant colonel. Hemmingsen commented in his recollections "Department of Mathematics up until about 1960" that for many years Paul was "in charge of undergraduate mathematics majors, and he was also the one who carried on the technical details of the mathematics department's relations with the several off-campus programs. He was a remarkably fine teacher of both undergraduate courses and first year graduate courses." This modest, soft-spoken and genial colleague was a hard and efficient worker who is missed.

He married Virginia Cott in 1941 and they had 2 children, James and Emily. Virginia died in 1988. In retirement Paul was painting, taking classes in painting. He met Katherine Sullivan in such an art group, they were married in 1990. In 1991 they endowed at SU an undergraduate (junior and senior) scholarship for the natural sciences with preference to be given to mathematics, the "Gilbert and Sullivan Scholarship".

Paul Gilbert passed away March 13, 2012 in Jamesville, NY.

Sources: An article in the SU Record of May 7, 1981; Paul Gilbert's curriculum vitae; a memo from Dan Waterman as Department Chair dated 3/11/91; a phone conversation between Paul Gilbert and Phil Church; The Post-Standard obituary.