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Donald E. Kibbey


Donald E. Kibbey earned his Ph.D. at Illinois-Urbana in 1941 under J. L. Doob, who in 1963-64 became president of the American Mathematical Society. At the International Congress of Mathematicians at Berkeley in August 1986, UC Berkeley published a newspaper containing an interview with David Blackwell, its distinguished probabilist and statistician. Blackwell, who is African-American, told how his friend and fellow Illinois-Urbana graduate student Kibbey had suggested that he talk with Doob about directing his dissertation, since Kibbey knew that Doob thought highly of Blackwell. Blackwell received his Ph.D. under Doob in 1941.

Don was briefly at Michigan State, from 1942 to 1946 was senior instructor at West Point with the rank of major in the U. S. Army and came to Syracuse in 1946. When the Department chair Cairns left in 1948, according to Paul Gilbert "the department was run by a committee. It made the "important' decisions, but Don did the nitty-gritty work, really as an acting chairman under the watchful eye of the committee". He was promoted to professor and department chair in 1951. He served as a member of the university senate continuously from 1948 until his retirement, was on the committee that restructured that body and was a member of its committees on University governance and on appointments and promotions. He also served as chair of the executive committee of the College of Liberal Arts and as a member of the trustees' committee on academic policy and programs, among many important activities. In 1956 he and H. W. Reddick published Differential Equations (John Wiley and Sons).

Don was one of the founders of the AAUP at SU and his early salary surveys at Syracuse ultimately led to the national AAUP's far-reaching Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession. In 1971, after 20 years as department chair, he became dean of the graduate school and vice president for research and graduate affairs. There he increased the number of University Graduate Fellowships from less than 35 to 70 and the stipend for each from $2,000 to $4,000. He retired from the university at the end of 1977.

Kibbey "did what he did as justly as he knew how," according to Hemminsgen, his successor as department chair, and he was "able to distinguish personal opinion from his professional responsibilities," which, when coupled with his "deep and true respect for individuals, made him a monument of human decency." He had been especially good to our graduate students, and on March 3, 1978 there was a conference in his honor at which 13 leading mathematicians, who had received Syracuse Ph.Ds during his chairmanship, lectured for 30 minutes each on their research. The Donald Kibbey Prize for outstanding work in mathematics is awarded, usually annually, for excellence in the Ph.D. program and/or for an excellent doctoral dissertation, and its funding reflects the affection of our former graduate students for him. He was a staunch advocate of faculty control, both in the department and in the university at large, and we owe the strong democratic tradition if this department to Don Kibbey. He died on June 30, 1986 leaving his wife, Mary Elizabeth (Lib) Kibbey, two sons, Hal S. of Bloomington, IN and David L. of Urbana, IL, a daughter Ann M. now of Boulder, CO, and two grandchildren.

I drew much of the foregoing from Don's curriculum vita, from an article on Don in the December 8, 1977 SU Record, from Otway Pardee's eulogy read to the Arts and Sciences faculty on September 29, 1986 and from some of my footnotes in Hemmingsen's The Department of Mathematics up until about 1960.

It seems fitting to close with a short statement from Volume 5 of the Journal of Mathematical Behavior, edited by the late Robert B. Davis.

Phil Church 5/15/02

With the death of Don Kibbey, mathematics education lost one of its best friends and most energetic supporters. He was one of the first American mathematicians to recognize that the study of how humans think about mathematics is one of the most important of the "mathematical" disciplines. He also believed that mounting serious efforts to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics at every level was feasible and worthwhile. Without Professor Kibbey's support, neither the Madison Project nor this Journal would have been possible.

He knew the distinction between high quality and mediocrity, between creativity and mundane routine, between education and vocational training - and he saw the potential for universities to offer education of depth and great value. Most of all, he was a wonderful human being, to whom many people owe a great deal.

On June 1, 2002 his widow, Mary Elizabeth Kibbey, known as Mary Lib, died at age 91 at the Nottingham in Jamesville. She graduated from the University of Missouri, and was a member of Erwin First United Methodist Church (in Syracuse), United Methodist Women, Alpha Gamma Delta social sorority and Theta Sigma Phi, a national honor society for women in journalism. She is survived by a daughter, Ann M. Kibbey of Boulder, CO, two sons, Hal S. of Bloomington, IN and David L. of Urbana, IL, and two grandchildren.

Source: Obituary in the Post-Standard, Monday, June 3, 2002. Phil Church 6/03/02