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Remembering Professor Bob O'Malley

Submitted by Tony I Garcia on January 8, 2021 - 4:18pm

We are saddened to share with you that our colleague and friend Bob O'Malley passed away on New Year's Eve 2020. Bob took a fall on December 17th, hitting his head and breaking a number of bones. He passed away at Harborview. His wife Candy was with him. 

Bob was an authority on singular perturbation theory and asymptotics, authoring numerous papers and 4 books. He and Candy came to Seattle and UW first at the end of 1990. He retired in 2009. Even in retirement he was a constant presence in Lewis Hall. He has impacted many who have come through the department through his many years as Chair and Graduate Program Coordinator. His service extends well beyond UW, having been department chair at other institutions and being president of SIAM 1991-1992. He was a fellow of both SIAM and the AMS. Bob loved books and history and many of us remember the tons of books that came through his office while he was in charge of SIAM's book reviews, and the historical anecdotes that colored his lectures. 

We encourage you to share your own memories and recollections of Professor Bob O'Malley. Please fill out the form located here


Last quarter, I had the pleasure of teaching Complex Analysis for the first time. Despite teaching it remotely, it was the most fun I have had teaching (and for those that know how much I enjoy teaching - that's saying something).

With each lecture, I remembered my first Complex class (and my very first class in Grad School) with Bob O'Malley. He was a charismatic and colorful lecturer and gave me a deep appreciation for the history of mathematics. I found myself repeating many of the same examples and problems he shared with us as I taught the class. I even dug up a book on Cauchy to add some historical perspectives (I had learned enough about George Green from Bob, so I didn't need to supplement that historical knowledge).

Bob also showed me how to write letters of recommendations and taught me many other life and professional lessons outside of the classroom. And of course, he could tell a good story - many of which I will continue to share! Even my students that never had the pleasure of meeting Bob knew of him, his unique way of describing math, and many of his stories.

My heart is broken - I will deeply miss Bob. He was a remarkable mathematican that taught me there is both beauty and creativity in simplicity. There's absolutely nothing wrong with going back to the basics - you just might see something new and remarkable.

- Katie Oliveras, Ph.D. Alum, Applied Mathematics, 2009

Bob always reminded me of the meaning of it all... real scholarship in math, and a real pleasure in the experience. He knew everything and everyone in his field, and in others as well. I'd keep my bike helmet on when entering his office, with tens of thousands of pages of the latest books teetering on high shelves and tabletops, but there was Bob, fearless, with a huge smile, at his desk, ready to talk about math or mathematical personalities or to go for a walk for a lunch. Bob, you are sorely missed, and your example shines on.

- Eric Shea-Brown, Faculty, Applied Mathematics

I remember Bob O'Malley as a very kind and thoughtful professor. I was a graduate student in Applied Mathematics when Bob arrived to UW as head of the department. I don't think I had any classes with him, but he still knew me and would say hello. It was clear to me that he was interested in and cared about all of the graduate students. Later, I thoroughly enjoyed doing a SIAM book review for him. I don't have any photos to share, but in my mind's eye I see a large jovial man with a twinkle in his eye and a ready, generous laugh.

- Rebecca Tyson, Ph.D. alum, Applied Mathematics, 1996

I am sad to learn of Bob's passing. He was a huge influence on me as my teacher. In fact, I am preparing my notes to teach asymptotic analysis later this afternoon. Every time I teach this course, I think fondly of my days at UW listening to Bob's fascinating stories about the people behind the theorems and methods. I still remember hearing about how George Green was a "bad drunk" from Bob and how certain folks weren't so nice (not his words). My classmates and I always looked forward to his entertaining injection of expletives during class. From that experience I learned how important people are to our shared endeavor of applied mathematics.

One of my favorite memories of Bob is when he was sitting in on Jerry's perturbation class that I was taking. He sat next to me often and would whisper heckling remarks about Jerry. We both laughed a lot, especially when we would get to Jerry!

My recollection is that I introduced Bob to manduguk, a Korean dumpling soup. My classmate and friend, Darryl Yong, and went to several lunches with Bob, Jerry, and KK, very often to this one all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant in the Westin hotel downtown. One place was a Korean restaurant on the Ave, and I remember recommending manduguk to Bob. He liked it a lot and reported to me often when he would order it again.

After graduating, I worked as a postdoc at Stanford with George Papanicolaou and Joe Keller, both of whom knew Bob from when he was at Courant. One of the first things I asked during an informal lunch meeting was about a former student of Bob's at Courant. George and Joe immediately knew who I was talking about and both said that he was a "very good" student, just as Bob always said (the reason for this was that this student's father owned a liquor store in the Bronx (I think) and was generous in sharing with his professors).

Bob had an infectious enthusiasm for differential equations and singular perturbation theory. It is something that has long stayed with me and I do my best to honor him with my own enthusiasm for the subject. I am pleased to remember how funny and pleasant he was. He was always great about chatting with people in the department and would always bring levity to any situation.

I am glad to have been his student.

- Arnold Kim, Ph.D. alum, Applied Mathematics, 2000

In Fall of 2003, I became a graduate school student in Applied Math. Back then, Bob was our academic advisor. He was always there for help. He always had that iconic friendly smile on his face, and always put smiles on ours.

It is very shocking and sad to hear that Bob left us. All the good memories about Bob and our Applied Math community stays with me.

Rest in Peace, Bob. We love you.

- Jiao Deng, Graduate Student, Applied Mathematics, 2003 - 2006

I cannot think of Bob without smiling. I'm sure many other people will also talk about how Bob brought so much light and joy to the department--that was definitely my experience. I can still here his distinctive accent so clearly.

A memory that stands out for me is that when Bob first taught us about order symbols, he likened the big O symbol to a "fig leaf", since it "covers all the nasty parts" (or something like that). To this day, when I have to introduce my students to it, I use Bob's metaphor.

Much love to Bob's family and the whole AMATH community.

- Darryl Yong, Ph.D. Alum, Applied Mathematics, 2000

He had been sick with the flu or some such thing and he invited me and a few other grad students to his house for dinner shortly after he started to recover.

I think Candy must have set it up since he looked thinner than his normal rotund self, and maybe he was quieter. He was such a kind and gentle person and the dinner was a small sliver of proof that his home life was filled with the same kind of joy I always saw in his office. Someone like that is never done smiling.

- Jason Slemons, Ph.D. Alum, Applied Mathematics, 2008

I came to the Applied Math Department in Jan. 2005. Dr. O'Malley helped me get into the Department and get my Masters. I was coming back to school after not having been to school for almost 20 years.

I always enjoyed going to his office and chat with him. He was so kind and nice. I became very sad when I heard the news of him passing. He will always be remembered. What a treasure to loss. I got my Master's degree in June 2008. Peace be upon his soul.

- Nazzi Nassiri, Former Graduate Student, Applied Mathematics

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