Remembering Professor Bob O'Malley

Submitted by Tony I Garcia on

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

Bob's Obituary from SIAM News can be found 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 would like to share some of the Bob-isms that are still a part of my repertoire. When my kids asked whose service we were attending online, I told them that it was the man behind my voice for Winnie-The-Pooh. My comrades and I at the Applied Math Department liked to compete for imitations of the Professors. I was a specialist at Bob's voice and the voice of Terry Rockafellar. Bob became Winnie-The-Pooh when I started reading that to my kids. It was perfect - a kind and playful wisdom.

Another Bob story I love to tell my students is when, after 10 weeks of perturbation theory, before he handed out the final exam, he declared, "We spent so much time on that boring stuff, that I thought it would be fun to do something completely different for the exam!"

- Russell Luke, Ph.D. alum, Applied Mathematics, 2001

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 had the honor of being in Dr. O'Malley's class in 2009. Remember him as a very sweet and gentle person. Got to meet him again in 2019 at the AMath 50 years conference and celebration, and talked to him. Bob had a great humble presence. He will be remembered by all, even by people who only took one course from him.

- Harkirat Sohi, Masters alum, Applied Mathematics

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.

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- 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

Bob was a happy and friendly person. He guided me to read singular perturbation theory for one semester. He was very kind to students and helped me with my application to graduate school. Thanks to him that I finally got into Rice university to continue my Phd career.

- Xian Dai, Masters Student, Applied Mathematics

My life was In turmoil when I came to the applied math program at UW. Bob was so friendly. His smile and laugh lightened the room. He had a way of including us newbies and making us feel like we belonged. Even though I was spending many hours working harder than I had ever worked before, belonging somewhere helped ease some of the turmoil in my life. I will never forget his smile or his friendliness.

- Sarah Massengill, Masters Student Alum, Applied Mathematics, 2001

I am very sad that Prof. O'Malley has left us. He taught me a lot when I was a graduate student at UW. I appreciate his inspiration and valuable help during my tenure at North Carolina State University. He asked me to review several books for the SIAM review which enhanced my visibility in the academic field. I wish him a restful peace in heaven.

- Zhilin Li, Ph.D. Alum, Applied Mathematics, 1994

Bob was one of my all time favorite teachers. His class was always a delight because of his joyous spirit and his incredible knowledge.

A few years after I'd left UW for my postdoc, I wrote an article for SIAM News. Bob sent me an email congratulating me on the article and further expressing his pride in all the things I'd accomplished (mathematical and personal) in my time since my PhD.

His email brought me to tears in my office. I couldn't believe he'd kept up with both my academic achievements as well as my growing family. He made me feel like what I was doing was worthwhile and valued.

- Natalie Sheils, Ph.D. Alum, Applied Mathematics, 2015

When I joined the departement, there were several highly distinguished scholars who worked on the classical applied mathematics of Theory of Asymptotic Expansion and Singular Perturbation: Jim Murray, Jerry Kevorkian, and Bob.

When I was charged with teaching AMATH 568 on this subject, Bob's books and Bob himself were a constant source of information, encouragement, and helps. Soon I realized that Bob's favorite object, the exponentially small infinitesimals, has a deep connection to the convergence in probability, which yields the theory of large deviations.

Bob gave me a "second education" on this branch of classical applied mathematics; which, and together with all the fond memories of our lunches together, conversations in his office stacked with new books, I shall treasure for the rest of my life.

- Hong Qian, Faculty, Applied Mathematics

I very much enjoyed my classes with Bob, for his stories and good nature, in particular. I also enjoyed talking with Bob. He was always friendly and generous with his time. He added a lot to the department!

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- Kristen Thyng, Masters Student alum, 2007

Bob was one of the first faculty members I got to know when I joined the AMATH department (CFRM) five years ago, as his office was right next to mine.  Not having a research career myself, but rather coming in as an instructor from the private sector, it could feel pretty intimidating sometimes being around such accomplished and well-respected faculty, but Bob was always so warm and welcoming.  Over the years we got to know each other, sharing stories and more than a few corny jokes. 

I've dearly missed him during the pandemic, and now knowing he won't be there when we return is like a massive blow to the gut. Very sorry and shocked to hear about Bob's passing.  He was truly one of the best ever.

- Dan Hanson, Faculty, CFRM

I have only arrived in Washington recently, so unfortunately I never had a chance to know Dr. O'Malley. However, it has been deeply moving and inspiring to read what others have had to say about him, his work, his life, and his legacy. I feel certain that his words will continue to echo through the halls of Lewis for many years more, and I am fortunate to be able to hear those echoes.

- Joeseph Williams, Current Graduate Student

Bob was one of the first faculty I met when I joined the Department of Applied Mathematics on May 1, 2017. Bob and I quickly hit it off as we share "Back East" roots. I am from NYC and Bob from New Hampshire; but I also lived in Boston and spent time in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

We shared New England colloquialisms, stories, places and things. His New Hampshire accent took me back to times past; and we enjoyed the idiomatic expressions that only he and I would understand. "That's a wicked tie, Bob."

He was always friendly and open to a chat. I enjoyed attending events where I could socialize with him and Candy.

Interestingly enough, my husband, David, knew his son, Daniel O'Malley years prior to me joining UW Applied Math. Daniel is founder and owner of Epicurean Edge, an amazing knife store in Kirkland, WA that my husband frequents.

I always stopped by Bob's office to say, "hi" whenever he was in Lewis Hall. Lewis Hall and Applied Math will not be the same without him there. Even though he was Professor Emeritus, he would tell me about students he was mentoring and working with at UW and around the U.S. and the World.

I make sure to have a "lobsta" and "steamers" and think about you, Bob.

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- Karen Beaudry, Manager, Career Services & Employer Relations for CFRM

It is extremely sad to know that professor O'Malley has passed away. I was graduate student at the university of Arizona when Dr. O'Malley was a mathematics faculty. I studied some singular perturbation at UC Davis, and had familiarity with his work. I travel during the year. Once I was in Seattle and visited Dr. O'Malley in his office at UW. It was very nice of him to visit and chat. I looked at the internet to look him up to visit with him on my next trip to Seattle. Unfortunately I read the sad news.

- Mostafa Ghandehari, Former Mathematics Student, UW

I came across Bob several times over the years, both in Italy and in the USA. He was very charming and easygoing and witty. He has been rather influential with his singular perturbations research, and was for me a source of inspiration on this subject. 

- Renato Spigler, Senior Professor of Mathematics, Roma Tre University

I was a chemical engineering professor (but had been joint in the Applied Math Program before it became a Department and taught courses in Appl. Math.) I wasn’t very active with the Applied Math Department when he was here. But one day I went to his office because I was thinking of combining singular perturbation theory with some numerical analysis for a problem that needed both. He was intrigued and encouraged me. In the end I didn’t do that though. Later, he recommend to SIAM that they publish my first book, The Method of Weighted Residuals and Variational Principles, Academic Press, 1972, as a SIAM classic. I still had the permissions for the several figures I reproduced from other publications (saved lots of effort on SIAM's part because many of the original organizations no longer existed!). That re-publication sort of brought new life to the book and it is still referenced (although maybe they just refer to it because someone else did!). But it is really special for me, at 81, to see the frequent references on ResearchGate and see where the people are from. Somewhere in the world someone is reading what I wrote 50 years ago and Bob helped make that happen. Thank you.

- Bruce Finlayson, Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering, University of Washington

I first met Bob many years ago. Pierre Mourad introduced us one day while I was walking on the Ave and saw Bob and Pierre chatting. After that first meeting whenever I ran into him he would ask me how I was doing and what I was working on. At one point he asked me to review at 1300 page Springer Handbook of Acoustics and promised to give me the book and the featured review in SIAM Review. I was certainly surprised, but read through all 1300 pages, and, as promised, he gave me the featured review. I remember an historical seminar he gave on George Green, which I found fascinating. He was unfailingly upbeat and cheerful. I am very sorry to hear of his passing. It is a devastating loss to his family and the applied math community of which he was such a prominent and respected member.

- Bob Odom, Assistant Director & Senior Principal Physicist - Applied Physics Lab, University of Washington

I took graduate Complex Analysis with Dr. O'Malley. He was a good professor with a charming personality. We were very dedicated to his teaching. I distinctly remember him teaching class one day when he was quite ill. It was probably the flu, and he clearly had a fever. He soldiered on with sweat pouring off his forehead. He had to finish the lecture from a seated position, but he finished it none the less.

- Chris Dugaw, Alumni, University of Washington

My heart is filled with sorrow upon hearing the news about professor O'Malley's passing. I had two courses with him during my undergraduate studies in mathematics in 2008. One is AMATH 351. The other one is AMATH 568 for which also happened to be my favorite graduate level course at the UW. Professor O'Malley was the reason why I became addicted to differential equations and perturbation theory. He was such a huge influence on me as an applied mathematician. I am honored to have been his student. I would have definitely wished professor O'Malley to be my advisor if I had continued my graduate studies in applied math at the UW. May his soul rest in peace.

- Paul Tsuyen Wu, Alumni, University of Washington

I just learned of Dr. O'Malley's passing and am sad to hear it, particularly knowing it was the result of an accident. I got to know Dr. O'Malley a little bit while I was an undergraduate student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the 1980's. I never had him for a class. However, I was a student aide in the Mathematics Dept. and got to know many of the professors by carrying-out tasks at their request. I recall Dr. O'Malley as a very pleasant, easy going, and approachable professor. I soon learned of his reputation as an expert in singular perturbation analysis. This expertise coupled with his friendly demeanor inspired me to read his published lecture notes "Singular Perturbation Analysis for ODE's" -- which I still have and keep on my bookshelf! I offer my belated condolences to his family and friends.

- Abe Mantell, Colleague at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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