Thursday, June 21, 2012

Rest in Peace, Professor William Cooper, a Giant in Operations Research and the Management Sciences

I have just returned from lunch in Gothenburg, Sweden, where a job candidate today is being interviewed for a faculty position in Operations Research at the School of Business, Economics and Law. At the lunch following his presentation, I learned that he was in the last linear programming class ever taught by Professor George Dantzig, of Stanford University, so we had some nostalgic  remembrances.

I returned to my office at the University of Gothenburg to learn that Professor William Cooper of the University of Texas passed away yesterday, June 20, 2012. Hence, another titan of our field has passed away.

The obituary on the UTAustin website speaks of Professor Cooper and his truly amazing life, from him being a high school dropout to a revolutionary in business education.

When Professor Bill Cooper turned 96 years of age, I wrote about his kindness. He sent me a personal, typed up congratulatory letter when I was appointed the John F. Smith Memorial Professor at the Isenberg School of Management, which hangs in my home office as inspiration.

At age 96, Professor Cooper, although officially retired, would still come to work, and said that he wanted to die while living and not from a cold or from pneumonia.

He was amazing, as was his research output in terms of breadth and depth, with many seminal papers with his longtime collaborator, Abe Charnes, who predeceased him by several years. Much of his career was spent at Carnegie Mellon University.

 Interestingly, according to the UTAustin obituary:  At age 66 most people are thinking of retirement. At that age in 1980 Cooper started on a whole new leg of his career. George Kozmetsky, then dean of UT’s College and Graduate School of Business, hired Cooper as the Foster Parker Professor of Management, Finance and Accounting. With a nod to Cooper’s broad research interests, colleagues joked that his title naturally would encompass three departments.

Coincidentally, last night, I was at a dinner over a senior administrator's home outside of Gothenburg, and it was a magical evening. Her mother had worked at UTAustin and I spoke of many colleagues there as well as of George Kozmetsky and his IC2 Institute at which I had attended a conference and had even been out to his Texas ranch.

Always a gentleman and a scholar, Professor Bill Cooper, we will miss you!

You have left a tremendous legacy -- thank you.