OFFICE OF THE CHAIR - DEPARTMENT OF MATHEMATICS
OFFICE OF THE INTERIM DIRECTOR - CALIT2 / DIRECTOR - QUALCOMM INSTITUTE
OFFICE OF THE DEAN - JACOBS SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING
OFFICE OF THE DEAN - DIVISION OF PHYSICAL SCIENCES
July 17, 2020
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Ronald Graham, a renowned mathematician and computer scientist who lent his brilliance to our UC San Diego community for more than 20 years. He passed away at home in La Jolla on July 6, 2020 at the age of 84.
Graham joined the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering in 1999 and held the Irwin and Joan Jacobs Endowed Chair in Computer and Information Science. He also served as chief scientist of the two-campus California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), since its early days. In 2015, the university honored his legacy and contributions by establishing an endowed chair in his name: the Ronald L. Graham Chair of Computer Science. That same year he earned a teacher of the year award at the Jacobs School. Among all the honors and accolades he received during his career, it was the only award on display in his office.
Graham's illustrious career began after earning his PhD in Mathematics from UC Berkeley in 1962. He spent 37 years at AT&T Bell Labs, primarily as its director of information sciences. His work on "hard problems" led him to focus on the complexity of routing telephone calls across U.S. time zones for AT&T. Graham was also influential on the development of the Internet, after he explored the creation of a worldwide network of routers with MIT mathematician Tom Leighton. From 1996 to 1999, he served as chief scientist of AT&T Labs. When he joined UC San Diego in 1999, Graham taught the campus to seek out and gather the best scholars and trust them to explore the future, especially in his contributions to Calit2.
At one point the Guinness Book of World Records attributed to Graham the longest number ever used in a mathematical proof (in 1977) - a number so long that there is no known notation. "Graham's number" got him featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not!.
His long friendship with influential mathematician Paul Erdos, with whom he co-authored nearly 30 papers, also resulted in Graham's 1979 paper that introduced the concept of an "Erdos number," showing how closely other mathematicians were tied to Erdos based on the number of publications they co-authored with Erdos. Ron Graham's Erdos number: 1 (reserved for Erdos's immediate coauthors.) This concept later took hold in Hollywood as the basis of the popular "Six Degrees of Separation" game depicting how close an actor got to appearing in a movie with Kevin Bacon.
According to the American Mathematical Society (AMS), of which he served as past president, he was "one of the principal architects of the rapid development worldwide of discrete mathematics in recent years." In addition to his role with the AMS, he also served as president of Mathematical Association of America (MAA)-- the two largest associations of mathematicians-- and was selected as a member of the inaugural class of Fellows of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) in 2009.
Among his many other prestigious appointments and honors, he received the Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement (2003) by the AMS, the Euler Medal of the Institute of Combinatorics and its Applications (1994), the Carl Allendorfer Award (1990) and the Polya Prize in Combinatorics (1972). He was a member of and served as treasurer of the National Academy of Sciences and was a fellow of the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was a fellow of the inaugural class of the American Mathematical Society (2013). Graham also holds six honorary doctorates.
A multi-talented individual, Graham was also an accomplished gymnast, trampolinist and juggler. In fact, he put himself through graduate school at UC Berkeley performing in a circus trampoline act. He served as past president of the International Juggling Association and explored the math behind card and magic tricks in "Magical Mathematics" (Princeton University Press, 2011). The book, coauthored with Stanford University mathematician Persi Diaconis, won the 2013 Euler Book Prize given by the MAA.
Survivors include his wife and research collaborator of 34 years, Fan Chung Graham, a professor in the UC San Diego Department of Mathematics, four children, Ché Graham, Marc Graham, Christy Newman and Laura Lindauer, as well as his two step children, Dean and Laura May, 11 grandchildren and his brother, Jerry Graham.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation: https://www.cff.org/
His kind spirit, his dedication to his students and colleagues and his unparalleled mind-- as well as his juggling acts-- will be missed. We are truly fortunate to have had Ron Graham and his brilliance in our lives.
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