Remembering James E. Ward, Professor of Mathematics Emeritus and Former Dean of the College

James Ward with his wife, Mary Lee, in 2006

James Ward with his wife, Mary Lee, in 2006

To the Bowdoin Community,

I have the sad duty to report that James E. Ward, Professor of Mathematics Emeritus and former Dean of the College, died November 11, 2013, at home in Brunswick following a recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He was 74.

Jim embodied the spirit of the liberal arts. While his head was in mathematics, his heart was with the students of Africa — where he taught as a Fulbright scholar on two separate occasions — and with the people of midcoast Maine, whom he served as a board member for organizations supporting middle-income elderly housing, vocational education, community mental health services, Head Start, regional anti-poverty efforts, behavioral and mental health services for children and adults, healthcare and musical theater.

Jim’s humanity seeped into his view of mathematics, as well, once describing math as “a beautiful creation of the human mind.” He was active in professional activities on a national level, as an elected member of the Board of Governors of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) and in several offices in the Northeastern Section of the MAA, including chair. He delivered more than 100 lectures at colleges and universities as part of the MAA’s Visiting Lecturers Program and organized and directed several research conferences sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the American Mathematical Society. His research interests focused on nonassociative algebras, finite groups and voting theory. He co-authored, with William H. Barker, Isaac Henry Wing Professor of Mathematics, The Calculus Companion, Volumes I and II (1984). The book reflects Jim’s teaching style and philosophy, as it strives to develop in students a deep understanding of calculus and computational processes beyond the memorization and application of formulas.

A native of Greenville, S.C., Jim grew up in Nashville, Tenn., and attended the Peabody Demonstration School of the George Peabody College for Teachers, where his father was a professor of economics. The college is now a part of Vanderbilt University, from which Jim graduated magna cum laude in 1961, a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He served for a year as assistant to the college president. He went on to earn a master’s degree in 1964 on a Danforth Graduate Fellowship and his doctorate in 1968, both in mathematics, at the University of Virginia. Between earning his master’s and his doctorate, he studied religion for a year at Yale University Divinity School. He taught at Spelman College for one year as a Woodrow Wilson Foundation Teaching Intern, and at the University of Virginia for three years.

Jim came to Bowdoin in 1968 as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics, was promoted to Associate Professor in 1973 and full Professor in 1979. He served as Director of Bowdoin’s Senior Center from 1971 to 1976, during which time he and his family lived at the Center and ate many of their meals with students at the Senior Center dining hall.

He was a member of the Bowdoin NBA (Noontime Basketball Association) for many years, and cheered the Polar Bears at many sporting events. He also was commonly seen riding his bicycle to work, regardless of the season.

In 1977, he worked as a visiting scholar at University of Cambridge, England, and upon his return to Maine, he developed Bowdoin’s Self-Paced Calculus Program. He also served as chair of the Department of Mathematics for a total of 10 years between 1978 and 1995. Jim was named Dean of the College in 1992.

Jim loved Africa, and went there twice to teach and conduct research as a Fulbright scholar. From 1989-1990, he taught mathematics at the National University of Lesotho, and from 1996-1997, he traveled to Makerere University in Uganda as a lecturer/researcher.

In 1994, Jim was recognized for his work on behalf of the College with the annual Alumni Award for Faculty and Staff. He retired from the faculty on December 31, 2009.

He was equally dedicated off campus. He served four years on the Brunswick School board, including one year as chairman; 16 years on the board of MidCoast Maine Community Action (Formerly Coastal Economic Development Corporation), including seven years as chairman; was a member of the Head Start Policy Council; a director of the Maine State Music Theatre; a corporator of Mid-Coast Hospital; a member of the Parkview Memorial Hospital Citizens Advisory Council; and co-chair for two years of the Bowdoin chapter of the Brunswick Area United Way. He was named Brunswick’s Outstanding Young Man of 1973 by the Brunswick Jaycees. He was also a member of the First Parish Congregational Church.

For many years as the faculty’s “senior wrangler,” Jim’s resonant voice moved that “the meeting adjourn.” We will remember Jim for his courage and optimism under duress. He wrote in an Internet post notifying the community of his diagnosis: “I don’t think I have any real grounds for a beef about my circumstances. I’ve had a good run.”

A memorial service will be held Friday, November 29, 2013, at 2:00 p.m. at First Parish Church in Brunswick. In the meantime, our thoughts are with Mary Lee, Jim’s wife of 51 years, and the entire Ward family.

Sincerely,

Cristle Collins Judd
Dean for Academic Affairs

thumb:Mary Lou Zeeman presents the 2014 faculty lunch lecture "Harnessing Math to Understand Tipping Points and Resilience."