McCombs Professor William W. Cooper, inventor of management science, dies at age 97


(Courtesy of the McCombs School of Business)

Bobby Blanchard

After more than 30 years of service at the University, Professor Emeritus William W. Cooper died on Wednesday. He was 97.

Cooper was known for numerous accomplishments, spanning from his youth to the last few weeks of life. He worked at the White House, Carnegie Mellon University and Harvard Business School until he came to the University of Texas in 1980 at the age of 66. In his career, Cooper was known as one of the inventors of management science and a co-creator of data envelopment analysis. But among friends, family and colleagues, Cooper was known as a hardworking man.

“He was a very kind man and a very human person,” McCombs professor Patrick Brockett said. “If you gave him a paper to read, he would read it and give it back to you with comments.”

Marketing administration professor Linda Golden, who has been a colleague with Cooper for 30 years, said Cooper was known for going to work every day of the year, including the weekends, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Golden said Cooper would join her family for Thanksgiving dinner after stopping by his office.

“A few years ago, he showed up angry and agitated,” Golden said. “He announced to us that the University had closed and he couldn’t get in to his office, so he had to contact the police to get in.”

Golden said Cooper was an inspiration to many, including her son who wrote his college admissions essay on Cooper.

“He changed lives around the world,” Golden said. “He impacted and changed and motivated academics and practitioners around the world.”

Leon Cooper said his brother had an incredible work ethic ever since he was a child. Leon Cooper said his brother dropped out of high school his sophomore year to work to provide food for his family after his father had fallen ill.

“I contributed, but nowhere near what my brother did in terms of money that kept food on the table,” Leon Cooper said. “He set up pins in bowling alleys, he made money by delivering produce, but most of all, he was proudest of his prowess in the ring.”

As another way to make money for his family, Leon Cooper said his brother competed in boxing matches to win $25. He said his brother had more than 50 wins in the ring with only a few losses.

“We didn’t know on any given day if we would have enough food to eat,” Leon Cooper said. “That’s why my brother’s contributions were so important.”

Golden said there would be a celebration of William W. Cooper’s life toward the end of the summer. A date has not yet been set.