Math professor dies after heart attack, colleagues discuss impact left behind

Christine Ayala

Mathematics professor Edward Odell suffered a heart attack and died of resulting complications Jan. 8 at the age of 65.

Odell, known to many as Ted, began teaching at UT in 1977. While teaching in the mathematics department he held the John T. Stuart III Centennial Professorship in Mathematics and worked to restructure the undergraduate mathematics curriculum.

Odell was scheduled to teach Introduction to Real Analysis this semester. Lecturer Gary Berg, who took over Odell’s class, knew him as a graduate adviser, instructor and co-worker. He said Odell inspired others with his dedication to his work and his colleagues.

“Ted had a passion for solving math problems,” Berg said. “Even after being loaded with administrative duties, he continued to find time to do significant research. Research at his level requires large blocks of uninterrupted time in which to concentrate on the problem at hand.”

Odell’s research focused on Banach spaces, which are vector spaces used in functional analysis.

Emeritus professor Haskell Rosenthal knew Odell for more than 40 years as Odell’s professor and colleague and published three research papers with him. Rosenthal said Odell felt a responsibility to improve the University and the field.

“If you look at his papers almost all of them are collaborative efforts,” he said. “He just gave so generously of himself to this University and was such an outstanding mathematician. He had so many jobs on different committees that were so time-consuming but he was such a great man.”

Rosenthal said Odell was very active in the mathematics community and organized several national mathematicians’ conferences in the past. Rosenthal said he stayed healthy despite his busy schedule.

“This really comes as a shock,” Rosenthal said. “He seemed to take really good care of himself and exercise. It’s just an incredible loss.”

Mathematics department chair Alan Reid said Odell was dedicated to improving UT through not only his research but also by helping to develop programs to improve readiness of incoming freshmen for calculus classes.

“His death leaves a huge void in the department and he will be sorely missed by his colleagues,” Reid said. “He was a highly regarded mathematician, and was one of the leading researchers in the area of Banach spaces. He was a central figure in the department’s ongoing efforts to improve its instructional program and the experience of both student and instructor in the classroom.”

Odell leaves behind his wife Gail and daughters Holly and Amy.

The University will be hosting a memorial service open to the public Saturday in the Main Building at 3:30 p.m.