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April 28, 2011

Obituary: Mario Benedicty

Mathematics professor emeritus Mario Benedicty died April 8, 2011, in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 88.

Born in Trieste, Italy, during World War II Benedicty served in the British special forces in Italy and was awarded the Italian Silver Medal of Military Valor.

He received his PhD in mathematics from the University of Rome in 1946 and taught mathematics at Universita Gregoriana in the Vatican, La Sapienza University of Rome and the University of British Columbia before coming to Pitt in 1958.

Benedicty chaired Pitt’s mathematics department 1962-74.

In addition to teaching in the department, he collaborated with the Learning Research and Development Center on cognitive psychological studies of mathematics learning.

In 1987 he co-authored a textbook on discrete mathematical structures with former Pitt mathematics student Frank R. Sledge.

Benedicty received the title professor emeritus in 1992 and continued to teach at Pitt until he retired to Palo Alto in 1994.

Colleague Beverly Michael remembers Benedicty for his precision and his affinity for using fountain pens. “When he retired I inherited some of his jars of ink,” she said, adding that they bring him to mind frequently.

“Once when I was working on creating a placement test, he told me he had already done that, and gave me a box filled with old computer punch cards and reams of computer paper. Of course he had worked on this in the days before PC computers,” she recalled.

Pat Schuetz, a former student of Benedicty’s, credited the professor with paving the way for her career change. Schuetz had been emboldened to use her tuition benefit to earn a computer science degree after rewriting a professor’s independent-study business calculus course as part of her job at the University External Studies Program (UESP). Two calculus courses and linear algebra were required.

She aced Benedicty’s UESP introductory calculus course. “My success seemed to validate his effort, as far as he was concerned, and he was thereafter well-disposed toward me,” she said. As there was no UESP intermediate calculus course, Benedicty devised one for her. “He handed me a syllabus, the name of the textbook, a schedule of his office hours and the dates when his classroom course would be taking exams.”

Teaching herself turned out to be disastrous. “But I showed up at every one of Dr. B’s office hours. I had the great good fortune to identify an error in the textbook, which impressed him, and he had the goodness to, in effect, teach me the entire course in his office.”

Knowing that Schuetz was not planning on a career in math, Benedicty found a way to give her the passing grade she needed to complete the math requirements. “He had a sense of humor and a sense of perspective,” she said, adding that she was certain he otherwise would not have passed her. “He had the largeness of mind to understand that it made no practical difference,” she said, adding that in her subsequent career in systems engineering, “I never used a minute of calculus.”

Benedicty is survived by his wife, Alfonsina Mucciante; children Gustavo Benedicty and Franca Benedicty Barton Clarke; five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Contributions in his name may be made to The Campaign to Build a New Health Center at Channing House (

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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