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August 28, 2014

Obituary: J. Bryce McLeod

mcleodUniversity professor emeritus of mathematics J. Bryce McLeod, a noted expert in applied analysis of differential equations, died Aug. 20, 2014, in Abingdon, England. He was 84.

A native of Aberdeen, Scotland, McLeod studied at Aberdeen University and received a D.Phil at Oxford. He taught at the University of Edinburgh, then at Wadham College, Oxford.

Having spent summers and sabbaticals in the United States, including at Wisconsin and at Pitt, he maintained many American connections in applied mathematics.

Facing mandatory retirement in the U.K., he accepted the University’s offer of a research professorship, coming to Pitt as a tenured full professor in 1987.

Among many honors, he was a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and fellow of the Royal Society of London. He was awarded the Whittaker Prize of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society in 1965, the Keith Medal and Prize of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1987 and the Naylor Prize and lectureship in applied mathematics in 2011.

McLeod collaborated widely, including with several Pitt colleagues, developing mathematical solutions for problems in fields including mechanics, physics, engineering and biology.

He also mentored a number of graduate students. Mathematics colleague Bill Troy said: “Throughout his career here at Pitt, Professor McLeod gave generously of his time to each of his students. They appreciated his kind treatment of them.”

McLeod and fellow professor emeritus Stuart Hastings co-authored multiple papers as well as the 2012 textbook “Classical Methods in Ordinary Differential Equations: With Applications to Boundary Value Problems.” Hastings recalled McLeod as modest, kind and helpful, not only to students, but to colleagues as well, with a sense of humor and appetite for life.

He was named University professor in 1993.

Following his retirement from the University in 2007, McLeod returned to the U.K. and continued in his field at the Oxford Centre for Nonlinear PDEs.

Mathematics professor Juan J. Manfredi, vice provost for undergraduate studies, said, “He was a distinguished scientist and mathematician but he also was a great gentleman of math,” marking McLeod’s appointment as one of the first to give the department a more focused research direction.

“It was a pleasure to talk with him about mathematics,” Manfredi said, crediting him as a mentor in the field during Manfredi’s early days at Pitt.

McLeod’s Oxford training was evident, Manfredi said, remembering his lectures as “a pleasure to attend” and his work, articulated in artistic handwriting, as “phenomenally clear.”

In mathematics department faculty discussions, Manfredi said, McLeod was friendly, optimistic and positive, a balanced, diplomatic voice of reason.

“He was kind with everybody, even those who did not agree with him,” Manfredi said, adding that McLeod’s focus was always on moving the department positively toward the future.

In a recent interview with fellow mathematician Sir John Ball, filmed as part of an Oxford Math Institute video series, McLeod said he preferred delving into the details of problem-oriented problems over pondering theoretical mathematics. “I never could get interested in general theories,” he said.

In the video, filmed in January after McLeod had become ill with pancreatic cancer, McLeod said, “Mathematics is fun … Whether it’s delving into the mathematics itself or talking to other mathematicians about it … it’s fun. … In my experience, that fun comes from not getting hold of one problem and spending your life digging deeper and deeper and deeper into that problem. It lies in keeping your mind open to what other people are doing,” he said.

“I never would have wanted to do anything else.”

McLeod is survived by his wife, Eunice, four children and three grandchildren.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 47 Issue 1