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Obituary: Courtney Coleman

Courtney Coleman, 1930-2023. Photo courtesy of Harvey Mudd College.
Mathematician Courtney Coleman passed away on December 2, 2023, at the age of 93. Perhaps best known for his impressive tenure as a professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, Courtney served as chair of Harvey Mudd’s Department of Mathematics and inspired multiple generations of students over the course of more than 40 years.

Courtney was born on July 19, 1930, in Ventura, Ca. A gifted scholar, he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley in 1947 (shortly after his 17th birthday) and received a B.A. in mathematics in 1951. He went on to earn an M.A. in 1953 and a Ph.D. in 1955, both from Princeton University; while on campus, he frequently crossed paths with John Nash and Albert Einstein. Courtney also met his future wife, Julia Wellnitz, during this period.

Upon graduating from Berkeley with his Ph.D., Courtney taught at Wesleyan University from 1955 to 1958. He then worked as a research mathematician at the Research Institute for Advanced Studies in Baltimore, Md., from 1958 to 1959. In 1959, Courtney joined the faculty at Harvey Mudd as an assistant professor of mathematics; he would remain there until his retirement in 1997, after which he retained emeritus professorship. Even after retiring, Courtney continued to teach at Harvey Mudd well into the early 2000s and was an active donor and supporter of the College’s mathematics scholarships, programs, and funds. Harvey Mudd recognized his lifelong dedication with the 1996 establishment of the Courtney S. Coleman Prize, an award for second-year students who excel in mathematics.

In addition to his teaching endeavors, Courtney wrote and co-authored numerous publications, many of which pertained to differential equations. Along with the late Robert Borrelli (a fellow mathematics professor at Harvey Mudd), he co-authored a textbook called Differential Equations: A Modeling Perspective [1]; the text is still utilized in multiple advanced math courses at Harvey Mudd and inspired subsequent books on the same subject. Courtney and Robert also wrote several papers together, including a paper titled “A Project Approach in Differential Equations Courses” that introduced independent study projects into mathematics courses (especially those that involve differential equations) [2]. Courtney even served on the Board of Editors for the Contributions to Differential Equations book series. 

Courtney was a member of the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematics Association of America. As a respected mathematician throughout the world, he took sabbaticals at the Research Institute for Advanced Studies, Tecnopolis Parco Scientifico e Tecnologico in Italy, and the Mathematical Institute at the University of Oxford; he even lectured twice at Moscow University.

Courtney’s colleagues remember him as a positive influence and strong role model. He was admired by fellow faculty members at Harvey Mudd for his kindness and the respect that he showed everyone with whom he interacted. Many former students remember him as their favorite professor, an inspiration to others, and an all-around wonderful person. Courtney is survived by his three children (David, Margaret, and Diane), seven grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren, and was preceded in death by his wife Julia, who passed away in 2012. He will be dearly missed by his family, friends, and former students and colleagues at Harvey Mudd.

[1] Borrelli, R.L., & Coleman, C.S. (1997). Differential equations: A modeling perspective. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
[2] Borrelli, R., & Coleman, C. (2011). A project approach in differential equations courses. CODEE J., 8, 2.

SIAM News would like to thank the family of Courtney Coleman for their contributions to this article.

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