Robert M. Thrall

TIMS President, 1969-70


Bob Thrall was the 16th President of TIMS. He was one of the pioneers in the field of operations research. From 1957 to 1961, he was the second editor-in-chief, following C. West Churchman, of Management Science, and from 1961 to 1965 he was the journal’s associate editor in charge of Series B (Theory). In 1985, TIMS awarded him its Distinguished Service Medal, one of only five ever given. Over the years, he also served on the editorial boards of a number of other scholarly journals, including The Journal of Conflict Resolution and Behavioral Science. While President of TIMS, he endorsed a transfer of funds from TIMS to subsidize the development of CORE (Center for Operations Research and Econometrics) at the University of Louvain in Belgium; now recognized as a world center in operations research, and with a major emphasis on Data Envelopment Analysis.

He received his PhD from the University of Illinois in 1937 at age 22. He was a professor of mathematics at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor from 1937 to 1969, His initial research at Michigan was in pure mathematics: group and representation theory. World War II led him into examination of Operations Research and development of relevant mathematical models that dealt with military problems. By 1950’s Operations Research and Management Sciences formally entered academia in various places, especially Electrical and other Engineering departments and Business Schools. As editor of Management Science, he found it necessary to learn a bit about many areas of OR and MS, and this broad interest provided an important foundation for educational development in OR and MS where he spent several years of research before and after formal retirement. Beginning in 1984, he placed his emphasis in the productive efficiency model DEA (data envelopment analysis) working with collaborators such as W.W. Cooper.

He continued to be an active researcher well into his 80’s, bringing a steady stream of handwritten drafts of his papers and of manuscript reviews he did for journals to be fashioned into typescript. Over the years he published over 100 articles in scholarly journals plus several books.

At the time of his retirement in 1984, Bob Thrall was the Noah Harding Professor of Mathematical Sciences and Professor of Administrative Science at Rice University. He came to Rice in 1969 upon the founding of the Department of Mathematical Sciences (applied math), which previously had been part of the Department of Mathematics. He chaired the department from 1969 to 1978. In 1977, he received a joint appointment in the newly established Jesse. H. Jones Graduate School of Business where he taught Decision Analysis to MBA Students.

Bob Thrall died in April 2006 at the age of 91.

BA, 1935, Illinois College; MA and PhD, 1937, University of Illinois (Mathematics). D.Sc (hon.) Illinois College.

Robert M. Thrall's Awards