Saul Irving Gass (1926-2013) — O.R. pioneer, statesman and ambassador

By Arjang Assad

Saul Gass

Saul Irving Gass

Saul Irving Gass, a pioneering O.R. researcher and educator, 25th president of ORSA (Operations Research Society of America, a forerunner of INFORMS), INFORMS Fellow, recipient of ORSA’s George E. Kimball distinguished service medal (1991) and the Jacinto Steinhardt Memorial Award (1996) and author of the widely renowned text on linear programming, died March 17 at his home in Potomac, Md., after a courageous battle with cancer.

Saul Gass was born on Feb. 28, 1926 in Chelsea, Mass., to Louis and Bertha Gass. The couple married in Boston in 1920, and had two sons: Gerald (Jerry) followed by Saul. Saul’s family lived in Roxbury (Boston) through the mid-1950s. Saul attended Roxbury Memorial High School where his favorite subjects were mathematics and physics. In 1943, after graduating from high school and while nearing completion of his freshman year at Northeastern University, Saul enlisted in the Army’s Specialized Training Program (ASTP), a WWII program set up to train and educate academically talented enlisted men as a specialized corps of Army officers. But, early in 1944, the Army canceled the ASTP, and Saul was inducted into the Army at Fort Devens, Mass., soon after he turned 18.

Saul’s Army division moved into action on March 17, 1945, traversing Germany to cross the Danube River at Regensburg, and stopping on the west bank of the Enns River, with Russians on the opposite side. This was the Army unit that had gone the furthest east on V-E Day.

Saul shipped home in April 1946, and upon his military discharge in May 1946, he had two goals: to marry Trudy Candler, the local girl he had met when he was 15, and to resume his university studies. Saul and Trudy married on June 30, 1946 in Los Angeles, thus commencing a life-long and inspiring love story. He also re-enrolled at Northeastern.

In 1947, Saul transferred to Boston University and graduated with a B.S. in education (major: mathematics) in June 1949 and an M.A. in mathematics in August 1949. Deciding against teaching high school as a career, he looked for a job as a mathematician. The U.S. Air Force offered him such a position in November 1949. He joined the Aberdeen Bombing Mission in Los Angeles, working on information that was sent to the Aberdeen Proving Ground (Aberdeen, Md.) where bombing tables were being developed. Wanting to move back East, Saul accepted a position at the Pentagon in January 1952. He was already a young father then: Ronald Gass was born June 1951, to be followed by Joyce Gass, three years after the move. This move also marked the beginning of six decades of Saul’s close association with operations research (O.R.) and the greater Washington, D.C., area.

Saul was always interested in the typically circuitous paths that led the early contributors of our field to O.R. His own path was no less interesting, and 1952 must be viewed as the year of his introduction to O.R. His position within the Pentagon was in the Directorate of Management Analysis of the Air Force on the staff of Project SCOOP, where he was assigned to the Mathematical Formulation Branch. The branch chief, Walter Jacobs, introduced him to linear programming (LP) by giving him reprints of George Dantzig’s three seminal 1951 papers. Saul considered Project SCOOP the birthplace of LP and “the first linear-programming shoppe.” Saul’s pioneering contribution to LP theory – the parametric linear-programming problem – arose directly from his work at Project SCOOP and resulted in seminal joint publications with Tom Saaty. Project SCOOP left a lasting imprint on O.R. by assembling and supporting a remarkable network of researchers that spanned the Pentagon, NBS, Princeton University, Carnegie-Mellon University and the RAND Corporation.

In May 1955, Saul left Project SCOOP to join IBM at the Washington commercial sales office located on Connecticut Avenue. His job was to help the salesmen sell and install the new computers IBM designed for either commercial or scientific computation. After a year at a Washington-based consulting firm, Saul rejoined IBM to manage the simulation group of NASA’s Project Mercury Man-in-Space Program. He was manager of IBM’s Project Mercury program on May 5, 1961 when the first U.S. manned-capsule suborbital flight occurred with Astronaut Alan Shepard on board. Later, on Feb. 20, 1962, he watched John Glenn’s liftoff from the VIP grandstand at Cape Canaveral.

While at Project SCOOP, Saul had taken courses in emerging O.R. topics. In 1952-1953, he took the two-semester game theory course that Albert Tucker and Harold Kuhn taught at American University in 1952-1953. Saul was especially fond of recounting this experience and his amazement at the convergence of two independently developed areas: LP and game theory. Enrolling in the doctoral program in mathematics at American University, Saul took several classes that exposed him to such instructors as Alex Orden, Alan Hoffman and Joseph McCloskey. In 1963, he began his doctoral studies at U.C.-Berkeley to become one of George Dantzig’s first doctoral students. The Dantzig and Gass families socialized and often went to dinner with their children. Saul remained close to George throughout the latter’s life and wrote several tributes to him. Saul’s dissertation was on the Dualplex Method, a decomposition approach he designed for large-scale linear programs.

In 1965, Saul returned to IBM’s Federal Systems Division in Gaithersburg, Md., as manager of Federal Civil Programs. This division was responsible for urban problem contracts and consulting. Saul was named to serve on the Science and Technology Task Force of the Commission on Law Enforcement created by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. The task force was led by Alfred Blumstein, who recruited Saul (in 1966) and Richard Larson (then an undergraduate at MIT). Saul’s responsibility was to investigate how science and technology can best serve police operations.

Saul Gass

Saul Gass (far left) celebrates the 60th anniversary of Project SCOOP in 2007.

Saul left IBM in 1969. After a brief period at the consulting firm World Systems Laboratories, he joined Mathematica, Inc., the Princeton-based O.R. and economics consulting firm led by Tibor Fabian, as vice president and director of its office in Bethesda, Md. At Mathematica, Saul worked on several public sector studies including those on police forces.

In 1975, Saul joined the University of Maryland (College Park), where he had previously taught O.R. courses during 1973-1974. Soon after being named dean of Maryland’s College of Business and Management, Rudy Lamone recruited Saul in September 1975 to build and head the management science and statistics department. Saul had “found a home”; he spent the next 26 years at the university. As department chair (1975-1979), Saul recruited Larry Bodin, Bruce Golden, Frank Alt, Mike Ball and myself.

As a faculty member at Maryland, Saul launched a highly active research program that included joint work with graduate students from applied mathematics and business. His research spanned LP theory and its applications, multi-objective linear programming (MOLP), AHP and military manpower planning models. He also produced a significant body of work on the process of modeling, model validation and assessment particularly for complex models, one of the few O.R. scholars to focus on this topic. Space limitations do not permit me to describe these various strands here, but a summary appears in a chapter I prepared for Saul’s 80th birthday festschrift [1].

Saul was a superlative writer with a special flair for clarity, duly recognized by the INFORMS Expository Writing Award he received in 1997. His text, “Linear Programming: Methods and Applications” was the first internationally renowned LP text. First published in 1958, this comprehensive treatment of LP was preceded only by the monograph by Charnes, Cooper and Henderson (1953) and Vajda’s book (1956). Saul’s text originated from notes he prepared for the introductory LP course he taught at the Department of Agriculture Graduate School, but most of the writing was done during weekends in 1955-1956 when he was at IBM. The book went through five editions (the fifth in 1985); Dover reprinted it in 2003. First translated into Russian in 1961, translations into other languages soon followed.

Saul’s 1970 primer, “An Illustrated Guide to Linear Programming,” was also widely read. Illustrated by a cartoonist, it showed the lighter side of Gass and the sense of humor his friends knew so well. A large part of the Guide found its way into Saul’s introductory text on modeling: “Decision Making, Models and Algorithms: A First Course” (1985). Saul’s next weighty tome was the “Encyclopedia of Operations Research and Management Science,” originally co-edited with Carl Harris. A third edition of this book, with Michael Fu as co-editor, is in press and will appear in 2013.

O.R. professional, statesman and ambassador

Saul cared deeply about O.R., and considered himself “an O.R. professional.” He embraced and enriched his chosen profession and regularly voiced his concern for the identity and well-being of O.R. This was reflected in his “Model World” articles in Interfaces and his many contributions to OR/MS Today. Saul never shied away from expressing his opinion on key issues of the O.R. profession. He also consulted widely as an O.R. expert for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the U. S. General Accounting Office, Congressional Budget Office and other organizations.

Saul greatly enjoyed interacting with the O.R. community internationally. His exchanges with the USSR began with a month-long trip to the Soviet Union in 1977 as part of the US/USSR Academy of Sciences Exchange Program. This led to a workshop on large-scale optimization, organized by Saul in 1990 at the University of Maryland, with the participation of researchers from the USSR Academy of Sciences (Moscow). In May 1993, he led a delegation of 15 O.R. professionals to Russia and Hungary under the auspices of the Citizen Ambassador Program. He was a Fulbright Research Scholar at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. As a Fulbright Senior Specialist, he lectured and taught in Taiwan, New Zealand, Chile, Spain and Japan. In all of these trips, Saul made friends with whom he continued to keep in touch.

Like his friend Hugh Miser, Saul was an advocate for chronicling the history and traditions of O.R. He wrote about his own Project SCOOP days with great flair and penned commemorative pieces for the 50th anniversary of the founding of ORSA. This included a timeline he published in OR/MS Today that Saul and I expanded into the book, “Annotated Timeline of Operations Research: An Informal History” (2004). This was followed by “Profiles in Operations Research: Pioneers and Innovators” (2011), which I had the pleasure of writing and editing with him.

Saul Gass

Saul Gass (left) and Arjang Assad sign copies of their book “Profiles in Operations Research” at an INFORMS Conference in 2011.

Honors and awards

Saul served as the 25th president of ORSA (1976) and was named an INFORMS Fellow in 2002. He was awarded ORSA’s George E. Kimball distinguished service medal in 1991, the Jacinto Steinhardt Memorial Award for outstanding contributions to military operations research in 1996 and the INFORMS Expository Writing Award in 1997. He served as president of Omega Rho (1985-1986), INFORMS vice president for international activities and IFORS vice president for the North American Operations Research Region. The University of Maryland honored him as Distinguished Scholar-Teacher (1998), Dean’s Lifetime Achievement Professor (2000) and professor emeritus (2001).

I wish to close with a personal note. Saul hired me as a rookie assistant professor in 1978. Throughout my faculty career, I looked up to him, not only as a senior leader in O.R., but also for his personal character. Saul was deeply ethical and principled without acting self-righteous, confident as a leader but never self-aggrandizing, eminently accomplished but never self-promoting, steadfast in his convictions but always open to dialogue. He exemplified grace under pressure and set an example of how professional debate can be carried out with equanimity. Saul taught me a lot, as he did for many others, just by modeling the right behavior.

Curiously, I only worked with Saul as a co-author after his retirement. Our working association only deepened my respect and affection for him. He was the best collaborator you could wish for: hard-working, attentive to all details, indefatigable in tracking things down, always timely and blessed with sound judgment and felicitous writing.

Working with Saul on the history of O.R. was a unique blessing; he was in at the beginning, and personally knew almost every O.R. personage of note. Saul keenly followed the developments of O.R. in all respects and kept track of its early pioneers, leaders and key contributors. He regularly sent me news of these individuals, occasionally marked by a tribute or obituary. As I now write his, I deeply feel the loss, but also take much comfort in the fact that his life was one to celebrate in every sense of the word, as a cherished friend, eminent colleague and role model. Whenever I reflected on Saul’s life accomplishments, and witnessed his personal bliss in the company of Trudy and his family, I always felt that Saul lived a truly charmed life. I personally resented how the charm was cracked, and then broken, in the last few months as his health declined.

Saul is survived by his wife of 66 years, Trudy, by their children, Ron and Joyce Gass, as well as his beloved granddaughter Arianna.


  1. Alt, F, M. Fu, B. Golden, eds., 2006, “Perspectives in Operations Research: Papers in Honor of Saul Gass’ 80th Birthday,” Springer, New York.