Salute to Saul

In 2002, I asked Saul Gass if he would put together a timeline of major milestones in operations research history for a special issue of OR/MS Today commemorating the 50th university of the founding of Operations Research Society of America (ORSA). From the time I became editor in 1991, hardly a week went by when I didn’t receive a phone call or an e-mail from Saul alerting me to someone or something that was newsworthy for the greater O.R. community. Saul seemingly knew everyone and everything associated with operations research, especially its history, so it was only natural that I turned to him for the timeline.

I was expecting perhaps two dozen significant milestones spread over a 50-year timeframe. Instead, Saul sent me a timeline with hundreds of milestones dating back several centuries, starting with French mathematician Blaise Pascal’s exploration of probability theory in 1654 and the “expected value” concept.

I had to edit Saul’s timeline down in order to make it fit the page constraints. Saul, on the other hand, had grander plans. In collaboration with Arjang Assad, he went on to expand the timeline into a book, “An Annotated Timeline of Operations Research: An Informal History,” which was published in 2004. Saul and Arjang also collaborated on the 2011 book, “Profiles in Operations Research: Pioneers and Innovators,” an autographed copy of which sits on my desk as I write these words.

When I first heard the sad news that Saul had lost his battle with cancer on March 17, I contacted Arjang. We traded a few thoughts and Saul stories, and Arjang said he would be honored to write an article in memory of his good friend and colleague for OR/MS Today. Arjang’s moving tribute begins on page 14.

While Saul was literally a walking encyclopedia of all things O.R. (along with the late Carl Harris, he edited the “Encyclopedia of Operations Research and Management Science,” a new edition of which is due out later this year) and a terrific source of information, he meant much more than that to me and countless others.

I looked forward to seeing Saul at INFORMS events, because he always seemed to be at the center of things and having a good time, whether it was chatting up friends and colleagues at a reception (his wife Trudy at his side), organizing a 5K race (to give conference attendees some early morning and much needed exercise before a long day of sessions) or serving as game host of the O.R. Quiz Bowl (which gave him an opportunity to mix his keen sense of humor with his even keener sense of history).

In terms of all he accomplished, all of those he taught and mentored and all of the fun he had along the way, Saul was truly a giant of the O.R. profession, the likes of which we won’t see again. His passing is a huge loss for INFORMS, the O.R. profession and all of those who had the good fortune to know Saul and benefit from his knowledge, wisdom, humor and humanity.

I sense a big void in the relatively small O.R. universe, and I’m not sure if anyone can fill it.

— Peter Horner, editor