INFORMS News: In Memoriam - Uriel G. Rothblum (1947-2012)

By Boaz Golany

Uriel George Rothblum

Professor Uriel George Rothblum – holder of the Alexander Goldberg Chair in Management Science at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and editor in chief of Mathematics of Operations Research – died from a cardiac arrest on March 26. He was 65.

Professor Rothblum was a kind and generous man and an amazingly productive scholar.  His memory will be cherished by his family, his colleagues, his students and by a great many coauthors.

Professor Rothblum, known to most as “Uri,” was born and raised in Tel Aviv to a family that left Vienna, Austria, in the 1930s, just before the country fell under the Nazi regime.  The European tradition that emphasizes education, music, performing arts, poetry, good manners, etc. was always apparent in Uri. At the same time, he was brought up as a Zionist and was always proud of his family association with the elite group of scholarly Zionists that settled in Tel Aviv (especially in the family’s friendship with Hayim Nahman Bialik – the most prominent poet of modern Israel).

Uri received his B.Sc. in applied mathematics in 1969 and his M.Sc. in mathematics in 1971, both from Tel Aviv University. He earned his Ph.D. in operations research from Stanford in 1974. Robert J. Aumann supervised his master’s thesis, and Arthur F. Veinott served as his Ph.D. advisor.  After a one-year postdoctoral fellowship at Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University, Uri began his teaching career at Yale in 1975. In 1984 he joined the Technion’s Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management, where he remained until his untimely death.

During his 28 years of service at the Technion, Uri was a member of numerous academic committees, and he was regarded as a leading authority on all the academic issues faced by the university. He served as vice dean of his faculty for teaching during the mid-1980s, as dean of his faculty from 1992 to 1995, and as the Technion’s vice president for academic affairs from 1998 through 2002.

Uri was an active member of the Israeli Operational Research Society (ORSIS), where he served as a council member, a vice president and from 2006 through 2008 as president.  In the international arena, Uri was an INFORMS Fellow. He was a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Combinatorial Optimization; he was a senior editor of Linear Algebra and its Applications; and he was an associate editor of Mathematics of Operations Research from 1979 to 2010, at which time he became its editor in chief.

Uri was one of the most versatile scholars in the mathematics of operations research, and he did important applied work as well. He contributed strongly to dynamic programming, mathematical programming, combinatorial optimization, applied probability and game theory. He published more than 160 articles in these fields. He worked with more than 100 co-authors. He was brilliant and prolific, and his productivity never waned. His recent work includes a book with Frank K. Hwang titled “Partitions: Optimality and Clustering.”

Thousands of students studied in Uri’s classes. His teaching included large mandatory courses in probability and in deterministic models in operations research, as well as elective courses in game theory and specialized graduate courses in optimization and dynamic programming. He treated his teaching as seriously as he treated his research – investing numerous hours to make sure he was fully prepared for class, always ready to see students outside the nominal office hours, always caring for students with special needs and always trying to transfer to his students his own enthusiasm toward the topics he taught.  

Uri had a unique capacity to grasp the mathematical core of a research issue at a glance, and he could shift his focus from one field of research to another instantly and effortlessly. Conversations with Uri were a delight. He was always cheerful, friendly, generous, full of ideas and interested in everything. He was a frequent and welcome visitor at Columbia, Rutgers, Stanford and elsewhere and a regular participant and speaker in international conferences in his fields of interest. Typically, each visit or appearance in a conference led to new research collaborations that eventually culminated in new articles. Each of Uri’s colleagues and co-authors learned an enormous amount from him, as did his students.

Although Uri was an extraordinarily productive scholar, his family was his first priority.  Uri was totally devoted to his wife, Naomi, and their three children, Maydan, Guy and Ron. Uri enjoyed every moment with them, be it at home or traveling or attending the theater or going to an amusement park.

The abrupt and untimely death of Professor Rothblum created a terrible vacuum for his family and a gaping void in the lives of so many of us. We find solace in that fact that his was a life well lived. He will long be remembered and loved.