Memorable moments with Saul Gass

Family, friends and colleagues recall influential O.R. pioneer, researcher, educator and ambassador.

Saul Gass

Saul Gass’ upstairs study at home was always open.

Compiled by Michael Fu, Arjang Assad and Peter Horner

O.R. pioneering researcher and educator Saul Gass lost his battle with cancer on March 17 at the age of 87 at his home in Potomac, Md., not far from the University of Maryland where he spent more than 25 years as a professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business (see “Saul Gass: O.R. pioneer, statesman and ambassador,” Arjang Assad, OR/MS Today, April 2013, pp. 14-16). The 25th president of ORSA (Operations Research Society of America, a predecessor of INFORMS), Saul had a tremendous impact on countless students, colleagues, INFORMS and the O.R. profession through his teaching, research, writing and wisdom. Following are brief anecdotes from Saul’s family and friends, colleagues and acquaintances, recalling memorable moments spent with an extraordinary man:
In an independent reading course as an undergraduate student, I studied Saul Gass’ magnificent book on linear programming. My life forever changed. This was to be the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Saul and my enduring association with the field of optimization.

I first met Saul soon after I joined the MIT faculty in a meeting together with our common thesis advisor, George Dantzig. My wife and I drove Saul, George and Bob Dorfman to dinner in our dilapidated car with its notably bad shock absorbers. We hit one of Boston’s finest potholes and Saul, George and Bob were thrust out of their seats, coming close to hitting their heads on the car roof. We gasped. My wife later said that we could have been responsible for putting an end to the field of operations research. What a way to begin a relationship.

I subsequently interacted a lot with Saul, for example, in a symposium he held with colleagues from Russia in the 1970s, as a team member in one of his famous O.R. Knowledge Bowls (I was simply terrible), in various tributes to George Dantzig (many organized by Saul), and on many occasions talking and thinking about the future of the field that we both loved so much. I never met anyone more committed to the profession of operations research or to the name itself. I cherish these many moments and I am eternally grateful to Saul for his inspiration and for changing my life, as he has with so many others.

Tom Magnanti, Institute professor, MIT, and president, Singapore University of Technology and Design

Thousands of students, faculty and practitioners around the world acknowledge the enormous influence and impact Saul Gass has had on their lives and careers and on the field of O.R. I first met Saul through his LP textbook when I was a graduate student at UNC. Shortly after finishing the course, a group of us were sitting outside on a very hot Carolina day. We all wanted a beer, but we did not have enough money to buy a six-pack. I looked at my copy of Saul’s book and suggested we go to the bookstore to sell it. We got enough money from the sale to buy a cheap six-pack. The next day, I felt badly about what I had done and went to the bookstore and bought back Saul’s book. So, Saul made royalties on me twice: first on the new book, and second on the used book. I still have and treasure the original book in my library.

Rudolph (Rudy) P. Lamone, University of Maryland, College Park (former dean who hired Saul to be department chair)

Saul Gass introduced me to operations research through the first edition of his linear programming book. We met for the first time in 1963. We and our wives, Trudy and Carol, were friends for 50 years and participated in many life-cycle events together. We both have a granddaughter named Arianna. Our careers followed similar paths:  Northeastern University, IBM, Ph.D. from University of California, Berkeley, IBM, consulting and university professor. Saul recruited me to Maryland in 1976; 25 years later we retired in the same year and were named emeritus professors.

Saul and I introduced the analytic hierarchy process (AHP) into the MBA curriculum at Maryland and wrote two papers on teaching the AHP (we still receive several requests a year for copies of these papers). In the past 15 years, Saul and his co-authors wrote extensively on the history of operations research. He recognized a rare opportunity to document the history of a new field in which many of the founding contributors are still alive.

Lawrence (Larry) Bodin, University of Maryland, College Park (department colleague)

One of the qualities that I most admired about Saul Gass was that he was a man of convictions. He had strong opinions and he expressed them in an articulate and civil way. In the late 1970s, our school dean decided to change the compensation formula for department chairs. Saul argued that it was unfair; he resigned as a matter of principle. He was the only chair to do so. Nevertheless, Saul and the dean continued to have good working and personal relationships.

Saul strongly opposed the merger of ORSA and TIMS and the name change to INFORMS, even though many of his closest friends supported the move. In the 1990s, Saul pushed hard to retain the required O.R. course for MBA students and to elevate academic freedom over course consistency, views not shared by key decision-makers in our business school. Saul was not shy about speaking his mind, not always an easy thing to do.

Bruce L. Golden, University of Maryland, College Park (department colleague)

I first had the pleasure of meeting Saul Gass in 1977 when he hired me as an assistant professor. Throughout the years, he greeted me with “Hey sport, how’s the family?” After inquiring about Trudy, I would ask, “What is Arianna doing these days?” His face would light up as the very proud grandfather he was and tell me all of Arianna’s latest accomplishments. Family was very important to him.  

It wasn’t until 2006, when I was one of the coordinators for the symposium in honor of Saul’s 80th birthday, that I became aware of the extent of his research contributions, the many other facets of his life including his passion for running, and was even more impressed with how much his family meant to him.

Francis (Frank) B. Alt, University of Maryland, College Park (department colleague)

Those who knew Saul fully appreciated his contributions to our society and profession across nearly every possible dimension. Further, every job he undertook he did with utmost care. I was reminded of these characteristics at a Smith School assembly two years ago. The committee charged with revising our salary review process reported to the College that it was unnecessary to state any new principles or objectives. They had “found” the “Gass report” written about 15 years ago establishing the existing process. They explained that the objectives and approach it enunciated were highly insightful and as relevant today as they had been 15 years ago. All that was necessary was to properly apply these objectives to today’s environment.

This exemplifies many other collaborative efforts that Saul led with the wisdom of a seasoned leader within the University of Maryland, INFORMS and government institutions. Attention to detail, careful thinking and concern for people characterized all of Saul’s endeavors.

Michael O. Ball, University of Maryland, College Park (department colleague)

Throughout nearly 35 years of my association with Saul Gass, I relished what I learned from him about core values. One such learning moment occurred early on when I was still a young faculty member. At a school-wide faculty meeting at Maryland, a controversy arose about the behavior of a faculty member the school was recruiting. The behavior was in that gray area: it conformed to the procedural rules, but remained ethically questionable. Saul found it distasteful and said so. Someone challenged him to state exactly what bothered him. Saul simply said, “If you don’t know already, then I can’t explain it to you.”

Years later, I would still remember this as vintage Gass. Doing the right thing was instinctive to him. He exhibited integrity day in, day out, quietly and without fanfare, in his own behavior. As his friend and co-author, I would always take note of how Saul found it incomprehensible that some would knowingly stray from what their moral compass indicated as the right course of action.

Arjang A. Assad, University at Buffalo – SUNY (former department colleague at Maryland)

I first “met” Saul from afar in the spring of 1988 at the Washington Hilton Hotel. He was general chair of the 25th TIMS/ORSA Joint National Meeting, delivering the welcoming remarks. I was a Ph.D. student attending my first O.R. conference. Never could I have imagined then that two decades later this O.R. giant would invite me to co-edit the “Encyclopedia of OR/MS” with him.

Saul’s inspiration and generous support were invaluable to me as a junior faculty. During my tenure as department seminar coordinator without a travel budget, he was there to provide me contacts with local speakers or other leading researchers passing through the D.C. area willing to give a talk. Saul and I also lived in the same town, which turned out to be convenient while editing the Encyclopedia, as we would sometimes work at his house.

Even after his condition worsened to the point that he could no longer work, his family mentioned to me that the Encyclopedia seemed to be one thing that was still clearly on his mind. When I last spoke with Saul on his 87th and final birthday, the same spirit that so inspired me 25 years ago remained unvanquished.  

Michael C. Fu, University of Maryland, College Park (department colleague)

Those of us who attended the memorial service for Saul were reminded of the personal attributes of this remarkable individual, as recited by his family members and his colleagues from the University of Maryland. I would only add that I (along with my committee members Don Gross, Matt Rosenshine, Dave Goldman and the late Carl Harris) will always be grateful to him for helping us to reach out to the high school and community college math/science teachers at our workshops during annual INFORMS meetings. Saul genuinely cared for these teachers (and the students they teach), and his presentations reflected his earnest desire to excite them all about our O.R. profession.

Thanks, Saul, and shalom!

Col. Frank T. Trippi (ret.) (former chairman, INFORMS Public Awareness Committee)

I first met Saul in the summer of 1966, when we both worked for Al Blumstein on the Science & Technology Task Force of the President’s Crime Commission. We became instant friends, and that friendship grew for over 45 years! We had a rocky road with the ORSA-TIMS merger, as Saul was a devout ORSA guy, but all was well in the end.

The latest interaction involved my young colleague, Aysegul Topcu (Ph.D. IE, Northeastern University), who worked with Saul in designing and creating a BLOSSOMS learning video for high school math classes – introducing them to linear programming.

According to Aysegul, “It was one of the happiest days for me when Professor Gass called our video module a ‘winner’ upon going over the script. As part of the MIT BLOSSOMS initiative, we wanted to use Professor Gass’ getting dressed problem from his book, ‘An Illustrated Guide to Linear Programming’ in the video module ‘Optimizing Your Diet: What Linear Programming Can Tell You!’ When we approached Professor Gass for his permission, he was very supportive. His feedback on the script was very informative and valuable, too.”

In the video we thank Saul. In 1966, I was the young researcher whom Saul helped to guide. In 2010, it was Aysegul. These are just two small examples of how Saul helped scores of young O.R. people over the many years of his illustrious career.

Richard Larson, MIT (with Aysegul Topcu)

I have been greatly privileged to count Saul as a friend, whom it has been a delight to meet at INFORMS and IFORS meetings over the years. The pleasure has frequently been enhanced by his wife Trudy’s company. I recall a lovely dinner in San Antonio on the evening of Bush Junior’s first election “victory.” The British contingent was joined by John Little and Saul. Saul kept disappearing to catch up on the latest news; at least we knew the result was going to be close! From my perspective, this particular Anglo-American relationship has been very special.

Saul was, of course, a very welcome visitor to the U.K. I was involved in the organization of the Operational Research Society’s annual conference held in Bangor, Wales, in 1990, when Saul gave the opening address on “The many faces of O.R.” The Welsh members present were not impressed when the chairman of his session welcomed him to “England”!

Saul was one of the few special “faces of O.R.”

Graham Rand, Lancaster University, U.K.

As I noted in the April issue of OR/MS Today (Inside Story: “Salute to Saul,” page 4), Saul Gass always seemed to be at the center of everything at INFORMS conferences, his wife Trudy at his side, surrounded by friends, colleagues and assorted admirers, all of them having a good time, especially Saul. The lone exception was at a conference in 1994, shortly before the merger of ORSA and TIMS that created INFORMS, when I spotted Saul all alone, sitting at a make-shift table in a convention center hallway as dozens of conference attendees scurried by to get to whatever sessions they were heading to.

On top of the table, Saul had scattered a dozen or so tea bags along with a hand-drawn sign with a red circle and a slash through it over the word “merger.” The winds in favor of merger, however, were clearly in the air. I stopped to ask Saul why he was opposed to the inevitable. Saul explained that while he was opposed to the merger, he was even more interested in protecting the scientific field and the profession he had devoted his life to: operations research.

Fair enough, I said, but what’s up with the tea bags? Those, Saul said, were symbolic of the Boston Tea Party; he was going to do everything he could to make sure O.R. received proper representation, even under a merged organization. History shows he succeeded.

Peter Horner, editor, OR/MS Today

Yes, it’s true Dad spent a lot of time in his upstairs study solving O.R. and L.P. problems, writing, researching, reading. We knew he was contributing something extraordinary to his profession. But through it all, his door was always open to us.

Meanwhile downstairs: “Dad, time for dinner!” “Dad, let’s play catch!” “Dad, can you fix my _________?” (fill in the blank because Dad could fix anything!).

As passionate as he was about his work, he dug into family life with all his heart and soul. With every weekend adventure, Dad didn’t just sip the experience, he gulped with gusto: zoos and nature centers (with those wiggly, live “you hold ‘em” snakes), rock climbing and vine swinging, Ocean City beach vacations where he always insisted on growing his beard out for the week, and D.C. museum adventures. Dad was our weekend explorer buddy when we were kids, and he loved doing it all over again with Arianna, his granddaughter.

Then there was that move to Berkeley in the early 1960s for Dad’s Ph.D. and our amazing cross-country family trip in that cream-colored ’61 Chevy Impala. What fun! For Dad, it was like that traveling salesman problem on steroids. His planning was, of course, meticulous. AAA TripTik in hand, miles per day calculated, sights and stopovers designated. As if that weren’t enough, we did it again two years later when we returned to Maryland – different route, different sights – but all organized as only Dad could. It was a memorable time!

Dad always offered sound advice, and he encouraged us to push ahead with passion and drive in everything we pursued. His ready sense of humor and compassion helped us through life’s ups and downs. Although not especially devout, Dad was a genuine humanist in the best sense and an honorable man. He never said a bad word about anyone and had little patience for gossip. During his extensive travels abroad with Mom, Dad treasured meeting and mentoring people throughout the world. He always enjoyed stimulating conversation along with a respectable bottle of wine and one of Mom’s spectacular meals.  

Dad loved listening to Ella or Frank or Lena or Glenn on the stereo while whisking Mom around the family room, hand-in-hand, dipping and spinning, kissing and laughing. He brought a touch of romance and hilarity into The Gass House and really taught us to enjoy life. 

Dad took great care of all of us. His formula was simple. If we were happy, he was happy. Up to his very last days, Dad showered us all with his love, wit and charm. We deeply miss his presence in our lives, but he lives on in our memories and in our hearts.

Joyce and Ron Gass

Saul Gass: O.R. leader, historian and visionary

By Anne Robinson

Saul Gass

Saul Gass (photo) has left an incredible, indelible mark on INFORMS. Since his passing, I have been awed by the abundance of history shared about Saul. Stories ranging from his wealth of knowledge about every facet of O.R. to his fiery spirit exhibited years ago at ORSA/INFORMS board meetings on the topics of the day continue to resonate throughout the O.R. community.

For decades Saul Gass was an omnipresent personality at INFORMS and its predecessor society, ORSA, planning, working with colleagues, speaking with fervor about optimization and recalling the early days of O.R. He traced his membership back to ORSA’s inaugural year in 1952 after he heard a lecture on O.R. by the legendary George Kimball.

Citing Saul’s contributions to INFORMS, ORSA and other O.R. organizations tells only a fraction of his story: He served as president of ORSA in 1976, a time of an ever-growing collaboration with TIMS [The Institute of Management Sciences] that would eventually lead to the merger and the birth of INFORMS. He led Omega Rho, the international operations research honor society. He served as vice president for International Activities for INFORMS and vice president of the International Federation of Operational Research Societies (IFORS), taking a lead in the international work that brought together representatives of national O.R. societies from every continent.

He received ORSA’s Kimball Medal for his distinguished service to the society and the profession, an honor bringing him full circle from that initial first lecture. His work at teaching and communicating O.R. led to his receiving the INFORMS Expository Writing Award for publications in operations research that have set an exemplary standard of exposition. The Military Applications Society presented him the Jacinto Steinhardt Memorial Award for his lifetime work and outstanding contributions to military operations research.

It’s no coincidence that Saul was the co-author of several editions of the “Encyclopedia of Operations Research and Management Science.” For many of those who came to love him, he was not only the author; he was the embodiment of everything he loved in his field. This passion continued throughout his volunteer service. Under his leadership, the INFORMS Histories and Traditions Committee developed a special website devoted to George Dantzig and brought increased attention to the history of O.R. In his obituary of George Dantzig, Saul Gass wrote, “For more than 50 years George was my friend and mentor. Being able to tell others that I knew George and how he influenced my career has been a source of great pride.”

In 2001, the INFORMS annual meeting in Miami included a celebration of his 75th birthday. In 2006, WINFORMS, the Washington chapter of INFORMS, celebrated his 80th birthday with a symposium in his honor, “Operations Research in the 21st Century,” in which INFORMS luminaries Al Blumstein, Karla Hoffman and Tom Magnanti delivered papers, including “In the Beginning: Saul Gass and Other O.R. Pioneers.” In an honor that summed up the totality of his accomplishments in his field and as an individual, a committee of judges named him an INFORMS Fellow during the inaugural class of the award.

More recently, Saul with (the now late) Seth Bonder by his side, sought out INFORMS VP of Practice Jack Levis and I to discuss INFORMS and the analytics movement. The same passionate spirit recalled from INFORMS Board meetings of the past emerged as both men shared their thoughts. As wise elders of the profession, they wanted to make sure that in times of change we never forgot our legacy. They wanted to ensure we were changing things that were appropriate, while holding on to our still relevant core. They encouraged us to move INFORMS and the profession forward in a new way, as they had once also done, without losing what made the profession great.

Saul’s many friends and admirers will remember him in a similar way: as a friend and as a mentor. I will remember him as a foundational pillar of the O.R. community – allowing many of us to stand on his shoulders with the same passion, perseverance and pride.

Anne Robinson is the president of INFORMS.