My Gene Woolsey story

Peter Horner, editor

I heard all about Gene Woolsey long before I actually met him, which, given Gene’s larger-than-life reputation, shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knew him. It was nearly 25 years ago, not long after I became editor of OR/MS Today. Several folks had already “warned” me that Gene would sooner or later be in contact.

Turned out it was sooner. Gene called (yes, people actually talked to each other on landline phones back then) to discuss the latest issue of OR/MS Today and to offer some friendly advice: don’t publish any bullsh#t and don’t take any crap. We agreed to meet at the upcoming INFORMS conference.

I met Gene at the conference hotel bar. I recognized him from the “short, fat, bald, handlebar mustache” description he had given me. He issued his standard “I-do-not-suffer-fools-gladly” introduction. Fool that I was, I liked him, immediately and gladly. Couldn’t help it.

Gene pulled out a coin and slammed it on the bar. He said it was given to him by some military organization from some “reactionary” government he supported and did pro bono work for. I don’t remember the government, but I was pretty sure the presentation of the coin indicated I was supposed to buy the next round of drinks, which I did, gladly.

Over the years, Gene and I communicated on a fairly regular basis. He offered insight and advice, either during his stint as chair of the OR/MS Today committee or simply because he wanted to, usually the latter. He also provided many story ideas and possible authors, as well as contributed articles of his own, which I particularly relished.

Sadly, Gene passed away on March 16, leaving behind a long legacy of professional achievement, not the least of which are the many students from the Colorado School of Mines who had the good fortune to study under and learn from the (task)master of applied work. One of them, Gys Wessels, wrote a tribute piece for this issue (page 36) that captures the life and times of the Wonderful World of Professor Gene Woolsey. In addition, since every person who ever met Gene has a Woolsey story, Barry List and I asked members of the global O.R. community to pass along their favorite remembrances of this unforgettable man (page 38).

Gene Woolsey’s passing serves as another poignant milestone in the history of the O.R. profession and yet another reminder that most of the founding fathers – and now many of the second generation of O.R. historical figures such as Gene – are no longer here to share their stories in person.

In this issue, historian William Thomas recounts the origins and key developments of operations research and management science, and offers his long-term prospects and aspirations for historical preservation, research and communication (page 18). Writes Thomas: “If a history that attends carefully to individual experiences and agendas can decode the past, a thorough history of the people and institutions of our own time can make it easier to talk concretely about the opportunities and challenges of the present.”

Fittingly, the INFORMS History website (, a continuing work in progress, went live on June 4. The site features profiles of about 200 individuals associated with about 50 academic institutions, 50 nonacademic institutions, 50 methodologies and 50 application areas. Content corrections and contributions are welcomed. Contact: