Approximation Theory, Complex Analysis, Numerical Analysis
William Branham Jones (Bill) died Jan. 26, 2023, at his home in Boulder, Colo. He was 91.
Born in Spring Hill, Tenn., on Sept. 24, 1931, to James Harding Jones and Myra Hume Jones, Bill was preceded in death by his parents and two older brothers, James H. Jones Jr. and Alfred Hume Jones.
From 1932 until 1934, Bill lived with his family in France while his father completed a Doctor of Letters degree in French from the University of Montpelier. After returning to the U.S., the family spent a year in Lewisburg, W.V., where Dr. Jones was on the faculty of the Greenbrier Military Academy. His family moved to Jacksonville, Ala., in 1935, where his father took a position as a professor of foreign languages at Jacksonville State Teachers College. Bill received his early formal education in Jacksonville and enjoyed playing team sports - football, basketball and baseball - as well as singing in church choir, school choir and a barbershop quartet. His love of singing continued throughout his life, most recently as a member of the Boulder Timberliners barbershop group. He also played competitive tennis in college and afterwards.
With the end of World War II in 1946, Bill’s father and mother organized the International House Program at Jacksonville State, which every year brought a group of foreign students to the campus to provide a cultural exchange with American students in the program and to assist in foreign language instruction. As a member of the program from his sophomore year of high school until graduation from Jacksonville State in 1953, Bill studied French and Spanish, had meals at the International House where speaking a foreign language was required, and made lasting friendships with students from around the world.
After graduating with a B.A. in mathematics from Jacksonville State, Bill entered graduate school at Vanderbilt University on a full scholarship to study mathematics. In 1955 he received an M.A. in mathematics with a thesis on “An Application of the Schwarz-Christoffel Transformation to Potential Theory” and made the decision to continue for a Ph.D.
During his years at Vanderbilt University, Bill met Martha Hadley, an English major, and the couple married Aug. 27, 1956, in Denver, Colo., Martha’s hometown. They returned to Nashville for Bill to continue working on his Ph.D. and as a mathematics instructor, while Martha taught English and Tennessee history at East Junior High School.
In June 1958, a month before the birth of their first child, Bill and Martha moved to Boulder and Bill accepted a position in the Central Radio Propagation Laboratory at National Bureau of Standards in Boulder, working with the French physicist, Roger M. Gallet. Bill’s assignment was the development of numerical methods and computer programs for global mapping and forecasting of ionospheric characteristics needed for long-distance radio communication. This project had recently become feasible due to the advent of high-speed computers and the availability of ionospheric data from a world-wide network of sounding stations created for the International Geophysical Year (IGY, 1957-58).
In 1963, Bill received his Ph.D in mathematics from Vanderbilt, with a thesis project in the analytic theory of continued fractions and filled a one-year visiting assistant professorship in the CU-Boulder mathematics department, and in 1964 he accepted an assistant professorship in the department and remained on the faculty until his retirement in 1996, while continuing to work on numerical mapping as a consultant with the federal laboratories in Boulder, including the National Bureau of Standards (which later became NOAA), and the Institute for Telecommunication Science. In 1965, Bill and Roger Gallet received the Department of Commerce Gold Medal for their joint work on ionospheric mapping.
Bill also joined a long-term research seminar on continued fractions in 1963, together with colleagues Professor Wolfgang J. Thron and Professor Arne Magnus of CU, and visiting Professor Haakon Waadeland from the University of Trondheim, Norway. In later years they were joined by Olav Njastad and Lisa Lorentzen from the University of Trondheim. Throughout the years, not only did the mathematicians become close friends as well as colleagues, their spouses and children also became part of the extended “family.” Often, after a lunch with other mathematicians there would be crumpled paper napkins with scattered equations on them.
Bill was also greatly valued by the many graduate students he mentored over the years, a number of whom have remained in close contact.
He served as chair of the CU-Boulder Mathematics Department from 1987 to 1990, during which time he contributed to the conception and design of the new mathematics building, the Mathematics Module program, and the Center for Number Theory. From 1990 until 2015, he edited the Mathematics Department newsletter, Prime Bits, and was instrumental in establishing an endowment in the University of Colorado Foundation for the Mathematics Department Kempner Colloquium series.
Bill and Martha are longtime members of First Congregational Church in Boulder, where they both enjoyed singing in the choir, playing in the handbell choir and participating in book groups and an on-going discussion group on current events.
Bill is survived by his wife and their five children, Kathleen (Marty Reibold), Anne Holmes (Frank), Robert, Kevin (Marianna) and Bethany; and three grandchildren, Robin Reibold, Samuel Holmes and Helen Holmes.
A celebration of life service will be held at the First Congregational Church 10 AM Saturday, February 18, 2023.
In lieu of flowers the family requests contributions in Bill’s memory be made to the University of Colorado-Boulder Department of Mathematics (giving.cu.edu/fund/mathematics-department-fund), Tru Hospice or First Congregational Bequest Income Fund.