I was saddened to learn in the June issue of ORMS today that Gene Woolsey passed away. There is a poignant “In Memoriam” article about him in that issue with remembrances from former students and colleagues. Gysbert Wessels, a former student of Woolsey’s describes the “OR/MS Guild” in place under Woolsey at the Colorado School of Mines:
Gene’s approach to teaching O.R. was unique. All students sat with him, an open plan without any partitions. As the number of students increased, he had a classroom converted into his office. He taught us not only in classes and by sharing real-life incidents, but just sitting in his office with him exposed us to us dealing with clients, university politics, editing journals, TIMS and ORSA politics, etc.
Wessels closes the article with this statement:
Gene was a teacher and mentor. He thought for himself and taught his students to think. This meant questioning, consulting the original sources, considering the facts and drawing your own conclusions. He made a huge contribution to operations research and management science. He will be missed by his family, friends and students.
Although I never had the good fortune to meet Gene Woolsey, I was influenced by his writings. In 2008, I stumbled upon a copy of the book The Woolsey Papers in our Coast Guard Academy Library. The lessons in it, particularly the emphasis on practicality, resonated with me. I learned a lot from it that I have tried to apply since then in teaching undergrad O.R. courses, advising capstone projects, and in consulting. See the greenOR posts:
- The Woolsey Papers, Part I
- The Woolsey Papers, Part 2: an application of some of the ideas
- The Woolsey Papers, Part 3: postscripts
Perhaps my favorite quote, which gets at Gene Woolsey’s dedication to service is this one:
In short, I worked for free, so I could work for money, with some hope of gain, so I could afford to choose which pro bono project would be the most fun to do next… This is the tip of the iceberg of what we have done for ourselves and for our state and community. What are you doing for yours?