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Robert R. "Bob" Phelps

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Robert R. "Bob" Phelps Obituary
Robert "Bob" R. Phelps Ph.D. K7UW

Robert "Bob" Ralph Phelps passed away on January 4, 2013. Bob was born in California to Ralph and Irene Phelps on March 22, 1926. He is survived by his loving wife of 57 years, Dr. Elaine Phelps. Bob was a world-renowned mathematician known for his contributions to analysis, particularly to functional analy-sis and measure theory. He received his B.A. in Mathematics from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1954 and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 1958. After two years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and two years on the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley, he joined the UW Mathematics Department in 1962. Bob was a Visiting Professor at the University of Paris in 1969-70 and at the University College London in 1977-78. He was the Chair of the U of W math department from 1978 to 1981, and was named Professor Emeritus when he retired in 1996. Most recently, in January 2013, Bob was named a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society in recognition of his distinguished contributions to the profession.

With Errett Bishop, Bob proved what is today known as the Bishop-Phelps theorem, one of the most important results in functional analysis. Bob wrote numerous advanced monographs throughout the years, many of which have been republished. His 1966 "Lectures on Choquet Theory" was the first book to explain the theory of integral representations. A revised and expanded version of this book was republished in 2002, and has been translated into several different languages.

Bob's sense of humor was ever-present, even in the serious business of mathematics. A fictional U of W math student, "John Rainwater," who was invented by some U of W grad students in 1952, became a pseudonym used by several well-known mathematicians, including Bob himself. "John Rainwater's" monographs became so numerous that Bob actually wrote Rainwater's "biography" in 2002. Bob was always supportive of women, especially in mathematics, even when that was a less-than popular position. He was also an all-round athlete, achieving many successes in rock climbing, mountaineering, biking and running, and he sometimes used rock climbing metaphors to get a point across in mathematics.

Bob was a resident of Shoreline for fifty years and was dedicated to making his community a better place. He was a long-time member of the Shoreline Historical Museum and joined the Museum's Board of Trustees in 1993, serving for 20 years as a board member, and fulfilling duties as vice president and twice as president. Bob was an excellent Museum ambassador and supporter, and was devoted to making the organization a shining jewel in the community. During Bob's tenure on the board, he also represented the interests of the Museum's partner, the Puget Sound Antique Radio Association, of which he was also a long-time member, serving on the executive committee as vice president from 1998 - 2006. His work for PSARA was characterized by cooperation, kindness and coolness in difficult situations. Bob was young when commercial radio was young. He shared stories of working on merchant ships during World War II as a radio operator, making enough money to pay for a year of college in a few months. It was risky, however, since merchant vessels were sometimes attacked by enemy navy and aircraft. Bob (call sign K7UW) remained interested in amateur radio, was active in the U of W Repeater Group, and was a team leader in the activities of the Shoreline Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), and Shoreline Auxiliary Communications Service (ACS).

Our memories of Bob will be treasured forever. A celebration of his life will be held on Sunday, March 24th from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm at the University of Washington Faculty Club on campus. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Robert R. and Elaine F. Phelps Endowed Fund, University of Washington Mathematics Department: www.washington.edu/giving/make-a-gift/?page=funds&source_typ=3&source=PHELPS; The Puget Sound Antique Radio Association: www.eskimo.com/~hhagen/psara/; or the Shoreline Historical Museum: www.shorelinehistoricalmuseum.org.
Published in The Seattle Times on Mar. 3, 2013
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