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W. Wistar Comfort

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W. Wistar Comfort Obituary


William Wistar "Wis" Comfort passed away 28 November in Middletown, CT at age 83 following a brief illness. Wis Comfort was known to many for his gallantry, dry wit and humility. He was a widely-published mathematician and scholar whose teaching career spanned 5 decades. A formidable runner and racquet sports athlete, Wis was beloved by his peers for his sense of fairness. As a lifelong Quaker, he could be counted on to speak for the marginalized or overlooked. Wis held academic positions at Harvard University, where he was a Pierce Instructor from 1958 to 1961, the University of Rochester and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He came to Wesleyan in July, 1967 and from 1982 onwards was the Edward Burr Van Vleck Professor of Mathematics. He served as Chair of the Department of Mathematics three times: 1970-1971, 1980-1982 and 1996-1997 and retired in December, 2007. He continued to publish mathematical works in the weeks leading up to his death; more will be published posthumously. Wis mentored over 25 graduate students and has over 148 published, peer-reviewed mathematical works with 57 co-authors from at least 17 countries. With Stelios Negrepontis, Wis published three books: The Theory of Ultrafilters (Springer-Verlag, Berlin-Heidelberg, 1974), Continuous Pseudometrics (Marcel Dekker, Inc., New York, 1975), and Chain Conditions in Topology (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England, 1982). Wis was a member of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), the Mathematical Association of America, and the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering. He held various editorial and advocacy positions for mathematical journals, including the Karachi Journal of Mathematics, Mathematica Japonica, Topology and its Applications, Bulletin of the Karala Mathematics Association, Topology Proceedings, American Mathematical Monthly, and the Proceedings of the AMS. He was a reviewer for Mathematical Reviews and Zentralblatt fur Mathematik. His associations with the AMS include; for the journal Proceedings, Editor for Topology, and Managing Editor; Associate Secretary (Eastern Region) of the AMS; named Fellow of the AMS in the 2013 inaugural class. Wis accepted visiting positions at University of Arkansas; McGill University, Canada, University of Heidelberg, Germany; Instituto Matematico, Pisa, Italy; Athens University, Greece; University of Sao Paolo, Brazil (1983 and 1999); Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. He delivered colloquia at scores of Colleges and Universities in North America and internationally. Wis worked principally in General Topology, with a specialty in topological groups and cardinal invariants. He enjoyed infinitary combinatorics and their applications to topological structures. Born to Howard Comfort ll and Elizabeth Webb Comfort in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Wis graduated from Westtown (Quaker) Boarding School in 1950, and from Haverford College (Pennsylvania) in 1954. His roots at Haverford run deep. His father, Howard, was head of the Classics Department and his grandfather, William Wistar Comfort, for whom Wis was named, was a noted Quaker scholar and President of Haverford College from 1917 to 1940. Wis received the Ph.D. degree from the University of Washington (Seattle) in 1958 where his thesis director was Edwin Hewitt. He married Mary Constance Lyon in March 1957, and the couple produced two children: Martha Wistar Comfort (1959) and Howard Comfort III (1961) and enjoyed 59 years of marriage before Mary Connie passed in May. Wis' principal post-retirement avocation was dixieland trombone and he was affiliated with many groups in Connecticut and Maine including the RB Hall Band, The Juniper Hill Jumpers, The Stompers and the Corinthian Jazz Band. His rich, deep singing voice delighted many and he worked assiduously at his music, living and breathing the old time tunes. Wis Comfort is survived by his sister Laura Comfort Kesel, his son Howard Comfort lll and his daughter Martha Wistar Comfort and four grandchildren, Laura Elsbeth Coffin, William Peyton Coffin, Henry Wistar Comfort and Samuel Garrett Comfort. A Memorial Service will be held at the Wesleyan Chapel at 10:30 on 23rd April 2017. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions could be made to Middletown Friends Meeting c/o Holder, 29 Long Lane Road, Middletown, CT 06457 or the Essex Meadows (Employee Scholarship Fund) c/o Essex Meadows, 30 Bokum Rd, Essex, CT 06426


Published in The Hartford Courant on Dec. 1, 2016
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