William Jeffrey Coles
Oct 31, 1929 ~ Feb 16, 2020
William Jeffrey Coles, born October 31, 1929, died on February 16 at age 90, in the hands of his wife, children, and granddaughters, after a long decline into vascular dementia. He was a loving husband to Joan Link Coles and a loving and sometimes patient father to Jeffrey, Katharine, and Peter, and tried to teach them above all to think. He was known for his radiant presence, his integrity, his compassion, and his deep kindness.
He was a brilliant mathematician and exercised his pedagogical impulses for forty-four years in the math department at the University of Utah. His research significantly advanced the understanding of the oscillatory properties of solutions to ordinary differential equations. His sons, especially, took after him in their mathematical, scientific, and mechanical inclinations; he admired his younger son's elegant machines and did not discourage his older son's premature experiment in beermaking, though it resulted in a product he was obliged to confiscate, of a quality below his usual standard. He collected a cellar of rare and wonderful wines, which he loved to share along with good food.
He and Joan met at the Hoofers Club at the University of Wisconsin, and they passed their outdoor enthusiasms on to their children. When she was three, he taught his daughter to ski on the University of Utah golf course, pushing her off from the top of his chosen hill then gallantly tucking her under his arm to carry her back up for the next run. He also enjoyed hiking, canoeing, whitewater rafting, and hunting - in later years with no gun but binoculars, despite or because of being the best marksman anyone knew, as well as a superb tracker. He could smell deer sheltering nearby, and he taught Joan to see birds and animals in the wild. He carried his weight on his back for miles and was a great driver on all terrains and in all conditions. His agility in problem-solving made him more than a bit of a rebel.
Bill was an ardent and gifted musician, especially fond of the banjo and mandolin, and he loved to sing and play with his wife, kids, and friends. He and Joan held season tickets and introduced their children to the opera, the ballet, and chamber music, but he was also enthusiastic about folk, country, and rock-and-roll. Many years ago, his daughter was taken aback to run into him at a Grateful Dead Concert. Together, they enjoyed dancing and singing at Red Butte Garden concerts until nearly the end of his life.
Known to his older son as the "droll under the bridge," he had a wit so dry it left half his students in stitches, while the other half had no idea he'd made a joke. He loved to read in all genres and especially enjoyed P.G. Wodehouse; after retirement, he took up writing and cajoled Joan into it, too. They were both soon published, Bill as a poignantly comic essayist.
The hardest thing, especially for his wife, was losing his brilliant mind. Despite the difficulties of the last few years, Bill retained his wit and charm to the end, expressing himself through facial expressions after language failed him. When one of "his" people arrived to see him, he would light up. He especially enjoyed going out for coffee, people-watching, and wheelchair cruises with his younger son, who was loving, tender, and steadily attentive with him through the difficult end. He was a favorite with the caregivers at Capitol Hill Care Center, whom we thank for their help. In addition to his wife and children, he is survived by loving granddaughters Alexandra Coles (Cody Stephens) and Lauren Coles, step-granddaughter Jennifer Condliffe, daughter-in-law Jeri Coles, and son-in-law Chris Johnson. We feel deeply grateful to have had him for the time we did, and we are privileged to have been able to share his long life and his last years and moments. We will notify friends about the party to celebrate his life once details are set. In lieu of flowers, please donate in Bill's name to the Nature Conservancy or the charity of your choice
Published by The Salt Lake Tribune from Feb. 21 to Mar. 1, 2020.