Remembering Elaine M. Hubbard

An appreciation of the College of Sciences alumna and advisory board member who died last month

Elaine Marjorie Hubbard died at the age of 66 on Nov. 18, 2016. She was an alumna of the School of Mathematics, earning a B.S. in Applied Mathematics in 1972, an M.S. in Applied Mathematics in 1974, and a Ph.D. Mathematics in 1980.

After a career as a distinguished and innovative mathematics professor at Kennesaw State University for almost 30 years, she retired in 2003. She was a long-time friend and supporter of the College of Sciences School of Mathematics and a member of the College of Sciences Advisory Board until her untimely death.

College of Sciences Dean Paul M. Goldbart delivered the eulogy at the funeral service, on Nov. 23, 2016. Following is a slightly abridged version of Dean Goldbart’s remarks:

Today is a very sad occasion. But I hope I may be able to ease our sadness by reflecting on some things we all share and treasure, our friendship with a remarkable woman, Elaine Hubbard, and our gratitude for Elaine’s life and accomplishments, which are rightly measured as being path-breaking and good.

My name is Paul Goldbart, and I am fortunate to serve as dean of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Sciences, which I am honored to represent today, especially given Elaine’s abiding love for the Institute. Being dean means that I guide the educational and research activities provided by the college, which range across the sciences and include those undertaken within our School of Mathematics. This school was home to Elaine during her studies at Georgia Tech, the place where she earned not one, or two, but three degrees: bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate, following an associate’s degree from what was then Kennesaw Junior College.

Pioneer

At Georgia Tech Elaine is and always will be admired as one of our pioneers and early role models: a highly successful student, encouraged by her late father, Glenn, and her mother, Marjorie, at a time when women in mathematics,  especially at the graduate level, were extremely few. With her dissertation “An Algorithm for Finite-Dimensional Approximations of Solutions to Infinite-Dimensional Problems,” Elaine was among Georgia Tech’s very first female Ph.D.s in Mathematics. I think she would be pleased to know that this very month Georgia Tech has appointed the first ever woman to chair its School of Mathematics.

A good friend of Elaine’s at Georgia Tech, Frank Cullen, offered this eloquent characterization: “Elaine was a classmate in most of our upper-level math courses, including differential equations, analysis, advanced algebra, and others. She was a stellar student, always at the top of the class, well prepared, courteous, respectful, and confident— and the only female. I never beat her in a class grade of any kind. Her command of mathematical subjects was truly awesome.” Never one to boast about breaking new ground, Elaine did however delight in telling the story of her doctoral certificate, of how it was doctored by Georgia Tech with correction fluid being applied so that an administrator could handwrite the words “she” over the stock-printed words “he.”

Volunteer, Leader  

Friends of Elaine will know the broad range of her personal interests and her willingness to take on volunteer leadership roles. At Georgia Tech, she was a loyal member of the Friends of the School of Mathematics and an active volunteer with the Alumni Association, promoting her class reunions and other programs. She was also a consistent and generous donor with interest in supporting the development of faculty in the School of Mathematics.

Of special significance was Elaine’s long-time membership on the College of Sciences Advisory Board. This is a small group comprising some of our most accomplished graduates—people having distinguished careers in business, government, and academia—who provide guidance and counsel to the dean. It is through this affiliation that I came to know Elaine and to develop great regard for her intellect, academic achievements, devotion to students, warm personality, good humor, and her quiet but deep desire to make a difference.

Mathematics Education Innovator

In her professional life, Elaine taught mathematics at our sister institution, Kennesaw State University, from 1975 until her retirement in 2003, rising to the rank of professor. Throughout, she was a true innovator, her delight in doing mathematics serving to inspire her students. She piloted the use of graphical calculators and gained national recognition and the Kennesaw Distinguished Teaching Award for her groundbreaking uses of technology. She spoke on mathematics education at conferences and campuses around the nation and received  the Kennesaw State Alumni Association Achievement Award in 1994.

Elaine co-authored an amazing 13 textbooks on mathematics, important for their incorporation of the scholarship of teaching and learning to promote student success. Elaine’s friend and neighbor Juanita Hughes told me that Elaine would bring her autographed copies of her latest book, hot off the press, but thankfully would not quiz Juanita on the contents.

Elaine participated in numerous professional organizations‚ including several honor societies; the American Mathematical Society; the Mathematical Association of America; and the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges.

Community Service

An active member of the community‚ Elaine was involved in the Cherokee County Historical Society and Preservation Woodstock‚ the Woodstock Centennial Commission‚ the Cherokee County Library Board‚ and the Sequoyah Regional Library Board. She also served as a poll manager for Cherokee County.

Elaine was very proud of her work with public libraries in Cherokee County. Her passion was evident in how she spoke about the challenges and her efforts to improve access to information and knowledge for the citizens of the community that was her home for life. Cherokee County stands out as excellent in both public education and resources for its residents. Elaine’s work is testament to her passion for helping others and to her splendid intellect. Elaine has done good things wherever she has gone and in whatever she has attempted. 

Friend and Supporter of Georgia Tech

Elaine was a thoughtful donor to Georgia Tech. While she was quiet about her philanthropy, I don’t think Elaine would mind my telling you that she made a special provision in her will to permanently endow a faculty position in our School of Mathematics. This means that a full professorship will carry her name at the Georgia Institute of Technology forevermore, supporting the research and educational activities of a scholar of international renown and serving to retain such talent for the people of the State of Georgia.

In expressing his gratitude to Elaine, Georgia Tech’s President G. P. “Bud” Peterson wrote that it is “thanks to the support of principal benefactors like Dr. Hubbard, [that] Georgia Tech continues to reach new heights, building upon academic strengths, and addressing the challenges facing our region, our nation, and the world.” I’m sure you will agree that this is indeed a fine tribute to a remarkable mind who valued education and service. This legacy will stand alongside Elaine’s deep commitment to community, family, and friends.

Former chair of the Georgia Tech School of Mathematics, Professor Doug Ulmer also knew Elaine well. Due to international travel he is unable to be with us today. But both he and Interim School Chair Prasad Tetali have asked me to offer their heartfelt condolences to all. Doug expressed to me his deep gratitude to Elaine for her advice, friendship, and support during his term as chair. He also reminded me that Elaine was not noted for her formality. When asked if she would like Georgia Tech to hold a formal event to recognize her contributions, she said that the idea was “about as appealing as hot needles in the eyes.” Instead, we accompanied Elaine to a Georgia Tech baseball game, where we shared ice creams to beat the Atlanta summer heat. I think Elaine loved Tech football even more. While many fans chatter during the games, she would be utterly focused, carefully following every down.

Thank you, Elaine

Like each of you, I am deeply saddened by the news of Elaine’s untimely passing. And I don’t mind telling you that—though deeply honored – I was at first a little anxious when Joe James invited me to speak at this service. For me, the more natural habitat is the lecture hall. But then a ray of sunlight fell across my desk, with its crisp geometrical outlines, and I saw there was no better way for me to honor my friendship with Elaine than to stand before you today. It is yet another gift to celebrate her life before family and friends.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day,  a time for reflection on what we have and what we share with others,  a time to be with family and friends,  a time to recognize those who have made a difference in our lives.

Tomorrow, and on every Thanksgiving Day that follows, with the same spirit of love, admiration, and appreciation that we share here today, I shall pause and think of Elaine Hubbard and give thanks for her life.

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