In memoriam: Robert Wheeler, professor emeritus of Department of Mathematics
July 9, 2020
Wheeler joined the Virginia Tech community in 1979 and published more than 36 research papers on integral equations that received support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research for several years. He also served as a reviewer for the NSF, the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and for the Israel Science Foundation.
Wheeler delivered 39 invited conference lectures and colloquia in five countries. He also participated in several curriculum reform efforts, including calculus reform, an NSF-funded effort to strengthen ties between engineering and mathematics curricula, and the development of computer-aided instruction.
He taught mathematics courses at all levels for 31 years, and served on multiple Virginia Tech committees and commissions, including University Council, the commission on Undergraduate Studies and Policies, the University Promotion and Tenure committee, the College Curriculum Committee, the College Personnel Committee, and on more than 40 distinct departmental committees, many times as chairman. He retired in 2010.
“As a new department head in the early 2000s, I quickly realized the necessity of finding faculty members to whom I could delegate responsibility without having to look over their shoulder,” said John Rossi, a professor of mathematics. “Bob was one of my go-to people. He was also a dear friend and responsible for my initial appointment to the mathematics department. And so, many times I felt pangs of guilt for having to assign him necessary, but awful tasks which he always handled perfectly and without complaint.”
“Bob [was] friendly, caring, meticulous in all aspects of his work, respected and well-liked by students and faculty alike,” added Werner Kohler, also professor emeritus of mathematics. “Bob and colleague Ken Hannsgen were leading figures in the mathematics of integral equations. He was a great friend and a pleasure to have as office neighbor for many years.”
Hannsgen, a professor emeritus of mathematics as well, added: “Bob more than held his own as a researcher in an internationally respected math department. Several of our leading contemporaries in the U.S. and other countries sought him out as a co-author and expert. His strong reputation was crucial in attracting research grants from NSF and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. After moving to Virginia Tech, he brought insight, perspective, and thorough professionalism to our joint work of the 1980s and early ’90s, boosting the level of my own work in all those ways.”
In his personal life, Wheeler was a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church for 41 years, served as a Scoutmaster for local Troop 706, volunteered at the Montgomery County Christmas Store, and was an active member of the Blacksburg Kiwanis Club.
According to his obituary, Wheeler is survived by his wife, Barbara, three children, Elliott, Catherine, and Brian, and four grandchildren. A family service was held June 8, with a memorial for friends and colleagues to be held at a later date. McCoy Funeral Home of Blacksburg is serving the family.