Obituaries: Clifford Allan Long

October 7, 2002


Clifford Allan Long, 1931-2002

Cliff Long died peacefully at home on August 6, 2002, after a seven-year bout with multiple myeloma. He was a long-time member of SIAM, its Great Lakes Section, and the Mathematical Association of America.

Clifford Allan Long was born on the south side of Chicago on April 10, 1931, to Canadian parents. After graduating from high school, with his family still experiencing the effects of the Depression, Cliff worked in the stockyards and began to attend Wilson Junior College. He moved to the University of Illinois (Navy Pier), and then a few years later to the Champaign-Urbana campus, where he obtained bachelor's and master's degrees, and finally a doctorate in mathematics (generalized functions), under Pierce Ketchum. In 1959, Cliff joined the mathematics department at Bowling Green State University, where he would teach for the next 35 years.

He witnessed the infancy of the computer from the University of Illinois, and followed it through its adolescence while at BGSU, guiding the integration of computers into everyday university life. He was one of many who helped computing reach a certain level of maturity in our time, when the computer has come to seem but a simple and useful appliance in so many homes.

He had a special interest in computer graphics and the visualization of mathematical ideas. He started doing computer graphics when it was really difficult to do; in the 1960s, he was using a line printer to do 3D computer graphics. One of his students even built a small computer-controlled milling machine that Cliff kept in his office to generate models of three-dimensional surfaces.

Cliff had an early interest in computer-aided design. With a colleague, he was involved in early work at Ford Motor Company on Bézier curves and surfaces. That experience seemed to drive most of his work of the next 30 years. He even taught his milling machine to sign his name to his works with Bézier curves.

Bézier curves are closely related to his interest in linear algebra and its teaching. He was in the linear algebra reform movement before there was such a thing. In the 70s, he and colleagues (but mostly Cliff) started teaching a linear algebra course at BGSU that had as its goal the singular value decomposition and an emphasis on applications. This followed the work of Gilbert Strang, which has changed the course of linear algebra instruction. Cliff was joined in this work by his son Andy. An article he wrote for Mathematics Magazine on the use of a digitized model of a bust of Abe Lincoln (which he had digitized by hand) to demonstrate the SVD is continually cited.

Cliff was also a very early pioneer in the calculus reform movement and in the introduction of technology in teaching mathematics. He had to push the technology, which meant building a portable cart to be wheeled into a classroom, with monitor and Apple II computer, and producing super-8 movies, slide sets, milled models, and even a View-master reel of quadric surfaces. All this to try to teach mathematics through visualization.

One aspect of the visualization of mathematical ideas that many people have appreciated is his sculpting: Cliff expressed his mathematical interests in artworks that he carved from wood and stone. Even people who are petrified of mathematics enjoy seeing and touching his mathematical sculptures.

Cliff was most committed to serving students through his teaching. Over the years many students paid their respects to him in various ways, and many went on to become mathematicians and teachers.

An expanded version of this obituary can be found on the MAA Ohio Section page, www.bgsu.edu/departments/math/Ohio-section/CliffLong/. A Web site maintained in his honor by his family can be found at www.wcnet.org/~clong/.

Steve Long and Andy Long, Northern Kentucky University, and Thomas Hern, Bowling Green State University.


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