Obituaries: Frederick Howes

March 15, 2000


Frederick Anthony Howes, 1948-1999
As a teacher of mathematics, Fred Howes sought to help his students see past the rigors and explore the areas in which new ideas could be found. As a manager of federal programs funding research in applied mathematics, he passionately encouraged researchers, fought valiantly against budget cuts, and championed the emerging field of computational science. Through it all, he earned a reputation among those he worked with as caring, fair, and dedicated.

Scientists around the country were saddened by the news of Howes's unexpected death, on December 4, 1999. He had just turned 51. He is survived by his wife, Mary Hall, and son, Michael Howes.

At the time of his death, Howes was the program manager for the Applied Mathematical Sciences (AMS) Program in the Department of Energy's Mathematical, Information and Computational Sciences (MICS) Division. He had held that position for eight years.

"Fred will be remembered by all who knew or worked with him for his thoughtful stewardship of the applied mathematics program, his genuine concern for fostering the next generation of computational scientists, and his sense of humor," said Daniel Hitchcock, head of the MICS Division.

In his role as program manager for AMS, Howes was responsible for one of the oldest and most distinguished applied mathematics programs in the federal government. Howes's work as AMS program manager is widely considered to have been instrumental in maintaining the tradition of excellence in the program.

James Crowley, executive director of SIAM, was a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency during Howes's years as a program manager at DOE. Although they managed different programs with different objectives, they were serving the same scientific community.

"Fred's program was highly respected---it's probably the strongest program in the computational area of applied mathematics," Crowley said. "He had a lot of technical competence and knew applied math very well. He would talk to people both as a scholar and as a program manager and be able to understand what they were doing. He really cared a lot about the field, about the people he was funding, and their work. He won a lot of respect from the applied math and computational science communities."

One of the distinctive features that Howes emphasized in the AMS program was the intellectual and institutional diversity of applied and computational mathematics. "His heart was in mathematics, but he also saw the essential role that mathematics plays in the sciences," said Mary Wheeler, a professor of engineering and a member of the computational and applied mathematics program at the University of Texas. "He wanted to see mathematics used to solve hard problems in the sciences. He saw the value of supporting the full range of activities required to solve such problems, from mathematical theory to science applications to computer science research and software development. He also recognized the complementary institutional strengths of universities and the DOE laboratories, and was quite successful in fostering collaborations between them."

David Brown, a section leader in computational mathematics at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has been supported by the DOE program administered by Howes since 1984. He praised Howes for his technical expertise and interest.

"Fred was a very good person to run this program because he had a good understanding of the math and science involved in the program. When he would come out for a visit, he was very interested in hearing about the technical details of your research," Brown said. "When you talked with him, you felt your work was valued, and that there was a person in Washington standing up for your work."

As a program manager, Howes earned a reputation for fairness and scientific objectivity. "Fred was absolutely delightful to deal with as a program manager. He was very clear about what he wanted to do and what his objectives were. He also tried to minimize the red tape for investigators he funded," said John Guckenheimer, a professor of mathematics at Cornell University and a former president of SIAM (1997-98). "The decisions he made were absolutely based on the perception of scientific quality of the proposal. He did a superb job managing his program and defending it against budget attacks. If he hadn't, the program would have likely declined."

One of Howes's responsibilities was oversight of the Department of Energy's Computational Science Graduate Fellowship program. Margaret Wright, another former president of SIAM (1995-96), has served for the past nine years on the selection and advisory committees for the program.

"This is an extraordinarily good program to support graduate study in computational science," said Wright, who heads the Scientific Computing Research Department at Bell Laboratories, Lucent Technologies. "The program, unlike others, requires candidates to have training in mathematics, computer science, and an applications discipline, such as physics or engineering. Almost from the beginning, Fred was the 'angel' for this program, which would not have survived, let alone flourished as it has, without his energy and dedication. He deserves enormous credit for his unswerving commitment to the finest applied mathematics, computer science, and scientific computing, in research and in education."

Jim Corones, president of the Krell Institute, which administers the DOE CSGF program, worked closely with Howes to develop the program, which next year will provide 48 fellowships. "He was very strongly committed to graduate education, as well as to equal opportunity---at all levels," Corones said. "He was a very committed public servant and a decent person. He was a person of extraordinarily high integrity. He was always trying to do the right thing."

Howes earned bachelor's and doctoral degrees in mathematics from the University of Southern California. After receiving his PhD (in 1974), he held teaching positions at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota. In 1979, he moved to the University of California, Davis, where he was a member of the faculty until 1991. In 1989 he began a two-year term as a rotator at the National Science Foundation, working in the applied mathematics program of the Division of Mathematical Sciences. In 1991 he moved to DOE.

During his career as a university mathematician, Howes was a prolific researcher in the area of asymptotics. He was the author of 72 refereed papers and two monographs. After moving to Washington, he maintained personal ties with many of his colleagues at UC Davis, where he is remembered with fondness and respect. Stephen Whitaker was a professor of chemical engineering at UC Davis when, as he recalls, "Fred kind of burst on the scene. We had known of Fred from colleagues at the University of Minnesota, and we got to know him rather quickly."

Whitaker credits Howes with opening up exchanges between various departments, calling him "a pleasant, ebullient emissary from math to the rest of the campus." Whitaker and Howes co-authored two papers in the 1980s and often got together to discuss mathematics and engineering problems. Each also sat in on classes taught by the other.

"As a teacher, one of Fred's memorable characteristics was that he was quite willing to tell you what he knew, and just as willing to tell you what he didn't know, with equal ease. That was quite a refreshing experience," Whitaker said. "Most students see math as incredibly rigorous stuff. But Fred would also point out where there wasn't rigor, where the ideas were, where there were things to be learned. He didn't use the 1-2-3-proof approach. He would go 1-5-7, then talk about 2, 3, 4, and 6 and talk about how we needed to study those areas." Bruce Hendrickson, a scientist in the Parallel Computing Sciences Department at Sandia National Laboratories, said that Howes will be remembered both for his distinguished career of service to the applied mathematics community and for his personal attributes.

"His humility and approachability were legendary," said Hendrickson. "Fred was always singularly focused on helping the research community. He was at his happiest standing at a blackboard discussing results and ideas with one of his researchers. He was continually interested in meeting young mathematicians whose careers he could support. The community has lost a tireless advocate and those many of us whose lives he touched have lost a friend."

His longtime colleague and friend Stephen Whitaker summed up the sentiment shared by many. "Everybody's awfully sad that Fred's gone," said Whitaker. "We're really going to miss him."

Jon Bashor and Phil Colella, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (with assistance from Marsha Berger, Angela Cheer, Art Gautesen, Alan Hastings, Gerald Hedstrom, David Hoffman, Gerry Puckett, and David Womble).


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