Obituary: William M. Boothby, professor emeritus of mathematics, 102

William M. Boothby, professor emeritus of mathematics in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, died Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. He was 102.

Boothby was born in Detroit and earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1940. His graduate studies in mathematics were interrupted by World War II. In 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces, trained as a pilot and flew over 600 hours before being discharged in 1945. Boothby completed his PhD in mathematics at the University of Michigan in 1949.

William Boothby
William Boothby (right), with his wife, Ruth, in an undated photo. (Photo courtesy of the department)

Before he became a professor at Washington University in 1959, Boothby was an instructor and an assistant professor of mathematics at Northwestern University, where his research interests included Hermitian manifolds and contact structures. He also held fellowships at ETH Zurich and at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.

Boothby and colleague Guido Weiss were principal investigators for a large Office of Naval Research grant that supported research in geometry and harmonic analysis at Washington University.

In 1975, Boothby published his popular textbook, “An Introduction to Differentiable Manifolds and Riemannian Geometry.” Members of his department at Washington University credit this book with defining the curriculum and standards of introductory graduate differential geometry courses worldwide for the next 25 years.

Boothby’s research interests became more applied from the mid-1970s on. He focused primarily on control theory and collaborated with engineers to publish many papers in this area in the decade preceding his retirement in 1988.

Boothby is survived by three sons: Daniel Boothby, of Montreal; Thomas Boothby, of State College, Penn.; and Mark Boothby, of Nashville. He was preceded in death by his wife, Ruth Boothby, and brother, Thomas Robert Boothby.

Read more on the Department of Mathematics and Statistics website.

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