Donald Spencer, mathematics professor emeritus, dies

Jan. 8, 2002 11:54 a.m.

Donald Spencer, a prize-winning mathematician who was a Princeton faculty member for 23 years, died Dec. 23 in Durango, Colo. He was 89.

Spencer was well known for developing the modern theory of deformation of complex structures with colleague Kunihiko Kodaira of the Institute for Advanced Study. That research has been important in such fields as geometry and mathematical physics.

Spencer earned bachelor's degrees from the University of Colorado and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. He taught at MIT and Stanford University before joining the Princeton faculty in 1953.

Spencer again taught at Stanford from 1963 to 1968, but returned to Princeton for 10 years until he was granted emeritus status as the Henry Burchard Fine Professor of Mathematics. He retired in his native Colorado, where he was an avid environmentalist and outdoorsman.

The joint recipient with A.C. Schaeffer of the American Mathematical Society's Bocher Memorial Prize in 1948, Spencer was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1961 and was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1967.

He was awarded the National Science Foundation's National Medal of Science in 1989 for "his original and insightful research that has had a profound impact on 20th-century mathematics, and for his role as an inspiring teacher to generations of American mathematicians." In addition, he wrote numerous articles for academic journals and also served on editorial boards for several of those publications.

Survivors include his daughter, Marianne Pearlman of Columbia, Md., and his son, Donald Spencer Jr. of Boston.

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601