College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Mathematics

Donald W. Bushaw

1926 - 2012

Professor Emeritus Donald W. Bushaw passed away on 15 January, 2012 in Portland, Oregon. He was born on 5 May 1926 in Bremerton, WA, where his father took a position with the Puget Sound Navel Station.

In 1943 Don graduated from Bremerton High School and began his college studies at Washington State College*, Pullman, WA. In 1944 he joined the US Navy and served in the Pacific Theater. After his discharge Don returned to WSC to continue his studies. Not long after returning to Pullman Don was appointed instructor in the Mathematics Department to help cover the heavy student load due to the GI Bill.

In 1946 Don married Sylvia Lybecker, whom he met in Pullman before joining the Navy. They had four children: Amy, Bruce, Gordon, and Margaret.

Don received his BA in Mathematics from WSC in 1949 and enrolled in graduate school at Princeton University. In 1952 he received his PhD in Mathematics under the direction of Solomon Lefschetz. Don’s PhD thesis is recognized as the beginning of modern optimal control theory.

After receiving his doctorate Don and his family returned to Pullman and WSC where he continued his research on optimal control theory and advanced through the faculty ranks to the position of Professor of Mathematics. He retired in 1993. During his long tenure at WSU Don held a variety of important positions: Chair of the Mathematics Department, Acting Director of the WSU Libraries (twice) and Vice Provost for Instruction.

Don had a major impact on the Mathematics graduate program. He helped establish the PhD (1959) and the DA (1973) degrees in Mathematics at WSU. He guided 17 students to the PhD degree in Mathematics including Theodore Burton and Gary Hewer. Anthony Peressini, Don’s first PhD student, received the first Mathematics PhD awarded by WSU.

Don was the lead person in the late 1970’s when the Mathematics Department reoriented its graduate program decisively toward applied mathematics. This effort was supported by an NSF grant (joint with Clemson University) under Don’s direction.

Don was a true Renaissance scholar. He could converse knowledgeably about many subjects including, for example, modern poetry. A former chair of the English Department once commented: “If Don was not such a gentleman, we would have killed him a long time ago, because you always had the feeling he knew more about your area than you."

Don was a life-long avid student of languages; he could fluently speak more than ten languages including French, German, Italian, Polish, Russian, and Chinese. Don regularly presented talks to the WSU Foreign Languages Department on various topics. Calvin T. Long, a longtime mathematics colleague of Don’s says: “There is simply nobody I’ve known who is as bright and knowledgeable across the board” as Don.

During his time at WSU Don received many honors. In 1968 he gave the Faculty Invited Address and was the first recipient of the WSU Faculty Excellence Award for Instruction (1983). In 1986 Don received the WSU Faculty Library Award “for distinguished contributions to the WSU Libraries”. In 1987 the College of Sciences and Arts awarded Don its Distinguished Service Award, and in 2008 Don received the College of Sciences Legacy Award.

Don was one of the most respected and well-liked members of the WSU faculty and administration. Faculty only had positive comments about Don as an administrator. As one of his faculty colleagues said, “ Don was a great administrator because he was approachable, easy to engage, and had the patience to listen to anybody”.

A testament to Don’s stature in the mathematics community is: at a mathematics conference, whenever you mention you are from WSU, you are asked about two people: Ted Ostrom and Don Bushaw. Don was a top scholar, an excellent administrator, and a great colleague. The development of the Mathematics Department into a research department is due, in no small part, to Don’s guidance and leadership.

* Washington State College became Washington State University in 1959

Written by Mike Kallaher, Professor and former Department Chair
Department of Mathematics, PO Box 643113, Neill 103, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-3113 Phone: 509-335-3926 Fax: 509-335-1188 Contact Us