He was known for his exceptional academic work, broad intellectual interests and engaging personality. Longtime University of Washington...

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He was known for his exceptional academic work, broad intellectual interests and engaging personality.

Longtime University of Washington professor Victor Klee — friends and colleagues simply called him “Vic” — played a key role in putting the UW Mathematics Department on the world stage.

He died Aug. 17 in Lakewood, Ohio. He was 81.

Mr. Klee, who spent nearly 54 years at the University of Washington, was one of the most distinguished faculty members in the department’s history, said Selim Tuncel, head of the UW Mathematics Department. “And in his very gentle, friendly way, he made a big impact on people’s lives.”

Born in San Francisco, Mr. Klee graduated from Pomona College after majoring in both mathematics and chemistry. He received his doctorate in mathematics from the University of Virginia.

Mr. Klee joined the math faculty at the University of Washington in 1953 and retired from UW in 2000.

It was only after Mr. Klee’s arrival that the department became recognized internationally, Tuncel said. Mr. Klee wrote seminal papers on the theory of convex polytopes (higher-dimensional generalizations of polygons).

He also attracted to the department high-caliber professionals — colleagues as well as students and post-doctoral researchers, who benefited from his mentoring.

“He was known for mentoring junior colleagues,” Tuncel said. “It takes a special person to encourage younger people.”

Mr. Klee’s accolades include three honorary degrees, four awards from the Mathematical Association of America, the Sloan Fellowship, the Guggenheim Fellowship and elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Besides being someone who collaborated with many other researchers, Mr. Klee was productive: He wrote more than 245 papers, said Tuncel. At the same time, Mr. Klee worked with 34 doctoral students in mathematics, who are part of his 94 “descendants.” (Universities track the number of students, and students of students, who graduate with a doctoral degree under a particular faculty adviser. They’re called “descendants.”).

Mr. Klee was devoted to his doctoral students, meeting with them weekly.

“He tried to cheer them up when the problems seemed overwhelming,” said friend and colleague Branko Grunbaum, UW professor of mathematics. “I believe that every single student who started research with Vic did finish a degree.”

Mr. Klee’s breadth of research was wide-ranging. He studied myriad subjects including:

• Combinatorics (the study of discrete objects) and discrete geometry

• Convexity (convex figures and the mathematics that relates to them)

• Algorithms (mathematics for computer programs)

• Optimization (the mathematics of organizing or optimizing resources)

Mr. Klee is survived by his wife, Joann Klee; daughters Barbara, Susan and Heidi Klee, all of Seattle; and two grandchildren.

The family asks that no flowers or donations be sent. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 23 at University Unitarian Church, 6556 35th Ave. N.E., Seattle.

Judy Chia Hui Hsu: 206-464-3315 or jhsu@seattletimes.com