Clifford Earle, emeritus professor of math, dies at 81

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Clifford Earle
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Clifford J. Earle, professor emeritus of mathematics, whose nearly 40-year tenure at Cornell included three years as chair of the math department, died June 12 at Hospicare in Ithaca. He was 81.

Born Nov. 3, 1935, in Racine, Wisconsin, Earle earned his bachelor’s degree from Swarthmore College in 1957, and his master’s (1958) and doctorate (1962) from Harvard University.

Earle joined the Cornell faculty in 1965, becoming a full professor in three years. He retired Dec. 31, 2004, after more than 39 years of service and was elected emeritus Jan. 1, 2005.

Earle advised 10 doctoral students and published more than 80 papers in the research areas of complex analysis, especially Riemann surfaces, Teichmüller spaces and quasiconformal mappings. His work has been cited more than 1,000 times by nearly 600 authors.

Earle served as an editor of the Proceedings of the American Mathematical Society from 1989 to 2001 and was managing editor for four of those years. He was a member of the inaugural class of fellows of the American Mathematical Society in 2012.

At Cornell, he served on the Faculty Council of Representatives from 1973 to 1976 and as math department chair from 1976 to 1979; he also served two terms as graduate faculty representative. He led the Affirmative Action Advisory Board for the 1979-80 academic year and served on the University Appeals Board from 1988 to 1993.

In addition to teaching at Cornell, Earle served as a visiting professor or lecturer at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England (1967); at Harvard (1968-69); and at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm (1972). He was a Guggenheim Fellow at Stanford University (1974-75) and a Distinguished Ordway Visitor at the University of Minnesota (1996), and in 1999 he was named honorary professor at the University of Warwick.

Prior to joining Cornell, he was an instructor and research associate at Harvard for the 1962-63 school year, and spent two years as a visiting member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

During a gathering in December 2004, following the announcement of Earle’s retirement, then-math department chair Kenneth Brown described Earle as “thoughtful, caring, wise and scrupulously honest.”

Former math department colleague Louis Billera visited with Earle just a week before he died, and remembered his friend the same way.

“Mostly, I found him to be a deeply moral person,” Billera said. “We had lots of discussions over years about politics, university relations, lots of things, and I was always impressed by his moral compass.”

Music was one of Earle’s passions, and he was a serious pianist who in retirement resumed piano lessons for the first time since his graduate school days. He was also an avid collector of music – everything from the classics to the Beatles – and sang in the Ithaca Presbyterian Church choir for many years before moving to the Unitarian Church in 2006 and contributing to its music program.

Earle is survived by his widow, Lisa, two daughters, two grandsons and a cousin. A celebration of Earle’s life will be held Saturday, July 8, at 2 p.m. at First Unitarian Church, 306 N. Aurora St., Ithaca. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the First Unitarian Church, Hospicare, the Cornell Department of Mathematics or the Ithaca Advocacy Center.


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