Albert (Al) Baernstein II, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, Washington University in St. Louis, died quietly at home on June 10, 2014 at the age of 73. Survivors include his wife of 52 years, Judy (Haynes) Baernstein; two daughters, Prudence Renee (Wietse de Boer) of Oxford, Ohio and Amy (Melanie Tratnik) of Seattle, Washington; four grandchildren: Sylvia and Arthur de Boer of Oxford, Ohio, and Cleo and Nora Baernstein of Seattle, Washington; and a sister, Alice Kirby, of Augusta, Georgia.
Al Baernstein was born April 25, 1941 in Birmingham, Alabama to Kathryn (Wiesel) and Albert Baernstein. He grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He attended the University of Alabama for a year, then transferred to Cornell University where he graduated with an A.B. in 1962. His fraternity yearbook pictured him with a skinny tie and a full head of hair and noted, “studiously irresponsible, he often takes off for the far corners of his mind.” A summer job as a night watchman at a hotel in Maine would have been unmemorable but for the fact that he met his future wife, then a local high school student waiting tables down the street. They were married in Bar Harbor on June 14, 1962.
After a brief stint working as a cost analyst at Prudential Insurance Company in New Jersey, he went to graduate school in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, receiving his M.A. in 1964 and the Ph.D. in 1968. He taught at Syracuse University from 1968 to 1972, then moved to Washington University and spent the rest of his career there, retiring from teaching in 2011.
He was a highly respected mathematician, with an international reputation in the fields of Complex Analysis and Potential Theory. He had a special affinity for solving symmetrization problems – roughly speaking, showing that the most symmetric arrangement corresponds to the lowest energy. In 1972 he invented something now called the Baernstein Star Function, and used this to solve several open problems in mathematics, including the difficult Edrei spread conjecture. He was honored with an invitation to address the quadrennial International Congress of Mathematicians in 1978. In addition to his own research, he supervised 15 Ph.D. students, and was a fertile and generous source of ideas and knowledge for the many mathematicians with whom he interacted.
Al could be seen daily, year round, striding from his home in University Heights to his office in Cupples I, sometimes accompanied by his beloved dog Porterhouse and later by another big mutt, Sadie. On his many mathematical travels he pursued exotic food, good hikes, and good music, especially opera. The many young opera singers Al and Judy hosted, from both the Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Union Avenue Opera Company, helped make their empty nest lively again.
Al was notorious for his precision of memory and measurement. As a 5-year-old he entertained his parents’ friends by calculating the day of the week for any given date in the century. As an adult he entertained his children by recalling the details of any rest stop on any past family vacation, including the price of gas and whether the motel pool was open. Manual labor proved more challenging: his lifelong inability to perform such mundane tasks as peeling an orange, inflating a bicycle tire, or operating a pepper mill afforded endless amusement to his family. He loved bad puns and limericks, and improvised them at every turn. He enjoyed a good party and took pleasure in the constant stream of mathematicians, friends and neighbors he and Judy brought home. He loved dark ale, hot curry, and Wagner.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the University City Public Library, where Al was a longtime patron, or to a library of your choice.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, June 14 at 2:30 in the Goldberg Formal Lounge, Danforth University Center, Washington University, 6475 Forsyth Ave., St. Louis, MO 63105.