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Paul Sally, influential math professor, dies at 80

Sally served as the math department's director of undergraduate studies and had taught at the University for almost 50 years.

Photo: Sharat Ganapati/The Chicago Maroon
Paul Sally

Professor Paul Sally Jr., a pioneer for mathematical education, died last night, according to the chair of the mathematics department. He was 80 years old.

The announcement came from mathematics department chair Shmuel Weinberger, who sent an e-mail to math students this afternoon. Weinberger declined to comment further at this point in time.

Sally served as the department’s director of undergraduate studies for 30 years, and had worked in the department since 1965, according to his University biography online. His outreach programs in mathematical education for Chicago Public Schools have received much acclaim.

In addition to his work, Sally was known for his dedication to his teaching.

“What really impressed me was just how much energy he had,” Evan Jenkins (B.S. ’06, Ph.D. ’13) said. “He was heading the undergraduate program, teaching his own classes, writing his textbooks, doing all these outreach programs…. He was able to do all these things despite having all these health problems.”

Jenkins first met Sally when he took his Honors Analysis course as a first-year in the College. While completing his graduate studies, Jenkins worked with Sally’s math educational outreach programs and on his textbook projects.

“Sally produced just an amazing undergraduate program. The program is really rigorous; wherever our undergraduates go, they end up succeeding,” Jenkins said.

Sally’s most recently completed book, A Textbook for Advanced Calculus, is jointly authored with Professor John Boller and is set to be published in the coming year. He also taught an undergraduate course, Basic Complex Variables, this fall, and was preparing to teach a section of Introduction to Analysis & Linear Algebra and a graduate course in Situational Mathematics this winter.

“He never let anything stop him from doing what he wanted to do,” Jenkins said. “He was a very forceful personality. All of that was directed towards mathematics and educating young mathematicians.”

Students also knew Sally by his appearance. He  wore an eye patch and had two prosthetic legs on account of his lifelong battle with diabetes, giving him the nickname “The Math Pirate.”

Sally is survived by his wife, Judy, and his three sons, David, Steven, and Paul III, and their families.


  • Brian Williams

    Influential? Excuse me, I believe the word you’re looking for is legendary.

  • Joe Bernstein

    Rest In Peace, Prof. Sally. I clearly remember your highly effective, forceful enthusiasm for teaching mathematics when I attended the College (AB Physics ’96, PhD Astronomy & Astrophysics U. Michigan ’08) and have told stories about you for years. Thank you for giving me such a strong start in mathematical analysis — I will always remember you.

  • Cheryl Moran

    Huge loss to the mathematics education world. What a legacy mr. Sally has left.

  • Mary Young

    UC will truly miss a great icon as well as students in the Collegiate Scholars Program. Please let me know when the memorial will be held on campus. I had the opportunity to work with Dr Sally for (8) years before I retired from UC last year.

  • Alice Grow

    What a LOSS!

  • Ken Bloom

    Few of us are blessed to be so positively influenced in such a durable way by a teacher but it’s not uncommon at Chicago and among those teachers, Mr. Sally is a stand out. Whether he reminded us that ‘all it takes is clarity of vision, rectitude of thought, and focus of intent’, or whether he admonished us that ‘he calls on people who stare at (him) and he calls on those who avert (his) stare’, Mr. Sally showed respect for learning, for math and for the potential in each of his students. He never allowed education to be watered-down but instead he was supportive and encouraging which were traits in rare supply the Chicago of the mid-80s. I don’t think that Mr. Sally is a man who wants to rest in peace…I think he wants to keep on teaching, inspiring and amusing all his new friends he’s about to meet.