Professor Emeritus Cyrus Derman Dies

May 04 2011
Professor Emeritus Cyrus Derman, considered the driving force behind the success of Columbia Engineering's Department of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research (IEOR), has died. He was 85. 
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1949 with degrees in music and mathematics, Derman chose to pursue math, and in 1954, earned his Ph.D. in mathematical statistics at Columbia University. He joined Columbia as an instructor in the School of Engineering in 1954 and taught for more than 50 years, often encouraging engineering students to study applied mathematics.
Derman retired from Columbia in 1994. He was the author of numerous books, articles and papers on probability theory, statistical inference, reliability theory and operations research. In 2002, he received the John von Neumann Theory Prize by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences for his contributions to performance analysis and optimization of stochastic systems.
“By a great margin, Cy was the most important faculty influence on me when I was an undergraduate,” says Matthew Sobel, who studied under Derman, and is currently a professor at Case Western Reserve University. “I was a provincial 19-year-old and I soon decided to try to mold myself after what seemed to me his admirable characteristics.”
Karl Sigman, a Columbia Engineering professor of IEOR, who was hired by Derman 24 years ago, describes him as “down to earth” and “very patient, kind and generous with his thoughts and ideas.”
Derman “had a real interest in others and was very interested in helping young new faculty become successful,” says Sigman. “He certainly was influential in my thinking and in the direction of my continuing research. His breadth of knowledge of probability and his historical knowledge of the field were highly useful to me as a young professor just starting out.”
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Derman was the son of a grocery store owner who emigrated to the United States from Lithuania. As a young boy, he was often invited to play the violin at a Philadelphia radio show for talented children, according to his obituary. He played violin all his life and in the early 1990s following his retirement from Columbia, Derman performed with a chamber group.
Derman died April 27, 2011, at Putnam Hospital Center in Carmel, N.Y. He is survived by his daughter, Hessy Derman. A burial service was held May 2 at the Fair Ridge Cemetery in Chappaqua, N.Y.

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