Jan. 23, 1923 - Aug. 15, 2004
Long-time Corvallis resident Bill Firey died on Sunday at Good Samaritan Hospital. He was 81.
He was born in Round-up, Montana, to Dr. Walter I. Firey, a physician, and Marie Firey. The family moved to Seattle when Bill was 6.
He married Julia Anne Macdonald on Aug. 27, 1946, following three years of service in Europe as a medical technician in the U.S. Army. In the early years of their marriage, they served during summers in the fire look-out stations in the Washington Cascades.
He received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Washington in 1948, his Master's degree from the University of Toronto in 1949, and his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1954. After eight years on the faculty at Washington State University, he joined the Mathematics Department at Oregon State University, where he taught until his retirement in 1988, and conducted research in the geometric specialty of convexity. He was acting Department Chair twice, and was long a member of the OSU faculty senate. He was also a member of the Putnam Examination Committee, which sets and marks the most prestigious exam in mathematics for undergraduates in the U.S. and Canada. He was a sought-after lecturer at meetings and conferences, and was honored by his selection to deliver a plenary lecture to the International Congress of Mathematicians in Vancouver, B.C., in 1974. His career brought him visiting appointments at Michigan State University, the University of Freiburg, the University of Stuttgart, a Fulbright award at the University of Otago in New Zealand, and trips to the Oberwohlfach Mathematical Institute in the Black Forest of Germany.
In addition to his professional travels, he and his wife, often joined by friends, sailed in the Pacific Northwest's San Juan and Gulf Islands, the Mediterranean seas around Greece, and the Baltic. Land travels included sojourns in France and trips to Turkey, England and Scotland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Greece and Mexico.
Friends will remember his fascination with languages, and his international adventures as well as his literary and historical interests were reflected in his substantial collection of dictionaries and grammar books intended to support his investigations of French, German, Russian, Greek (both Classical and Modern), Latin, Scots Gaelic, Italian, Turkish, and (one suspects imperfectly mastered) Finnish. His deep and joyous curiosity about the world was also evident in his avid study of guide-books and maps (both which he began collecting as a child), and explorers' journals. Because he collected many of these resources in rare editions and early imprints, he often surprised travelling companions as well as local residents with impressions colored by information from times long past. Like early explorers, he enjoyed chance encounters with those he met on his travels, and frequently astonished his family by his cheerful reports of meeting someone from his birth-place, Round-up, Montana, in unlikely parts of the world. He also had a passion for scientific instruments, especially clocks, which he studied and repaired with his son, Brook, who predeceased him in 1994.
His skill as a trained draughtsman broadened into cartoon drawing, and he dabbled in print-making and stone-carving. He also loved a wide range of music. He voted Democrat. He is survived by his wife and a daughter, Abigail Firey, of Lexington, Kentucky, and by two older brothers, Joseph C. Firey of Seattle and Walter I. Firey of Austin, Texas, and their children.
Donations in his memory can be made to Benton Hospice Service, Inc., 2350 N.W. Professional Drive, Corvallis, OR 97330 or to The Hakluyt Society, c/o The Map Library, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London, England NW1 2BD.