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Memorials

Peter L. Duren, 1935-2020

Peter Larkin Duren, professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Michigan, died on July 10, 2020 in Superior Township, MI after a long and courageous struggle with Parkinson's disease.

He was born and raised in New Orleans, the eldest child of William L. Duren Jr. and Mary Hardesty Duren. Following his father into mathematics, he graduated cum laude from Harvard University in 1956. He and his future wife, Grace (“Gay”) Adkins, met in college singing together in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. They were married in 1957. Three years later Professor Duren earned his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

From 1962 until his retirement in 2010, he taught mathematics at the University of Michigan (U-M), with one year at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton in 1968-69 and visiting stints at Stanford and Maryland. He supervised the Ph.D. theses of more than two dozen students at U-M. Teaching and mentoring motivated students was his special joy. He often said that he felt truly fortunate for having figured out a way to make a living doing what he loved.

Professor Duren was a prolific mathematical writer. He served as an editor for several professional journals, including the Michigan Mathematical Journal and the American Mathematical Monthly. His own publications included Theory of Hp Spaces and several other books advancing the frontiers of his field, complex analysis; the textbook Invitation to Classical Analysis; and more than a hundred research papers. Always gregarious, Professor Duren stood out for his zest for professional collaboration. Many of his works were co-authored with his former students or other colleagues.

An avid traveler, Professor Duren served as a visiting professor or scholar in many parts of the world during his U-M tenure, including Israel, China, South Africa, Chile, and numerous European countries. He and his wife often traveled together for enjoyment as well. Their favorite destinations included France, the Swiss Alps, Norway, and New Zealand.

Ever a collector and keeper of lists, his wide range of interests and hobbies included hiking, reading, listening to classical music, birding, gardening, photography, stamp collecting, carpentry, and astronomy. In all things, he carried his mathematician’s passion for accuracy and precision. But it was in some of his more unusual pursuits that his quirky sense of humor came out. With somewhat purposeful eccentricity, he collected banana stickers, performed unsolicited magic tricks, and kept pet box turtles in the back yard (he swore they wagged their tails when he fed them).

Mathematical history became a new research focus late in his career. Professor Duren was the principal editor of the three-volume historical collection A Century of Mathematics in America, published by the American Mathematical Society on the occasion of its Centennial in 1988.  Fluent in French, he unearthed new information from French sources about the mathematician Adrien-Marie Legendre (1752–1833) and the recently discovered caricature which is Legendre's only known portrait. He also discovered archived records in Europe shedding new light on the brilliant German mathematician and poet Robert Jentzsch, who died in World War I at age 27.

Passionate about civil liberties and academic freedom, Professor Duren served as treasurer on the board of the U-M’s Academic Freedom Lecture Fund from 2001 to 2016, helping bring illustrious speakers to campus in honor of the three professors purged by the U-M in the McCarthy era for alleged Communist leanings.

Professor Duren is survived by Gay Duren, his wife of 63 years; his sister Sally Schloemann; his brother David Duren; his daughter Betsy Duren; his son Bill Duren; and his daughter-in-law Jan Wigginton.

Donations in memory of Peter Duren may be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's research (michaeljfox.org), the American Mathematical Society (ams.org), or the American Civil Liberties Union (aclu.org).

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