Memorial service honors life of beloved professor
Contact: Brittney Booth 381-2415
Posted: 10/10/2001
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Students, faculty, alumni and administrators of The University of Texas-Pan American gathered together Tuesday, Oct. 9 with the family of mathematics professor Dr. Joseph Wiener to remember a man they knew as a brilliant researcher, dedicated mentor and kind friend.

Dr. Lokenath Debnath, Department of Mathematics chair, speaks at the Oct. 9 memorial service for mathematics professor Dr. Joseph Wiener, who was killed in an auto accident Aug. 27. Seated from left are Dr. John Villarreal, College of Science and Engineering dean; wife Bella; son Edward; and Dr. John Abraham, computer science professor.

About 150 people attended the memorial service in the Student Union auditorium. More than 20 people, including several former students and colleagues, his wife Bella - herself a math professor at UTPA - and son Edward, shared their stories of how the world-renowned professor had made a profound impact on their lives.

Wiener taught mathematics for 23 years at UTPA before he was killed Aug. 27 in a auto accident.

"The Department of Mathematics lost a distinguished contributor and a great man," said Dr. Lokenath Debnath, department chair. "I lost a great friend and will miss him greatly."

Many of his students spoke of Wiener as a great teacher who had the ability to make complicated math problems easy to understand. They praised his enthusiastic teaching style and the way in which he often dedicated his lunch hours and weekends to help students improve.

For Wiener, there was no problem too simple to explain, and he devoted as much effort to developmental math classes as to advanced graduate-level courses.

Many remembered him fondly, joking in his characteristic Russian accent. They spoke of the devoted family man who would carry Bella's books to her classes. Others wept as they mourned a friend who, despite an intellect described as encyclopedic, managed to treat every person as an equal.

His colleagues were impressed by the manner in which Wiener's students articulated their affection for him.

Math professor Dr. Miguel Paredes said Wiener's students spoke of him "like they talked about movie stars."

"I've never seen this in my life as a teacher, and I've been a teacher for 30 years," he said. "When I said Joseph is a legend, I really meant it."

For Antonio Alberto Olivares, enrolling in one of Dr. Wiener's undergraduate math classes changed his life. Though he failed his first exam, he said Wiener continued to be encouraging, even hiring Olivares as a work-study when he could not find work elsewhere.

"If it wasn't for him, I'd be in the trash can somewhere. I'd be nothing," said Olivares, who went on to become a math teacher at Rio Grande City High School. "He made the world better for me and for a lot of people."

Wiener received a Ph.D. in Mathematics at the University of Leningrad in 1964. He immigrated to the United States in November 1978 with Bella and their two children.

His research interests spanned the areas of differential equations, generalized functions, hybrid dynamical systems and mathematical modeling.

Wiener taught mathematics at UTPA from 1979 until his death. He attracted international attention to his work, which included more than 150 articles and four books, three University Distinguished Faculty awards and positions on the editorial boards of three journals.

He is survived by his wife, Bella; children, Edward Wiener and Lilia Jolibois; son-in-law, Didier Jolibois; and granddaughter, Juliette Jolibois.

Donations to the Joseph Wiener Memorial Scholarship in Mathematics can be made online at