Obituary for Sam Perlis


Sam PerlisProfessor Emeritus Sam Perlis, 96, died June 22, 2009 in Takoma Park, Maryland.

He was born April 18, 1913 in Maywood, Illinois. He attended the University of Chicago, earning bachelor's and master's degrees, and in 1938 a Ph.D., in mathematics. During graduate school, he worked as a science teacher at Sunrise, an experimental collective farm in Michigan.

In 1937, he married Esther Rockoff, and she preceded him in death in April 2009.

After graduate school, he taught math for one year at the University of Michigan and for two years at Illinois Institute of Technology. During World War II, he moved to Los Angeles and was employed by Lockheed Aircraft. In 1946, he moved to West Lafayette, where he worked in the Purdue University Mathematics Department until his retirement in 1983.

He directed three doctoral dissertations at Purdue. He is known for his 1942 discovery of a mathematical technique now called the Perlis-Jacobson radical, for the 1950 Perlis-Walker Theorem, and for his book Theory of Matrices, published in 1952. He twice spent an academic year in Rome.

He was very active in the West Lafayette food Co-op and in Save the Dunes, and ice-skated regularly with the Indianapolis Winter Club. He enjoyed landscaping and art.

Surviving are two sons, Donald and Robert.

As did Esther before him, Sam donated his body to medical science. Their sons will scatter their ashes in the Rocky Mountains, where the family spent many summers hiking together, the last being in 2004 when Sam was 91 and Esther 83.