Friday May 17, 2013

BAILEY T. O’NEILL

Special to The Banner

When Bennington native Steve J. Rallis passed away on April 17, 2012, at the age of 69, the distinguished mathematician left behind the legacy of a pioneer in the math community. His extensive research and work as a professor at Universities such as Texas, Notre Dame, Princeton, and Ohio State had led to him gathering the respect of scores, if not hundreds of mathematicians throughout the country.

Rallis was born in Bennington in 1942 to Vickie and Jimmy Rallis. The Rallis family owned the Four Chimneys Restaurant and Inn, at that time nationally recognized as one of the 57 best restaurants in the United States by Life Magazine.

Rallis attended Bennington High School, where he and his siblings had multiple teachers that impacted their lives. One in particular was Mr. Jarecki, a social studies teacher. "All of the family had him," said Nancy Rallis, Steve’s sister who is a professor at Boston University, "he was a very well-respected teacher that I know Steve enjoyed very much."

After excelling at Bennington High, where he was named valedictorian of his class, Rallis went on to Harvard University to study mathematics. "He always knew he wanted to do something in mathematics," Nancy Rallis said, "that part of his life was never in question."

What did seem to be a question however, was where Rallis would teach mathematics.


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After he finished his undergraduate degree at Harvard, Rallis received his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1968.

Rallis married Michele Kaufmann in 1970, and together they traveled around the country, while Rallis was teaching in visiting positions at various universities. Eventually Rallis became a visiting assistant at Ohio State University and worked his way through the ranks.

"Steve took a particular interest in his students," said Michele Rallis, who received her Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard the same year Rallis received his from MIT and was a professor of physics at Ohio State, "he loved teaching undergrads but when the university started to expand and make undergraduate classes into lectures with hundreds of students he chose to teach graduate students."

"The large class sizes made it harder for Steve to get the one-on-one time that he felt the material he taught [pre calculus and calculus] required. With his graduate students he was still able to have that one-on-one time to make sure they knew what they were supposed to be doing."

One of his most notable graduate students was Boston University professor Mark Reeder. Reeder recalled the usual sight of Rallis and his wife "walking hand-in-hand back up to campus in the evenings, when Steve would do his serious work."

As a graduate student Reeder once had a 30-minute conversation in which, "Steve gave me a crucial tip for a part of my thesis that turned into my first published paper."

"Steve never co-published papers with graduate students," Michele Rallis said, "he would always give them full credit for the research in their publications, he never wanted anyone to assume that he had done the work if the student had done it."

Over his 40-year teaching career, Steve Rallis wrote more than 90 articles and books. According to an article "Remembering Steve Rallis" published in a recent edition of "The Notices," a journal of the American Mathematical Society, "His work was very original and has left a lasting impact on number theory and representation theory."

Bailey O’Neill is interning at the Banner. He is a senior at Mount Anthony Union Senior High School.