Oct 14

He was an authority on the Ramsey theory, named after an English mathematician, that suggests that complete disorder is impossible. Over his lifetime, which came to a close July 6, 2020, celebrated mathematician Ron Graham proved the theory to be correct.

Graham’s father left he and his mother when Graham was a small boy. His mother became a nightclub singer and later a shipyard welder, moving the family from California to Georgia and Florida. Math provided the order Graham’s life lacked and at age 15, he dropped out of high school to attend the University of Chicago. After three years, he transferred to the University of California, Berkeley to study math and science. During a stint in the U.S. Air Force, he earned a degree in physics at the University of Alaska before returning to Berkeley to secure a PhD in math.

Academics aside, Graham applied his love of mathematics and showmanship in a wide variety of ways: juggling, which he termed to be a physical form of mathematics; gymnastics, trampoline tricks, table tennis, riding unicycles, and throwing boomerangs, which he described as “long-distance juggling.” He and a friend wrote a book, Magical Mathematics, in 2012 that explained the math behind card tricks. Something tells me Ron Graham was always the life of a party!

Graham spent 37 years at Bell Labs, the research center of what was then the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T). His managerial style was an employee’s dream. He said his role “was to give employees a congenial environment and just let them do their thing.” In environs like this, is it any surprise that Bell Labs, with more than 33,000 patents to its credit, gave us innovations like data networking, solar cells, lasers, and cell phone technology?

Graham was married four times and while there was likely no formula or algorithm behind his approach to romance, he approached love as he did life, with gusto. When he left this world, he left two adult children, a wife and many magical memories. Learn more about this Dearly Departed here.

Dearly Departed profiles are the musings of SC Innovates’ Director and SmartState Endowed Chair Laura B. Cardinal. Dr. Cardinal is the creator of two courses in Strategic Management of Technology + Innovation: SMTI I, which fuses innovation with business strategy, and SMTI II, which fuses innovation and science with business strategy. Both are offered through the UofSC Darla Moore School of Business Professional MBA Program.

Laura B. Cardinal, PhD