Albert Baernstein II

Albert (Al) Baernstein II, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, Washington University in St. Louis, died quietly at home on June 10, 2014 at the age of 73. Survivors include his wife of 52 years, Judy (Haynes) Baernstein; two daughters, Prudence Renee (Wietse de Boer) of Oxford, Ohio and Amy (Melanie Tratnik) of Seattle, Washington; four grandchildren: Sylvia and Arthur de Boer of Oxford, Ohio, and Cleo and Nora Baernstein of Seattle, Washington; and a sister, Alice Kirby, of Augusta, Georgia.

Al Baernstein was born April 25, 1941 in Birmingham, Alabama to Kathryn (Wiesel) and Albert Baernstein. He grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He attended the University of Alabama for a year, then transferred to Cornell University where he graduated with an A.B. in 1962. His fraternity yearbook pictured him with a skinny tie and a full head of hair and noted, “studiously irresponsible, he often takes off for the far corners of his mind.” A summer job as a night watchman at a hotel in Maine would have been unmemorable but for the fact that he met his future wife, then a local high school student waiting tables down the street. They were married in Bar Harbor on June 14, 1962.

After a brief stint working as a cost analyst at Prudential Insurance Company in New Jersey, he went to graduate school in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, receiving his M.A. in 1964 and the Ph.D. in 1968. He taught at Syracuse University from 1968 to 1972, then moved to Washington University and spent the rest of his career there, retiring from teaching in 2011.

He was a highly respected mathematician, with an international reputation in the fields of Complex Analysis and Potential Theory. He had a special affinity for solving symmetrization problems – roughly speaking, showing that the most symmetric arrangement corresponds to the lowest energy. In 1972 he invented something now called the Baernstein Star Function, and used this to solve several open problems in mathematics, including the difficult Edrei spread conjecture. He was honored with an invitation to address the quadrennial International Congress of Mathematicians in 1978. In addition to his own research, he supervised 15 Ph.D. students, and was a fertile and generous source of ideas and knowledge for the many mathematicians with whom he interacted.

Al could be seen daily, year round, striding from his home in University Heights to his office in Cupples I, sometimes accompanied by his beloved dog Porterhouse and later by another big mutt, Sadie. On his many mathematical travels he pursued exotic food, good hikes, and good music, especially opera. The many young opera singers Al and Judy hosted, from both the Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Union Avenue Opera Company, helped make their empty nest lively again.

Al was notorious for his precision of memory and measurement. As a 5-year-old he entertained his parents’ friends by calculating the day of the week for any given date in the century. As an adult he entertained his children by recalling the details of any rest stop on any past family vacation, including the price of gas and whether the motel pool was open. Manual labor proved more challenging: his lifelong inability to perform such mundane tasks as peeling an orange, inflating a bicycle tire, or operating a pepper mill afforded endless amusement to his family. He loved bad puns and limericks, and improvised them at every turn. He enjoyed a good party and took pleasure in the constant stream of mathematicians, friends and neighbors he and Judy brought home. He loved dark ale, hot curry, and Wagner.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the University City Public Library, where Al was a longtime patron, or to a library of your choice.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, June 14 at 2:30 in the Goldberg Formal Lounge, Danforth University Center, Washington University, 6475 Forsyth Ave., St. Louis, MO 63105.


  1. Peter Haley on June 12, 2014 at 6:31 pm

    I only had the privilege of meeting him a few times in Maine (as an adult) but I enjoyed each time. Reading that he enjoyed bad puns makes me wish I had spent more time with him. My father, Don Haley, taught me to love puns (there are only good puns.)

  2. Steven Hofmann on June 13, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Al was a great mathematician, and an even better person. He will be missed.

  3. Suzanne Schoomer on June 13, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Judy, we send our condolences. Al will be missed in the neighborhood as well as in the academic world, and of course by his loving family. You supported him so generously with comfort and patience. His memory will remain a blessing.

    I am sorry that we will not be able to attend Al’s service, as we have a funeral of an elderly cousin in Illinois at the same time.

    Sincerely yours,
    Suzanne and Paul Schoomer

  4. Agnes and Bob Wilcox on June 13, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    We are so sorry to lose another fellow Badger from the neighborhood. Bob and Al enjoyed sharing stories about Al’s graduate student colleague in the math department at Madison, the Mad Greek, and would have enjoyed sharing puns, had Bob known of the shared weakness. Al always had such a benevolent smile, including one for the young woman who had imbibed too much holiday cheer and flirted outrageously with Al at one of the Holiday Progressive Party sessions at our house. We’ll miss him.

  5. Juan Manfredi on June 13, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    As a mathematical disciple of Al, I remember his kindness and his humorous, yet profound way to teach us.

    Thank you Al!

  6. Joe Bohanon on June 13, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    I wrote up some of my memories of Al from my time as a grad student at Wash U.

    So sorry for your loss, Judy.

  7. Thomas Saliba on June 14, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Please accept my sympathy in the passing of your husband Al.
    You never displayed any weakness in the impending loss. The fact that I never met Al was my loss.

  8. Pam Kelley Rogoski on June 14, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Al and Judy took me in for a while as a “shirt-tail relative” while they were living in London. I will always be in their debt for the things I learned (including how to appreciate bad puns) while staying with this joyous, riotous family who knows so well how to enjoy life.
    My condolences to Judy, Prudence and Amy, and all their families.

  9. Jay W. Baird on June 16, 2014 at 9:59 am

    Dear Renee,
    It is a shame that I never got to meet your father. It turns out that we have a common love for dark ale (a.k.a. Baird Beer in Japan), hot curry, and Wagner. But I hope that he loved my other passion too, Verdi. I will be thinking of you and praying for your peace of mind.
    From Jay Baird

  10. dan hitt on November 22, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    Professor Baernstein taught complex variables my senior year at Wash U. He was a terrific teacher and his course inspired me more than any other class before or since.

    He once invited our class over for dinner at his home (it may have been over some holidays for those of us who didn’t go home). His wife (Judy) was there as well as his sister. They were all such good people, and it felt like home.

    One thing he used his star function for (which works by symmetric rearrangement) was to prove that a certain very simple map (the Koebe function) maximized a wide range of averages of conformal maps. That was the best possible result in that direction, and the result, if not the proof, was something any student of complex variables could appreciate.

    Wash U and all of us alumni of its math department were so fortunate to have the Baernsteins in our lives.

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