Gary Allen Lorden (BS '62), professor of mathematics, emeritus, passed away on October 25, 2023. He was 82.
Lorden was born in Los Angeles, California, on June 10, 1941. He received a BS from Caltech in 1962 and a PhD from Cornell University in 1966. He rejoined the Caltech community as an assistant professor of mathematics in 1968, became associate professor in 1971, and professor in 1977. He retired in 2009.
"In 1958, when Gary and I arrived at Caltech as a freshmen, he, in addition to being superb at mathematics, was also an outstanding pianist," recalls Kip S. Thorne (BS '62), the Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus. "He did unbelievably good imitations of Liberace, much to the enjoyment of all his classmates."
Lorden's mathematical research involved statistics. He was especially interested in applications to real-world problems and often served as an expert witness in trials. Over the years, Lorden developed connections to Hollywood, and he served as technical advisor to the 2005 crime drama show NUMB3RS, consulting on 99 of the 118 episodes. He co-wrote a book inspired by the show, titled "The Numbers behind NUMB3RS: Solving Crime with Mathematics," which explains real-life math techniques used by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.
"Through NUMB3RS and his accompanying book, Gary aroused public appreciation for mathematics in a manner that inspired me in my subsequent effort to arouse people about the beauty of astrophysics via Interstellar and The Science of Interstellar, " Thorne says. "Gary was a wonderful friend and inspiration."
"He loved solving problems and had a passion for math," says Barry Simon, the International Business Machines Professor of Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, Emeritus. "The math department is a very friendly place, but I would say that Gary was one of the sweetest people there."
Richard (Rick) Wilson, professor of mathematics, emeritus, says he once took over teaching one of Lorden's classes in statistics, which is not Wilson's primary field. "Gary used to say that mathematical statistics was important for students to learn because it uses a different way of thinking. After I taught his class, I wholeheartedly agreed."
Lorden also served the Caltech community through leadership roles. He was dean of students from 1984 to 1988, vice president for student affairs from 1989 to 1998, and acting vice president for student affairs in 2002. He was executive officer for mathematics from 2003 to 2006. In addition, he served as chair of the Athenaeum's Board of Governors from 2010 until his passing.
"I came to know and deeply respect Gary through our shared services in Student Affairs at Caltech, roles in which we served for over 30 years," says Caltech's Christopher Brennen, the Richard L. and Dorothy M. Hayman Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Emeritus. "Through those connections and the various challenges they involved, I came to know and deeply respect Gary as person and a dear friend. Throughout those years he was, for me, the epitome of empathy, integrity, reliability, and kindness. He was, indeed, a dear, dear friend who also cared deeply for the Caltech students and the Caltech community."
According to Brennen, Lorden was understanding and sympathetic with students due in part to his own undergraduate experiences at Caltech. "He knew what it was like to be a student at Caltech, and the pressures they can feel."
Lorden liked to act and regularly participated in the Caltech Playreaders series, in which members of the Caltech and JPL communities put on semi-staged readings of plays. He was also a member of the Caltech Athenaeum's wine committee, which selects wines for the faculty club. "I remember Gary as a very enthusiastic chair of the Athenaeum Wine Committee," says Anneila Sargent, the Ira S. Bowen Professor of Astronomy, Emeritus.
"And I remember his devotion to his wife Louise," Sargent adds. "And the pleasure they took, until her untimely death, in showing the students how well they danced together."
Lorden is survived by his children Lisa and Diana. His wife Louise passed away in 2015.