Howard Osborn, 91, professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Illinois, died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Champaign on August 21. A musical memorial service for Howard will be held at the university’s Smith Music Hall at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28.
Born in 1928 to Harry and Florence Osborn in Evanston, Illinois, Howard began playing violin at age seven but switched to viola at age 12 because of his height and a need for violas in the Evanston school orchestras. Howard proved to be an excellent violist, and he studied the instrument at Northwestern University throughout junior high and high school.
In 1945, Howard was admitted to Princeton University, where a music professor urged him to audition for the violist William Primrose at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Howard was accepted by the institute, but he decided to stay at Princeton and major in mathematics while continuing to play music. Howard balanced his twin careers in mathematics and music for the rest of his life.
After graduating from Princeton in 1949, Howard enrolled in the mathematics doctoral program at Stanford University, where he soon met his wife-to-be, Jean Henderson; they were married in 1951. During the 1953-54 academic year, Howard was a research associate for Marcel Riesz at the University of Chicago. Howard received his PhD from Stanford in 1954 and then taught at the University of California, Berkeley, for two years before taking a position in 1956 at the University of Illinois, where he taught until his retirement in 1993.
During his tenure at the University of Illinois, Howard published more than 30 journal articles and one book, Vector Bundles (1982). He worked as a consultant for the Rand Corporation for ten years, and he received more than a dozen research grants from the National Science Foundation. He also held sabbatical appointments at the University of Strasbourg in France, and at Stanford University.
Coupled with his mathematical achievements, Howard was a significant presence in local musical life for more than 60 years. He played in the Champaign-Urbana Symphony from its founding in 1960 until 2007, switching from viola to violin during the 1970s. He was also active in chamber music. He played several concerts as second viola when the university’s resident Walden Quartet played string quintets; regularly hosted chamber music sessions and concerts at his home; and attended summer chamber music camps in Vermont, Connecticut and Maine. After Howard switched back to the violin, he played a full recital for about 2,000 mathematicians and families at an annual meeting of the American Mathematical Society.
Howard and Jean built a house in the cornfields south of Champaign during the 1960s. They had four children (Mark, Steve, Adrienne and Emily) and six grandchildren (Sam, Hannah, Mackenzie, Bryce, Abby and Elliot).
Donations in Howard’s memory may be made to the Champaign-Urbana Symphony.
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