Duke Flags Lowered: Math Professor Emeritus Seth Warner Dies

Seth Warner, in the middle with with the Duke hat, prepares for a run with faculty colleagues Orrin Pilkey and Henry Fairbank.
Seth Warner, in the middle with with the Duke hat, prepares for a run with faculty colleagues Henry Fairbank and Orrin Pilkey.

Longtime Duke math faculty member, Seth L. Warner, a resident of Durham since 1955, died at home in Durham this past Thursday. He was 89.  

Born July 11, 1927, Warner joined the Duke faculty as a research instructor in mathematics in 1955, became professor in 1965, and served 11 years as departmental chairman before his retirement in 1995. His area of research involved general situations in which the notions of addition and multiplication were present along with the notion of a limit of a sequence of numbers.

In that area he published 33 research articles and two texts, Topological Fields and Topological Rings. In addition, he published in 1954 a two-volume text on modern algebra, which was reprinted in 1990 by the Dover Press.

On leave of absence from Duke, he was a visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, during the academic year 1959-60, a distinguished visiting professor of mathematics at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, in 1970-71, a visitor at the University of Paris in 1964-65 and at the University of Oslo in 1982-83.

Warner received his undergraduate degree from Yale in June 1950. In June 1951 he received a M.A. in mathematics from Harvard University. Under a grant from the National Science Foundation, he spent 1951-52 as a visitor at the University of Nancy, France. Returning to Harvard, he received a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1955 before arriving at Duke.

He also was known at Duke for his performances on Duke Chapel organs, often giving public demonstrations of the Flentrop organ every Thursday shortly after its installation in 1976. He studied the organ under H. Frank Bozyan while at Yale, under Melville Smith while at Harvard, and under André Marchal both years while in France. During the spring semester of 1955, while at Harvard, he played each Sunday morning for services held for prisoners in the nearby state reformatory in the Boston area.

His wife, the late Susan “Emily” Rose, was a 1960 graduate of Vassar College and the recipient of a Master of Arts in Teaching degree from Duke in 1961.  She was a teacher of civics at Carr Junior High School and later of American history at Jordan High School. She died in December 1999.      

In the spring of 1971, he entered the Faculty Fitness Program, offered by the Physical Education Department of Duke, became a runner, and eventually a marathoner. His best marathon time was 2:59:24, run at age 52 at Fort Bragg. He continued to run on trails in Duke Forest, including the Al Buehler Trail, each morning the weather permitted, until 2015.

Survivors include three children: Susan, Sarah, and Lawrence; seven grandchildren, a sister Elizabeth Ingell; and his beloved caregiver Rachel Russell and her family.

In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to Duke Forest Improvement Fund, which maintains the trails that Seth ran on for over 40 years, or the Chapel of the Cross.  The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 27, at the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill.