Philip Wagreich, 71, a groundbreaking professor of mathematics and a kind, supportive family man, died on Jan. 1, 2013. Born in New York City in 1941, he early on realized the importance of education. His love of books was first fostered by his mother, Betty, a librarian. He often spoke of his love of geometry and how his father Murry's beautiful drafts of roof plans fascinated him. Together with his brother Larry, the family often traveled to Florida for the "curative properties of the sun."
Graduating from Brandeis University and later receiving his Ph.D. from Columbia University, he held appointments at Brandeis, the University of Pennsylvania and the prestigious Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. In 1973, he came to the University of Illinois Chicago as a mathematician who had already made important contributions to the research field of algebraic geometry. Continuing as a productive researcher, he later turned his attention to improving pre-college mathematics education. In July 2012, he retired from UIC with the designation of professor emeritus.
In 1985, he created the Office of Mathematics and Computer Education within UIC's math department. There he spearheaded the development of programs, unique in their depth, to train mathematics teachers. He later established UIC's Institute for Mathematics and Science Education (IMSE), an interdisciplinary research and development center that was home to a wide range of nationally significant projects. IMSE later merged with another UIC center to form UIC's current Learning Sciences Research Institute, where he continued his work in mathematics education.
In the mid 1980s, Prof. Wagreich began a collaboration with physicist Howard Goldberg that led to the creation of the Teaching Integrated Math and Science Project (TIMS) and the development of the Math Trailblazers elementary mathematics curriculum, which today is used by students around the U.S. and the world. With mathematicians Harvey Keynes and Naomi Fisher, he created the Mathematicians for Education Reform (MER) network, which continues nationally to promote the involvement of mathematicians in pre-college education.
From 1997-2000, he was a member of the writing team that developed the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. In 1992, he received the Excellence in Integrated Mathematics & Science Award from the School Science and Mathematics Association; in 1996, he received the prestigious Max Beberman Award from the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics for his contributions to mathematics education.
A Renaissance man, he was an avid reader who loved music and the performing arts, travel, good food and humor. His extensive music collection ranged from Roland Kirk to the Rolling Stones, and he was passionate about attending theater and dance performances. With his young family, he enjoyed camping in national parks to help foster a love and respect for natural beauty. Later, he traveled to Asia, Europe, Canada and the Caribbean, as well as many places in the U.S. As an accomplished cook, he also greatly enjoyed fine and ethnic dining out. Having a skill with language, you could see the sparkle in his eye just before making a subtle pun, a talent carried down gently from his father.
Phil Wagreich lived his beliefs and instilled the idea that all people have a light within. He left a proud legacy of loving family, deep friendship and impressive professional accomplishment.
He was the husband of Lorraine Owles; the father of four, Heidi, Ian, Amy and Alexander; and the grandfather of Mercedes, Felicia, Hayley and Isaac, to whom he was a steady presence who helped celebrate life and handle challenges with strength and grace, always there to listen and offer assistance with the calm patience and sense of humor so characteristic of him.
A memorial celebration of his life will take place on Sunday, Feb. 10 at the Nineteenth Century Club in Oak Park. Meeting with the family begins at noon, followed by a 1 p.m. program and reception.
Send memories and reflections to Heidi Wagreich at email@example.com or bring a reflection to read on Feb. 10.