Campus mourns Professor Ted Bick ’58

Publication Date

Theodore Avery “Ted” Bick ’58, a professor emeritus of mathematics known for his enthusiastic and loyal support of the College, died Aug. 1, 2016. He was 86.

Bick joined the faculty as an associate professor in 1966, retiring in 1998 as a full professor. A mathematician who specialized in analysis, he taught calculus, differential equations, algebra, topology, mathematical biology, statistics and even a course called “Mathematics for People Who Hate Mathematics.”

Widely respected as a teacher, Bick was equally admired as a colleague.

“From the moment I arrived here I was taken with Ted’s deep, abiding commitment to Union and its students. He helped me realize very quickly that I was in a special department with caring, committed people,” said Kimmo Rosenthal, professor of mathematics. “He was an important mentor in my early years, helping me adapt to the College, and imparting the invaluable lesson that it is possible to be devoted to one’s work as a teacher and scholar without taking oneself too seriously.”

“Ted was one of those thoroughly delightful personalities that you don’t encounter very often,” said Arnold Seiken, professor emeritus of mathematics. “He had an engaging smile, a ready wit, was smart and loyal. He was also capable of, and delighted in telling, the most atrocious jokes.”

Seiken credits Bick with laying the foundation for the distinguished math department the College has today. Bick helped recruited Bill Fairchild, Alan Taylor, Bill Zwicker and others, Sieken said. And when each of these men became chair, they in turn, recruited a number of the people still in the department.

Outside the classroom, Bick led Union’s cross country team from 1972 until 1982, and also mentored the 1993 team.

An avid and talented runner himself, he competed in 21 marathons, 13 in the Boston Marathon, with a best time of 2 hours, 46 minutes.

“Ted was one of the first great masters runners (age 40 and over) in the Capital Region,” recalled Taylor, the Marie Louise Bailey Professor of Mathematics. “At age 53, he ran a 2:49 marathon (‘Not my day Al,’ he told me at the 20-mile mark!), and at the same age he ran the Stockade-athon 15 kilometer race at faster than a six-minute mile pace.”

His love of running, it seems, was contagious.

“For me, the memories of Ted that will most endure are those associated with Ted introducing me to long-distance running in about 1980. We spent many, many hours doing long runs together,” said Julius Barbanel, professor emeritus of mathematics. “When I first started running with Ted, it was difficult, but he knew how to get me through. When I would tire, he would recite old radio routines (often by Jack Benny), just to keep me entertained. Since I got a little too old to run, I’ve become a serious cyclist and cross-country skier. I don’t know that any of this would have happened without Ted’s influence decades ago. I shall miss him.”

Bick is also remembered for his presence at home football games. For many years, he sat with a number of alumni near the 50-yard line. Whenever the Dutchmen scored a touchdown, he would play the fight song, “It’s Union’s Game,” on his trumpet.

As a student at Union, Bick participated in basketball and track. He was inducted into the Union College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008.

Bick also supported Union in many other significant ways.

“Ted was, throughout his career, an active member of the College community, serving as chair of the Science Division and chair of the Faculty Executive Committee,” Taylor said. “He also wrote two text books in mathematics, one quite early in his career and one quite late in his career.”

A veteran of the U.S. Marines who served in Korea, Bick was involved with Alumni Council and received its Faculty Meritorious Service Award in 1988. He was a mentor in Union’s Academic Opportunity Program and a valued leader in the Union College Academy for Lifelong Learning (UCALL), serving on its steering and curriculum committees.

Bick also achieved some international notoriety during the College’s commencement on June 12, 1971.

Political unrest over the Vietnam War had swept campus. During the ceremony, a scuffle broke out when protesters interrupted speeches and waved a Viet Cong flag. Bick was sitting with the rest of the faculty. Outraged, he leapt through the yew bushes, and with academic robes flowing behind him, seized the flag. A photo of the incident would appear in newspapers around the world.

Bick held a B.S. in mathematics from Union, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Rochester. He was a communicant and choir member at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish.

“Ted was the ideal college professor of an earlier age, when loyalty to an institution was as valued as academic achievements,” said Frank Gado, professor emeritus of English. “His devotion to Union was complete and unstinting. He loved teaching mathematics, but he was also ever the student in his intellectual curiosity. The best friend one could wish for. He occupies a large space in my memories of my life at Union.”

Bick is survived by his wife of 42 years, Joan A. Bick; children, Nancy Bick of Kansas City, Mo., Sandra (Michael) Tritt of Oneida, Tenn., Jonathan Bick of Colonie, N.Y., Andrew (Kristin) Bick of Asheville, N.C., and Lisa Spano (Jan) Zadoorian of Halfmoon, N.Y.; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Calling hours will be Friday, 4 to 7 p.m. at Daly Funeral Home, 242 McClellan St., Schenectady. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations may be made in Ted's memory to the Union College AOP Fund, College Relations, 807 Union St., Schenectady, N.Y., 12308.

Click here to read the obituary in the Daily Gazette.