George Lee Cain

June 21, 2015 | Atlanta, GA

The School of Mathematics is greatly saddened learning that our beloved colleague, George Cain, passed away the morning of Sunday, June 21, after battling pancreatic cancer for about a year. He is survived by his immediate family consisting of Marilyn Cain (spouse), Carolyn Naser (daughter), Charles Naser (son-in-law), and Alex Naser (grandson). The family indicated that they would be having a private cremation right away, and a wake in a month from now. Further information will be posted once those plans are made.


George Cain was born in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1934. He obtained his Bachelor's degree in 1956 from MIT, and Master's degree (1962) and Ph.D. (1965; advisor: Robert Kasriel) from Georgia Tech. George worked at the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation during 1956-60; he also served as a Private in the U.S. Army in 1958, and started attending classes as a graduate student at Tech in the Fall of 1958, while a full-time Lockheed employee. His service to Georgia Tech began in 1960 as an instructor in mathematics and continued as a professor during the years, 1965-2001. The School of Mathematics is particularly grateful for his service as the assistant director of the school during 1973-1978.

George's favorite research topic was topology, in which he had many research publications as well as a book titled, "Introduction to General Topology" in 1994. After he retired from Georgia Tech, George enjoyed playing clarinet with the East Cobb New Horizons Band.

George was friendly, warm, wise and inspiring. He made everyone smile with his clever wit; a few of his quotes are fondly recalled below, in the midst of capturing the kind and giving soul that he was:

"I first met George in 1974 when I interviewed for a position at Tech. He was very helpful to me then and has been a kind friend for more than forty years since. I will miss his wit ("I have two questions, and I will ask the second one first.") and his wisdom ("Never do anything for the first time."), and of course his company. I also taught out of his topology book, for which I have a great deal of admiration. We are poorer today for the loss of him." -- Bill Green

"Several people in the school of mathematics now use versions of what I recall as being George Cain's (original) joke: he'd walk by my office around 5pm on a Friday and say, 'Dr. Tetali, please take the rest of the week off!'" -- Prasad Tetali

"George was a soul of the SOM. Fewer people attended faculty meetings after his retirement because George's jokes were always the best part of them. He also was the first Chairman of our first Faculty Advisory Committee. SOM would not be the same now without the legacy left by Professor Cain." -- Leonid Bunimovich

"George was an excellent but tough teacher and was known as killer Cain to his students. He was always friendly and had a way of disarming his critics with his wonderful southern drawl and booming laugh. He definitely was one of the people who made it fun to work in the department. I will miss his wit and humor." -- Jeff Geronimo

"I remember him so fondly for his dry wit and great Southern accent. Does anyone know the story about the young man who dared to sit in the back of his classroom and read a newspaper during George's lecture? I believe that Dr. Cain finally got his attention by incorporating all the student's ID numbers (tech ID, SS#, house number, phone number, etc) in the problem being worked on the board. Seems like there were gales of laughter when the tale was told in the faculty lounge. He will be greatly missed." -- Cathy Jacobson

"He taught me so much and his passing drives me to commit myself more to perform better and be a better mathematician. George's spirit, attitude, strong voice, and approach to mathematics live on as I tutor my sons and others. There's no doubt about it, I respected, admired and looked up to him in many ways." -- Ben Elkins (Master's student of George), VP Consulting Services, EBB Nielsen Marketing Analytics

"In my years as a graduate student at Georgia Tech, George was like a father to me. He was the very finest teacher I ever had, and I still treasure all of the "war stories" he shared with me in his office. He always added a good dose of humor to the most serious of subjects, and offered me a richer perspective on the world. He remains a tremendously positive influence on me in so many ways." -- Mark LaDue, Georgia Tech alum, and George Cain's bowling buddy!

"It would just be terrible if it wasn't true, seeing as how I just proved it." -- George Cain (as recalled by a student from one of George's classes).

"George Lee Cain was an icon in our department. A man of towering stature and personality, George was never one to mince words. One of my favorite quotes of his, always delivered in his quintessential Dixie baritone, combined both humor and insights about human behavior.

"I have always considered it a mathematical anomaly," he would say at exactly the right time, when everyone knew who he meant, "that there are more horses' asses on this planet than there are horses."

George was a raconteur extraordinaire, and enthralled us all with tales of his escapades, including his brief stint in the army as a Ninety-day Wonder. George was also a man of arts and an exquisite calligrapher, a yellowing 30-year old example of which is still posted in the Skiles corridor outside Leonid?s office. George was generous, and always had time to help students and colleagues alike clarify the logic in their mathematical proofs and expositions. He and Marilyn were also very generous socially, and their annual Christmas open house was a lavish spread complete with many more stories and free pinball.

However, what I remember most about him is his absolute and unwavering INTEGRITY. In faculty committees and departmental meetings, we could always count on George to speak up for what he thought was right, no matter the consequences. When he was elected chairman of the Institute Faculty and Status Grievance Committee, during a period of turmoil in the mid-90's, the entire campus, right up to the President, received the benefit of his sage and honest advice.

George, we miss you, but your strength and spirit remain an inspiration to us all." -- Ted Hill