Robin Thomas Tribute

April 7, 2020 | Atlanta, GA

A Renowned Mathematician 

The recent passing of Regents' Professor Robin Thomas has left a hole in the School of Mathematics, and in our hearts. Robin was known not just for his extaordinary mathematical renown, but also for his kindness and mentorship. The lives he touched are many, and we wished to share the thoughts and prayers of some of them, in tribute to a great man.

Pace Academy Announcement

I am writing to let you know that Pace parent Dr. Robin Thomas passed away on March 26 following a long and courageous battle with ALS. Robin was 57 years old. He leaves behind his beloved wife, Sigrun Andradottir, and three children: Misha Andra-Thomas '17, senior Klara Andra-Thomas and eighth-grader Martin Andra-Thomas. 

Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Robin earned his doctorate from Charles University in 1985. His passion for mathematics led him to the U.S., where Robin joined the Georgia Tech faculty in 1989. He was appointed a Regents' Professor in 2010, an honor given to outstanding tenured full professors. 

Robin twice received the Fulkerson Prize in discrete mathematics; he won the Neuron Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Mathematics; and he was an American Mathematical Society and Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics fellow. In 2016, he was named the Class of 1934 Distinguished Professor, the highest honor for a Georgia Tech professor.

"Follow your passion, value your education and work hard," Robin told graduates when he delivered Georgia Tech's Fall 2016 Ph.D. and Master's Commencement address, "Don't give up in the face of hardship, and have fun." 

Robin followed his own advice and lived with passion for his family and his profession. He will be missed. Please join me in keeping the Andra-Thomas family in your thoughts and prayers as they mourn this great loss. Remind them that, despite our distance, they are surrounded by a school family that loves and cares for them. 

May Robin rest in God's peace.


Noga Alon

Robin and I first met in 1989 in Bellcore, and right from the beginning I admired his mathematical talent and remarkable personality. We have written three joint papers, the first one appeared in 1990. Robin has been an outstanding researcher and a superb speaker and mentor. Amazingly he maintained his activity until recently; I had email communication with him during the last few months. He will be deeply missed by all of us.     


R. Gary Parker

Robin Thomas was a "lifer" in the ACO Program. He was on the original Program Coordinating Committee, and he served as the dissertation advisor of the Program's first graduate, Dan Sanders (1993). When he stepped up and took over the leadership position after Richard Duke retired, he was no caretaker; rather, he shepherded the Program skillfully, preserving---even enhancing, I would submit---its position as one of Tech's elite interdisciplinary doctoral programs. In my mind, Robin Thomas was ACO.


George Nemhauser

Robin was a brilliant mathematician, a great leader of the ACO program and a wonderful colleague and mentor to students. His absence is a great loss.


Chun-Hung Liu

Robin is definitely one of the people who changed my life. I had received his enormous support since I entered Georgia Tech. It continuously benefits me even today. Robin offered me constant encouragement not only verbally but also through his action. I am very grateful that he attended my hooding ceremony even though he had become very difficult for moving. The conversation with Robin was always inspiring, and his suggestions were always comprehensive and considerate. He is a role model not only in academia but also in daily life. It is very amazing that he continuously expressed deep ideas, conducted research and provided professional service even when he was suffering serious illness. It was very shocking to hear the bad news. His persistence made me think that everything was under control and he could maintain the status for much longer. R.I.P.


Prasad Tetali

Robin was a remarkable human being, full of resolve and resilience. He was invaluable and inspiring as a colleague and this loss will be felt for a long time to come. He was greatly influential in shaping the ACO PhD program - upholding its rigor through his research, teaching, mentoring and service -- making it internationally renowned and successful, and we are forever indebted to him for that. 


Matt Baker, on his blog:

My previous post was about the mathematician John Conway, who died recently from COVID-19. This post is a tribute to my Georgia Tech School of Mathematics colleague Robin Thomas, who passed away on March 26th at the age of 57 following a long struggle with ALS. Robin was a good friend, an invaluable member of the Georgia Tech community, and a celebrated mathematician. After some brief personal remarks, I’ll discuss two of Robin’s most famous theorems (both joint with Robertson and Seymour) and describe the interplay between these results and two of the theorems I mentioned in my post about John Conway. Read more.


Lance Fortnow, on his blog:

Graph Theorist and Georgia Tech Math Professor Robin Thomas passed away Thursday after his long battle with ALS. He was one of the giants of the field and a rare double winner of the Fulkerson Prize, for the six-color case of the Hadwiger Conjecture and the proof of the strong perfect graph theorem.

If you start with a graph G and either delete some vertices or merge vertices connected by an edge, you get a minor of G. The Hadwiger conjecture asks whether every graph that is not (k+1)-colorable graph has a clique of size k as a minor. Neil Robertson, Paul Seymour and Thomas proved the k=6 case in 1993 and still the k>6 cases remain open.

A graph G is perfect if for G and all its induced subgraphs, the maximum clique size is equal to its chromatic number. In 2002 Maria Chudnovsky, Robertson, Seymour and Thomas showed that a graph G is not perfect if and only if either G or the complement of G has an induced odd cycle of length greater than 3.

Robin Thomas was already confined to a wheelchair when I arrived at Georgia Tech in 2012. He was incredibly inspiring as he continued to teach and lead the Algorithms, Combinatorics and Optimization PhD program until quite recently. Our department did the ALS challenge for him. In 2016 he received the Class of 1934 Distinguished Professor Award, the highest honor for a professor at Georgia Tech. He'll be terribly missed.

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Sal Barone