Leaving a Legacy

You might see Dr. Donald Robinson’s name on a plaque in the Talmage, unaware of the legacy he left behind.

Born in 1928 on a leap day, this 84 year-old retired BYU professor was one of the first Mathematics PhDs to teach at BYU when he started teaching here in 1956.

“I’m proud of him for the way he’s tried to live his life, do the best he could, and serve other people,” said Allen Robinson, Dr. Robinson’s son.

The math department awarded Dr. Robinson with a plaque that is now displayed in the Talmage Building and thanked him for his generous endowment that has allowed and will continue to allow four math students every year to have a full-ride scholarship, for many years to come.

Dr. Don Robinson demon­strated an exceptional love for mathematics and the students who study it. A former professor and chair of the department, Don first discovered his passion for mathematics in grade school, as he recalled finding entertainment in working on extra problems his teacher would challenge the class to solve. He met his sweetheart, Helen, in Junior High School where they both played in the orchestra. Don and Helen were married by 1952 in the Salt Lake City LDS Temple.

Don pursued his doctorate in math­ematics from the Case Institute of Technology, Ohio. His studies were almost interrupted, as he was drafted into the army. However, he was discharged due to eyesight problems. Don graduated from the Case Institute of Technology and then went on to teach at various institutions. He eventually came to Brigham Young University, and was only the second professor with a PhD to join the Math Department faculty. Dr. Robinson remained at BYU for 43 years. His area of research was linear algebra dealing with the matrix theory.

Don enjoyed his teaching career and was a dedicated faculty mem­ber, receiving many awards for his outstanding contributions to the Math Department. He served as Chair of the Math Department three times, and many of the programs enjoyed by students today are due to his contributions and dedicated service.

You may also see Marcellus Burton’s name, along with the name of his wife, on a plaque in the Talmage.

Shirley and Marcellus Burton also had a passion for learning and education. Growing up, Marcellus would often be found at the kitchen table working calculus problems. A child of the Great Depression, he observed that his civil engineer uncle always had a good job, and, not wanting to be poor, Marcellus decided early on he wanted to follow the same path.

Upon the beginning of the second World War, Marc anticipated service in the army and shifted his studies to meteorology so he could be immediately inducted. In 1944, as a newly minted 2nd Lieuten­ant, his first duty assignment was Marana Army Air Base. It was here that he met his future wife, Shirley Etheredge.

Shirley was born in Norfolk, Vir­ginia, where she attended school and became a teacher. She always encouraged a healthy curiosity and emphasized its strong connection with books. Not satisfied to teach only Monday through Friday, she also taught Sunday school through­out her life. Her love of young people and of teaching inspired the Shirley and Marcellus Burton Scholarship.

Shirley and Marc married in 1945 and spent 26 years of service in the Air Force. During this time they raised five children and traveled with them all over the world as Marcellus completed 18 duty as­signments. The couple retired from the Air Force in 1970, and Marcel­lus returned to San Jose State, where he had attended in his youth, and taught meteorology there for the next 14 years. To this day, Marcellus considers himself to have a profound love of numbers.

To date, six students have benefit­ed from these generous scholarship donors. To learn more about how to donate to the Math Department, contact Dr. Robin Roundy at robin@math.byu.edu or call 801-422-1747.

—Curtis Penfold, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences