Rudy Horne, an associate professor of mathematics at Morehouse College passed away on December 11, 2017. He was well known in the Dynamical Systems community as a researcher who contributed to the development of topics in mathematical analysis of nonlinear optical phenomena, analysis of mathematical models arising from the study of AlGaAs waveguide arrays and Bose-Einstein Condensate models, and applying dynamical systems techniques to probabilistic models for queueing systems. He came as close to Hollywood fame as possible for a professional mathematician after his work as the mathematics consultant for the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures. Below is a personal letter to Rudy written by Chris Jones who was Rudy's postdoc adviser from 2002 till 2005 at UNC Chapel Hill.
Rudy, Rudy, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. I had always imagined your giving an oration at my funeral. But here I am writing a tribute to you after your tragic death in December. For all of us who knew you over the years, it will take some time to come to terms with this all. So, please bear with us while we grieve the loss of your presence in our lives. For it is only your presence that is gone, your impact on our lives will persist as long as we are all around, and I imagine beyond as you changed us all for the better and that will be inherited by people who never even met you.
Most of us cannot fully understand what obstacles you had to overcome to get to where you did. The times you were not supported, the rejections you had to face and all the doubts you must have had whether you could make it. But you persisted, and make it you did. And through it all, you still had the energy to give to all of us around you with your loving smile and your cheery demeanor. Now I think about it as I write this, I realize you had none of it planned but were just dealing with the situations as you faced them. Keeping your love of life and your love of mathematics as stable rocks in this stormy sea wasn’t a tactic to survive, it was just the way you were. This must have been what allowed you to still give so much to each of us, your community of friends and avid supporters.
It was great that you had the opportunity to bring it all together in your work on the movie Hidden Figures which you embraced with great gusto and shared with your community through the many public lectures you gave. The film presents a striking story that is an allegory for your own, but I know from talking with you about it that it was simply a lot of fun experiencing the movie world, which is so far from academic mathematics.
Th movie now stands as a pinnacle to your career so sadly cut short. But it shouldn’t overshadow your contributions through your own research. As a postdoc with me, you brought all your ideas about wave interactions into the group. This led to thinking about random effects and their influence on such interactions. You showed us how to think about this and guided us to a deeper understanding. Looking back, this is not something I would have foreseen working on, let alone figuring out, but without you we would not have done. This happened again just a few years ago when you showed me the world of PT-symmetry and the work you had done. We were just beginning to see the possibilities in this area, and this will now not happen. But I will always carry with me the memories of how you brought these ideas to me and shared so willingly.
Your legacy will, of course, most be felt through your work in CAARMS (Conference for African-American Researchers in the Mathematical Sciences) and your academic home, Morehouse College. I know that you considered other career options when you went to Morehouse. Upon deciding to take the Morehouse opportunity, you said to me: “You know I always wanted to be a professor of mathematics.” It is great that you fulfilled that dream and were able to do it in a place where you found strong support and the context to influence a generation of budding scientists.
You stood as a shining beacon as to what was possible for young African-American mathematicians. You inspired by example, by leadership and by hard work. Your educational efforts at Morehouse were paying off with students going to grad school. Beyond this are all the students you inspired who took the deep enjoyment of mathematics into their careers. Although not the same, I believe that your memory will still carry much of the power of your presence, and the people in these institutions will still be encouraged to do what you did and never give up their dreams.
Rudy, I will so miss your infectious joy, your smile, your deep-throated laugh and your care for those around you. I know I won’t be able to see those anymore, but I can still feel them and always will.