Magazine Feature / People

Math prof used statistics to champion civil rights

The last year of George Bardwell’s life was like a dream come true, his family says, as he watched Barack Obama’s historic presidential campaign and inauguration.

“George delighted in watching President Obama chart a new course for our country, a course consistent with the core principle which guided George’s own life,” says longtime friend Kathleen Mullen.

Bardwell, a DU mathematics professor emeritus known for his dedication to civil rights, died June 22. He was 85.

Bardwell worked at the University of Denver from 1949 through his retirement in 1994.

“A commitment to making the world a fairer place underpinned almost everything he did,” says his daughter Lisa Bardwell. “He had a really powerful skill — statistics — and perspective he brought to that and used it with unrelenting fidelity.”

His statistical analysis often addressed issues of justice and fairness: the economic impact on local communities of Interstate 25 bypasses, state health care for the elderly, allocation of Colorado’s unemployment benefits, desegregation of Denver Public Schools, patterns of racial migration between Denver neighborhoods, jury selection in state and federal courts in Colorado and Arizona and sex discrimination in nurses’ pay and promotion, among others.

Mullen says Bardwell was “an unapologetic champion” of the rights of minorities and the poor who used his strong math and statistic skills to uphold those rights.

“While [he] enjoyed the challenge of the cases in which he donated his time and expertise, he was drawn to them because of the opportunity they presented to help lift up members of our community, who without such advocacy could not defend themselves,” Mullen says.

Bardwell was born in Denver on Jan. 6, 1924. Along with his brother Stanley, Bardwell spent most of his childhood at his family’s Beer Garden Restaurant in Telluride, Colo., “which provided the boys with a sense of relative comfort and stability through the Depression,” daughter Susan Bardwell says.

He earned three degrees from the University of Colorado, Boulder: a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, a master’s degree in business management and statistics, and a doctorate in mathematics.

During World War II, Bardwell was a U.S. Navy ensign working in electronics and radar. During his senior year of the Navy’s V-12 College Training Program, he met Vivian Marinoff. They married on Sept. 7, 1946.

Bardwell taught at CU and was a statistician at the U.S. Census Bureau prior to joining DU in 1949 as a research associate.

“He taught an incredible course for us, based upon his considerable experience, in statistical case studies,” says math Professor Stan Gudder, who knew Bardwell since joining DU in 1969.

But Bardwell had a reputation as a “maverick” and wasn’t respected by all of his colleagues, Gudder explains. He did not do “standard kinds of math research” and did not write papers for standard math journals.

Because of that, Bardwell went years without a promotion and garnered few raises. “When I was chairman in 1980, I looked over the salaries and noticed that his was considerably lower than his contemporaries,” Gudder says.

“To remedy the situation, I gave him a considerable raise. The next day, he came into my office and told me I was crazy. I told him he deserved the raise. He said he would take it but still thought I was crazy.”

In 1976, Bardwell was elected to the National Academy of Arbitrators, a select group of the country’s most experienced arbitrators. As a labor arbitrator for nearly 35 years, he issued more than 500 decisions and received numerous national awards. He co-authored the book Labor Management Relations in Colorado with Harry Seligson.

Bardwell was a “voracious reader” of nonfiction books and read several newspapers a day. He also was very physically active and loved to dance, ice skate, ski and play tennis.

“Up to shortly before his death, he maintained a keen sense of humor and a love of reading and debating about community and world affairs,” Susan Bardwell says.

In addition to his wife, Vivian, and daughters Susan and Lisa, Bardwell is survived by daughter Janet; sons Steve and Andy; 10 grandchildren; four great grandchildren and three siblings.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. on Aug. 8 in Craig Hall at the University of Denver.

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