Leo James Alex died peacefully at home on Oct. 28, 2021, following a long illness. He was 78.
Leo was born on Dec. 3, 1942, in Rochester, Minn., the son of James and Gladys (Torkelson) Alex. His father was a proud Greek-American immigrant who believed in the American dream. James came to the United States in the 1920s and his last name, Alexakis, was shortened to Alex when he arrived.
Leo graduated cum laude from the University of Minnesota in 1964 with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics. He completed a Ph.D. in Mathematics with a minor in Statistics at the University of Minnesota in 1970.
He moved to Oneonta, NY, in 1970 for a position as Assistant Professor of Mathematics at SUNY Oneonta, and never left. His career in the SUNY Oneonta Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics spanned 43 years. During that time, Leo spent one year as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia and earned the ranks of Associate Professor and Professor at SUNY Oneonta. He was elected department chair in 1988, a position he held until 2012.
Leo made many important contributions to the college’s mathematics curriculum, including creating several courses: Introduction to Finite Mathematics; Discrete Mathematical Structures; Modern Algebra and Theory of Equations I and II; Linear Algebra and Matrix Theory II; and Modern Applied Algebra; as well as writing the algebra requirements for the mathematics major.
A respected scholar in his field, Leo won several research grants and published numerous papers, article reviews and problem proposals in mathematical journals, as well as presenting at professional conferences across the country. His primary research interests were in the areas of group theory, number theory and Diophantine equations. He was a member of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) up until his passing and served as the SUNY Oneonta MAA Liaison from 1983 to 2012.
Leo was a dedicated teacher and a fierce advocate for the department, its faculty and its students. He was the faculty advisor for the Sanford Society, the department’s student math club. When he retired in 2013, he created a scholarship, in memory of his parents, to support outstanding SUNY Oneonta mathematics majors each year. He was a strong advocate for empowering women to succeed in the traditionally male-dominated field of mathematics, ahead of the times in his commitment to hiring strong female faculty for the department. He was a skilled teacher and strong mentor for many, many female math students – starting with his three daughters and four granddaughters.
Everyone who knew Leo knew he had a favorite number, loved the color purple, and always had time for a board game – or, preferably, two or three. He was a passionate believer in the power of education and was proud of his work not just to teach mathematics, but to train future math teachers.
He is survived by his three daughters, Melissa (Lisa) Maria Miller, Elizabeth Ellen Alex and Katherine Demetra Alex; two sons-in-law, Stephen Miller and Earl Millett; five grandchildren, Abigail Rebecca Miller, Allison Elizabeth Miller, Thalia Alexandra Millett, George Demetri Alex and Phoebe Ellen Alex; his brother-in-law, George Malaktaris; nephew, Tony Malaktaris; and nieces, Maria Carpenter, Jami Thom and Rita Golden.
He was predeceased by his parents, James and Gladys Alex, and his sister, Georgia Malaktaris.
A Greek Orthodox funeral service will be held at 11:30 a.m. Monday, Nov. 8, at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Assumption, 4752 NY 23 in Windham, NY 12496. The burial will follow at Oneonta Plains Cemetery.
The SUNY Oneonta Department of Mathematics, Computer Science and Statistics will also be holding an informal celebration of Leo’s life at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, contributions in Leo’s memory may be made to the James L. and Gladys T. Alex Mathematics Scholarship Award. Checks made payable to the College at Oneonta Foundation, with “in memory of Dr. Leo Alex” on the memo line may be sent to the Division of College Advancement, 108 Ravine Pkwy, 308 Netzer Administration Building, SUNY Oneonta, Oneonta, NY 13820. Gifts can also be made online at https://oneontaalumni.com/tribute or over the phone by calling (607) 436-2535.
Arrangements are by Oneonta’s only family owned funeral home, Lewis, Hurley & Pietrobono at 51 Diet Street. Online condolences may be sent to, www.lhpfuneralhome.com