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Guido Weiss (1929-2021)

Guido Weiss, a brilliant mathematician and a man of great qualities, passed at age of 92. A former chair of the Department of Mathematics at Washington University in St. Louis and an active member of the university community was born in Trieste, Italy, where his parents, Edoardo and Vonda Weiss, both worked as psychiatrists. His life trajectory was extraordinary and saw him follow into his father’s steps. This latter was a collaborator of Sigmund Freud. He was the earliest Italian psychoanalyst, and the founder of psychoanalysis in Italy, and among his patients counted intellectuals such as Italo Svevo and Umberto Saba. “Almost all of them were friends and acquaintances of him, or at least friends’ friends and acquaintances’ acquaintances. And in their relation the roles constantly shifted from friends to amateur disciples or scholars and to patients”, the writer Giorgio Voghera remarked.
The course of Guido’s young life was altered by the rise of fascism and antisemitism in Europe that led to World War II. In 1938, he was forced to leave public school because of the racist laws. He attended a Jewish school in Rome until the end of 1939 when his father was sponsored by members of the Menninger family to emigrate to America. The family settled in Topeka, Kansas.
Edoardo worked first at the Menninger Clinic and then with Franz Alexander in Chicago. He was among the many intellectuals forced to leave Italy by the fascist regime.
Guido Weiss studied at the University of Chicago, earning his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees in mathematics. As the website of the Washington State University in St. Louis remarks, he was also an accomplished college athlete, playing for his university’s baseball, basketball and football teams, as well as playing summer baseball in the Great Lakes region minor league system.
Weiss taught at DePaul University before joining Washington University in 1961 as an associate professor. He became a full professor in 1963 and served as chair of the mathematics department from 1967-1970. In all, he spent 52 years at Washington University.
“His influence and impact affected generations of students and mathematicians”, writes Talia Ogliore. “In addition to his university committee work and service on the Faculty Council and Faculty Senate Council, he was known to give his time generously, including joining students on the Danforth Campus for Shabbat dinner at the Chabad House and sharing his personal story.
“Guido gave the mathematics department world stature with his outstanding research and his ability to make contacts with renowned mathematicians in the United States, Europe, South America and China, who then encouraged their students and postdocs to go to Washington University to continue their studies,” said Gary Jensen, professor emeritus of mathematics and statistics in Arts & Sciences.
“An accomplished athlete, Guido was appointed by Chancellor William Danforth in the early ’80s to chair a committee to recommend revision and expansion of the athletic facilities,” Jensen said. “His service within the department was unparalleled, from mentoring colleagues, graduate students, and postdocs, to creating the Freshman Seminar. It is difficult to comprehend the magnitude of Guido’s impact on Washington University”. Among the many awards obtained during a career full of satisfaction, the honorary degree conferred on him by the University of Milan in 1994.