William Austin Veech August 31, 2016

William Austin Veech Obituary

Professor William Austin Veech from Rice University passed away unexpectedly on Tuesday, August 30, 2016, at age 77 in Houston, Texas.

Professor Veech was born on Christmas Eve in 1938 in Detroit, Michigan, and obtained his BA from Dartmouth College in 1960 and earned his Ph.D. in 1963 under the supervision of Salomon Bochner at Princeton University. He joined the faculty of Rice University in 1969. He served as department chair for three years between 1982 and 1986 and held an endowed chair since 1988, Milton Brockett Porter Chair, 1988-2003; Edgar Odell Lovett Chair, since 2003.

Professor Veech believed in the importance of developing one's own unique perspective: all of his more than 60 papers were single-authored, and with a characteristic blend of dynamics, geometry and deep analytic technique, they often transformed whole subjects. One of his more influential results was the construction of what are now called "Veech surfaces", which are simple polygonal billiard tables whose dynamical properties induce subsets of the heavily-studied Riemann space of curves with astonishing properties. The study of such surfaces has become one of the most active topics in mathematics today. A decade before that discovery, he had solved the Keane conjecture, which (roughly) stated that most interval exchange maps induce orbits which become uniformly distributed in the domain of interest.

His zippered rectangle construction for interval exchange transformations and Rauzy-Veech induction were used by many people. In particular, Veech used these methods for the proof that almost every interval exchange transformation is uniquely ergodic. It was truly a cornerstone of study in the case of translation surfaces and the Teichmuller geodesic flows. Veech surfaces and their associated dichotomy remain a deep and interesting subject in topological dynamics. Most recently, Veech made many contributions related to Sarnak's conjecture concerning Mobius orthogonality.

Professor Veech was an Inaugural Fellow of the American Mathematics Society. He worked at the Institute for Advanced Study during his numerous visits there during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. His publications spanned more than 50 years.

He was an excellent and generous mentor and a great friend to his students, colleagues and anyone else who had the honor of meeting him. He will be fondly remembered by all people who knew him.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Kathryn L. "Kay" Veech; and two daughters, Kathryn Muriel Veech and Maude Elizabeth Veech; two sisters-in-law, Dr. Cathy Lovett, and her husband, Dr. Jim Allen; Dr. Karen Lovett, and her husband, Larry Anderson; two nieces, Lindsay Erin Herrington and Ellen Kathleen Herrington; and two cousins, Nancy (Kendall) Knutstrom and John V. Norwood.

He was predeceased by his mother, Muriel Thayer Veech; and father, Max Lincoln Veech.

The graveside funeral service and burial will be held on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. in the family plot in Lakeside Cemetery in Metter, Ga., with the Rev. Joan Killian officiating.