John Jia-Arng Chao was born in China on July 8, 1941, the second of five sons of a general serving in the army of the Republic of China. With the communists in control of mainland China, John grew up and received all his early education in Taiwan. He received BS degree from Taiwan National Normal University in 1962 and an MA degree from National Tsing-Hwa University in 1964, both degrees with major in mathematics. After completing the military service required of all male college graduates in Taiwan with a stint in officer training, John headed for Washington University in St. Louis and advanced graduate work in mathematics. He completed Ph.D. in 1972 with a dissertation entitled "Conjugate Systems on Local Fields". This work already gives evidence of a pattern in John's work; he often applied techniques of functional analysis to solve problems in structurally related fields. His more mature work uses the concept of a local field to give geometric structure to certain mathematical objects which are familiar to probabilists especially in the area of Markov chains.
After some years as an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas in Austin, John came to Cleveland State University as associate professor of mathematics in 1979. Five years later he received promotion to the rank of full professor. During his career at Cleveland State John frequently worked with colleagues at other institutions; he held visiting positions at New Mexico State University, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Texas, and Washington University. He collaborated with Wojbor Woyczynski in organizing "The Probability Consortium of the Western Reserve", which sponsored a series of regular meetings at area universities and gave local researchers in probability and statistics a chance to hear a variety of distinguished outside workers in their field. Together with Wojbor John also organized a pair of NSF sponsored conferences and co-edited the conference volumes, which detail the lectures delivered at these meetings. John's extensive and excellent research publications deal with theoretical questions in harmonic and functional analysis. Often he also gives applications of this work to probability theory.
In addition to his active research career, Professor Chao was devoted teacher who never tired of trying to find innovative solutions to the teaching problems faced by the mathematics department. As Department Chair he encouraged the creation of the Enrichment Program in Calculus (EPIC) and worked hard to bring it into existence. This program continues to assist minority students in coping with the demands of college level mathematics courses. John's term as chairman brought computers to faculty offices. John encouraged the use of MATLAB and MAPLE as tools for instruction. The original proposal for the mathematics computer lab on the fifteenth floor of Rhodes Tower, intended for teaching both undergraduate and graduate students, was sent out during John's term. On a personal level John Chao was always generous with his time, both in discussions with faculty and in working with students. He was someone with whom teachers and students alike found communication easy and valuable.
With all the talent and skill John demonstrated as a researcher in mathematics, as a teacher, and as a colleague his service contributions highlight his career at Cleveland State. He was a consensus choice for the chairmanship of the Mathematics Department in 1987 and brought to that position as low-key management style that tended to bring out the best from all his colleagues, both in the faculty and in the administration. John's quiet style helped him to fight for his Department and faculty while maintaining the good-will and friendship of all who knew him. He could be relied upon for intelligent counsel and a thoughtful approach to the complexities of our personal and professional lives. Although the mathematics faculty expressed strong approval for his leadership, John relinquished the chairmanship after five years, probably (although we didn't know it at the time) because of already serious health problems.
When Cleveland State began actively to seek foreign students, John came forward as someone able to assist the administration in communicating with the administrations of Chinese universities. He helped to bring about collaborative relationships between Cleveland State University and various Chinese universities. As a result of these efforts Cleveland State now use exchange and study-abroad agreements with Christian Chung-Yuan University in Taiwan and Suzhou University in China to enroll students for graduate study.
John had served in the Faculty Senate since its inception and on the Faculty Senate Steering Committee during the past four years. He had received numerous awards honoring his service to the University community. He will be remembered for his warmth and kindness and for his loyalty to his friends as well as for his strength and effectiveness. Possessed of a logical mind and the motivation to analyze his surrounding, he joked about and explained away the discomfort of his last days with a mathematical model of what was happening to him. He could do this with only a few hours of life remaining.
Professor John Jia-Arng Chao passed away on December 6, 1996. He is survived by his wife Minna, who also has a Ph.D. in mathematics and is employed at NASA, his son Stephen, who graduated from Case Western Reserve University with a degree in industrial engineering, his parents, and three brothers. We miss him and we honor his memory.