Frederick W. Cummings

Nov. 21, 1931 - Jan. 31, 2019

1,2,3 with a 1,1,1 now 0,3,1 with a 1,1,9. “How to make an entire career out of diagonalization of a 2×2 matrix”

Frederick Williams Cummings died, at 87 years old, on Thursday January 31, 2019, in Marin County, CA. Surviving him are his wife, Kathleen J. Cummings, his daughter, Anne M. Cummings, his son-in-law Chanler M. Sparler, and three beloved grandchildren: Joshua C. Sparler of UC Berkeley, Madsen M. Sparler and Kaela M. Sparler, also of Marin.

He has one surviving sibling, Dorothy Burguieres, of Baton Rouge, LA and he is preceded in death by his brother, Alfred Cummings (whose daughters are Linda and Rebecca), and his sister, Kathleen “Kay” Endom Redmann (whose sons are John and Fred). Frederick’s aunt, Mildred M. Williams Becnel, also preceded him. He outlived his loving friend, Lynn Winter Duggan with whom he lived in San Anselmo, CA, for 18 years. Frederick was born in Hotel Dieu, New Orleans, 11/21/1931 to Dorothy Stith Williams Cummings and Alfred J. Cummings, and died peacefully, surrounded by friends and family, including his long-time close friend Victoria Nerenberg and her family, Mary Owen, and many others, on 1/31/19. Frederick died from complications of a fall which left him quadriplegic 6/2018. Frederick’s father, Alfred J. Cummings, was an Irish immigrant from Long Green Valley, Baltimore, and worked for WWL Radio Station in New Orleans. His mother, known as “Monks,” grew up on Bellechase rice plantation on the Mississippi, and the Williams/Stith family was from Memphis, Tennessee. His aunt Mildred, known as “Moonie,” was the bookkeeper for the Krewe of Rex for Mardi Gras. Frederick had a disappointing early education at Holy Name Elementary and Jesuit High in New Orleans, where his transcript was stamped “not appropriate for college-level work.” He was raised by his mother and father and Ernestine. Ernestine later left to work in the shipyards of Oakland, and she, along with others, woke him to the injustice of the Jim Crow South. He also served two years on the front line in Korea with the U.S. Army, where he first read Einstein’s Relativity from the Catholic Church’s banned book list. Upon his return, he attended LSU (1955). There he met Joe Levinger, who inspired him to pursue physics. He ex- celled in chess, track and field, and painting street scenes in the French Quarter. But his greatest talent was asking “why?”.

Frederick was restless in his pursuit of hows and whys of the world around him, and was often unsatisfied with the answers he was given. He had seen the Bay Area while shipping out to Korea and sworn to himself that he would someday live by the Bay. So, he jumped at the chance to attend Stanford University in Palo Alto where he worked with Joe Eberly and Carlos Stroud. There he received his Ph.D. in 1960. He was part of the physics department during Stanford’s exciting early years and worked at Ford’s Aeronutronic in Newport Beach until he took a faculty position with UC Riverside (1963-1993). He taught both undergraduate and graduate students and has many graduate students around the world. He was active with the Aspen Center for Physics from its inception and for many summers, where he worked closely with Peter Kaus, Syd Meshkoff, Mike Simmons, Murray Gell-Mann, Lenny Susskind, A.K. Rajagopal and others. Frederick is best known for the Jaynes-Cummings Model (1960 thesis and paper in IEEE 1963), a theoretical model in quantum optics that describes the fundamental action of a two-level atom with a quantized mode of an optical cavity. This model later led Serge Haroche to a Nobel Prize in lasers in 2012. UC Riverside is also where Frederick met his fabulous and adventurous wife, Kathleen Joyce Sturgis of Riverside, CA. With her, he has shared love, travel, and many laughs. His course, “Physics for Non-Physicists” was improved upon by Jose Wudka and is now a textbook titled “Space-Time, Relativity, and Cosmology.” It was on a sabbatical in England in 1976 where he met Brian Goodwin at a party. Goodwin appreciated the eccentric unicorn shirt in which Kathleen had dressed Frederick. Goodwin, Gerry Webster, Maynard Smith and others then began a 30-year collaboration in the new field of theoretical biology, investigating developmental biology. This union produced many papers about growth and morphogenesis, including a unifying theory of early cell development based on adhesion molecules in plants and animals. Frederick was working on a paper when he fell in 2018, which is still incomplete. Fred was also an avid advocate for peace and justice. He was a foot soldier for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC or “SNIK”), building a community center in Jackson, MS, in the summer of 1964. There he met Rosa Parks, John Lewis, Bob Moses, Edie Black and others as documented in the Mississippi Notebook. Frederick even fetched a Coke for Fannie Lou Hamer. While working at UC Riverside, he lived in Laguna Beach. He later moved to Berkeley, CA, where he continued his work for the environment and joined Save the Children. Frederick eventually ended up in Marin County, where he hiked the trails of Madrone Canyon, Samuel P. Taylor Park, and Phoenix Lake.

In lieu of flowers, please donate to your state park.