Bert Fristedt

In Memoriam

The School of Mathematics was saddened to learn of the passing of our colleague, emeritus Professor Bert Fristedt, who died in his sleep on July 18, 2020, at the age of 83.

Bert Fristedt was born on April 8, 1937 in Minneapolis.    A native Minnesotan, Bert went to Glen Lake Elementary School, and graduated from Hopkins High School in 1955.   He obtained a B.S. from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus, in 1959.  His Ph.D. thesis in mathematics, “Generalized variations, continuity, and Hausdorff measures of sample functions of stochastic processes with independent increments”, was obtained from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under the direction of Henry McKean.

Bert spent his entire academic career, 1963-2017, at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus, except for three years spent at Carleton College, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Liverpool University.  Bert worked in the area of probability theory, with emphasis on processes with independent increments, random partitions, and game theory.   His graduate probability text with L. Gray, A Modern Approach to Probability Theory, was published in 1997 and is still used. He also wrote the heavily cited book, Bandit Problems, Sequential Allocation of Experiments, with D. Berry, and the text, Filtering and Prediction: A Primer, with N. Jain and N. Krylov.

Bert was a thoughtful and successful teacher at the University of Minnesota, and was a recipient of the Morse-Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor award.  Over the span of his career, Bert taught classes in many different areas other than probability theory, including analysis, geometry, mathematical education, and combinatorics.  He was a highly regarded instructor in the UMTYMP program for talented high school students, and in the National Science Foundation Teacher Renewal Project.  Bert was director of undergraduate studies, 1988-90 and coordinator of the Actuarial Science Program, 1982-83 and 1984-86.   

Three graduate students completed their Ph.D. under Bert’s direction, Jennie Hansen, John Hoffman, and Mike Weimerskirch.  One student praises Bert’s inspiring approach to solving mathematics problems in and outside of class, portraying how mathematics is done – one felt like one was “going on a mathematical journey with him”.   According to another student, “Bert's door was always open, and he always had time.  We talked often about teaching, from kindergarten on up, and I learned a lot from Bert about various methods to approach certain topics.”

Bert’s activity in education extended to the state and national levels.  He played a major role, starting in 2001, in strengthening the K-12 state mathematics standards in Minnesota; in 2003, he served on the Minnesota Commissioner of Education’s committee to revise these standards.  Bert was a member of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel reporting to the US Secretary of Education in 2008, which focused on the quality and rigor of national standardized mathematics tests.

Bert’s long and happy marriage with Shirin (nee Wesley) ended when she preceded him in death on August 3, 2013.  He was devoted to his stepdaughter, Puja Ram, and her son, Michael O’Brian.  

On the lighter side, Bert was a source of baseball lore, a sport he followed closely.  He was also an avid bridge, skat, and poker player.  It is less well-known that Bert gave up his football scholarship at the University of Minnesota to allow more time for his academic studies.   During his bachelor days, he was a regular at Al’s Breakfast diner in Dinkytown.   

Bert’s office was in the north corridor of the second floor of Vincent Hall, where his blackboard was always available for friendly discussion of mathematics.  His presence is sorely missed by members of the corridor and by the department as a whole.