Official Obituary of

Wendell H. Fleming

March 7, 1928 ~ February 18, 2023 (age 94) 94 Years Old

Wendell Fleming Obituary

Wendell Helms Fleming


Wendell Fleming passed away on February 18th at home in Bristol, RI in the loving presence of

family and cherished friends. He was born March 7, 1928 in Guthrie, Oklahoma, always at heart

a Midwest boy, an only child of farmer-teacher parents with deep roots in rural Indiana. Wendell

spent most of his childhood in southern Indiana, surely with little notion of his potential, though

he told of a high school teacher who gave him advanced mathematical problems to solve, with a

glimpse of his ability. As a freshman at Purdue University, two events transformed his life with

love and purpose. He escorted Flo Tatum to a mixer at his cooperative house, where they talked

for hours and began a partnership that lasted 69 years, with a rich and meaningful domestic life.

They married on April 4th, 1948, he with permission from his parents when he was 20 years old.

Wendell also switched majors from engineering, the automatic route for someone good at math,

to study of the math itself. His inquisitiveness, natural talent, and keen analytical mind opened

doors that led to a career beyond anything he had imagined or aspired to.


Mathematics took them first to the University of Wisconsin for a Ph.D., then to the Rand

Corporation in Santa Monica, California, before returning to the faculty at Purdue. The

opportunity of a lifetime dropped in his lap when he was invited in 1958 by Herbert Federer to

join the faculty at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. The two were pioneers in

geometric measure theory, and in 1987 they were awarded the Steele Prize for the lasting impact

of a joint paper published in 1960. Wendell then spent the main part of his academic life as a

professor in the Department of Mathematics and the Division of Applied Mathematics, until his

retirement in 1995. They settled in the East Bay, a community he called home for 63 years.

Together with Flo, sons Randy, Dan, and Bill were the light of Wendell’s life and, just as he

provided them nurturing and guidance, they provided him with constant love, caring, and

stimulation. His sons’ marriages to Fumiyo, Nancy, and Ellen widened his circle of love to

include the “daughters” he never had. He took joy and comfort at watching his six grandchildren

grow and launch lives of their own.


Wendell enjoyed venturing from the comforts of home to destinations far and wide, including

Europe, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, and Japan. He was fluent in the

universal language of mathematics, but was sufficiently comfortable with Italian, French, and

Spanish to present in his colleagues’ native languages when overseas, albeit with a southern

Indiana accent. Having spent his early years in the understated landscape of the American

Midwest, Wendell delighted in dramatic mountains and sought them out with family, friends, and

colleagues. Although he travelled far and wide, he retained the seasonal patterns of Midwest

farming, and he and Flo delighted in planting, tending, and harvesting flowers, shrubs, and

vegetables well into their 80s and 90s.


Although he loved companionship, travel for mathematics, and mountain adventures, his favorite

spot for quiet solitude was Skyward, in the glowing and sometimes misty fields, heather, and

spruce, above the lull of crashing waves on the rocky coast of Down East Maine. Here, he

settled into Flo’s company, picking cranberries and blueberries and rambling with a dog or

grandchild. Generously, they invited family into this Eden, with annual visits that marked some

of their most important events, such as his granddaughter’s first steps and recent marriage, and

releasing his beloved Flo’s ashes to the waves.


As a mathematician, he took part in groundbreaking innovations across more than one domain.

His induction into the National Academy of Sciences in 2012, which only a specialist will

understand, cites four different research directions. Later in his career, Wendell received a series

of prizes that recognized the importance of key parts of his life’s work in different disciplines:

the Steele Prize (1987) from the American Mathematical Society; the Reid Prize (1994) from the

Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics; and the Isaacs Award (2006) from the

International Society for Dynamic Games. His doctoral students were a legacy as substantial as

his own research. For all the diversity of topics, backgrounds, and styles, he worked intensely

with them, often invited them home, and maintained his support for them through their careers.

Wendell respected his students and cared for them, a care and respect that they have returned

even long after his retirement.


Wendell’s love and wit were measured and dry but profoundly felt by those who knew him. In

his later years, he refocused on family. As Flo struggled with obstacles to her health in the years

before her passing in 2014, Wendell cleared away all distractions and devoted himself to her

care, even as cook, when she could no longer stand long enough in the kitchen. The loss of her

was certainly the greatest blow he ever suffered, after 66 years of marriage and 69 as a couple,

since he was just 17. Without Flo, he deepened his bonds with his sons, daughters in law, and

grandchildren and, when he lost his independence, welcomed with warmth the nurturing,

affection, and loyalty of remarkable caregivers. After a lifetime of generosity and commitment,

and in the presence of family, friends, and caregivers, Wendell ultimately joined his dearest love,

Flo, in eternity.


A memorial service to celebrate Wendell’s life is being planned for Saturday, April 1st, 2023 at 1

PM at Manning Chapel on Brown University Green, near the corner of Waterman and Prospect

Streets. A reception will follow at 2:30 at Flatbread Company at 161 Cushing Street, off of

Thayer Street, near campus. Parking is on the street near both venues. In lieu of flowers,

donations in his name are welcomed to Hope Health Hospice of Rhode Island

(, Partners in Health

(, and the Downeast Coastal Conservancy of Maine


Friends and family have shared their relationship to show their support.
How do you know Wendell H. Fleming?
We are sorry for your loss.
Help others honor Wendell's memory.


Memorial Service
April 1, 2023

1:00 PM
Manning Chapel of Brown University
21 Prospect Street
Providence, RI 02912

April 1, 2023

2:30 PM
Flatbread Company
161 Cushing Street
Providence, RI 02906


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