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Celebration of Life of AGIFORS Fellow Ellis Johnson

13 March 2024 13:18 | Bazyli Szymanski (Administrator)

We regret to inform that AGIFORS Fellow, Professor Ellis Johnson has passed on February 20, 2024. A Celebration of Life will be held Saturday, March 23, 2024, at 10:00 a.m. in the Sugar Creek Chapel at Hundred Acre Farm, followed by a reception in the Red Barn.

With the permission of Mixed Integer Programming Society at mixedinteger.org, we are reposting the obituary:

Ellis L. Johnson, renowned professor and mathematician, died on February 20, 2024, at his home near Madison, Georgia. He was a distinguished figure in the fields of operations research, mathematical programming, and industrial engineering. He made significant contributions throughout his career, leaving a lasting impact on the academic community and the airline industry.

Born on July 26, 1938 to Glenn Irvin and Edna Volberg Johnson, he grew up on a farm outside Athens, Georgia. He graduated from Georgia Tech with a B.S. degree in Applied Mathematics in 1960. He obtained a Ph.D. in Operations Research in 1965 from the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied under George Dantzig, one of the founding fathers of Operations Research. He began his professional career teaching at Yale University for three years, then joined the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, where he worked for 26 years. In 1982, he founded the Optimization Center and served as its manager until 1990, when he was named an IBM Corporate Fellow, the highest honor a scientist, engineer, or programmer at IBM can achieve. From that year until 1995 he taught and conducted research at Georgia Tech, while also serving as an IBM Fellow. In 1995 he retired from IBM and became the Coca-Cola Chaired Professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) at Ga. Tech. With Professor George Nemhauser he co-established and co- directed the university’s Logistics Engineering Center, which would form what is now the Supply Chain and Logistics Institute. He was also instrumental in the creation and early development of the elite Algorithms, Combinatorics and Optimization PhD program.

Throughout his career, he held visiting and part-time positions at several universities. These included the National University of Singapore; State University of New York, Stony Brook; University of Pisa; New York University; Columbia University; IBM Paris Scientific Center; University of Florida; University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. During his professional life, he received many honors. In 1980-1981, he was at the University of Bonn, Germany, as recipient of the Alexander Von Humboldt Senior Scientist Award. In 1983 a paper he wrote with Mandred Padberg and Harlan Crowder on solving large-scale zero-one linear programming was published in the journal Operations Research and won the Frederick W. Lanchester Prize. In 1985, he received the George B. Dantzig Award for his research in mathematical programming. The Dantzig Prize is awarded every three years for original research which by its originality, breadth, and depth has a major impact on the field of mathematical optimization. It is awarded jointly by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and the Mathematical Optimization Society (MOS). In 1988 he was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering for his “fundamental contributions to discrete optimization and software design, and its practical applications to distribution and manufacturing systems.” In 2000 he was co- recipient of the John von Neumann Theory Prize in recognition of his fundamental contributions to integer programming and combinatorial optimization. In 2002 he received the Daniel H. Wagner Prize for Excellence in Operations Research Practice, and was named a fellow of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS). Also in 2002, his work with Delta Airlines on qualification training for airplane pilots earned him a finalist position for that year’s Daniel H. Wagner Prize, awarded annually for quality and coherence of analysis used in practice. In 2009 he was named a Fellow in the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematicians (SIAM). He was also a fellow of the Airline Group of the International Federation of Operations Research Societies.

Dr. Johnson’s contributions to the airline industry were particularly noteworthy. His research in crew scheduling, fleet assignment and routing, disruption management, and integrated planning and operations made him the leading academic researcher in the world on these airline problems. His work in this field has had a profound impact on the efficiency and optimization of airline operations.

Beyond his academic achievements, Johnson was known for his passion for teaching and mentoring. He was highly regarded for his intellect, patience, and ability to lead by example. His dedication to his students and colleagues left a lasting impression on those who had the privilege of working with him.

After he retired from Georgia Tech in June 2012, he dedicated himself to his 100-acre farm in Madison, Georgia, known as the Hundred Acre Farm in memory of where he and his siblings grew up. He established The Farmhouse Inn at Hundred Acre Farm, the bed and breakfast he established on the property, has become one of the top ten bird-watching B&Bs in the country.

Ellis Johnson’s passing is a great loss to the academic community and the fields of operations research and industrial engineering. His contributions will continue to shape the way we approach optimization and mathematical programming. He will be remembered for his groundbreaking research, his dedication to teaching, and his commitment to preserving Georgia's natural beauty. He leaves behind a lasting impact on the land, his family, and on the world of academia, and the airline industry. He is survived by his wife Crystal Du Johnson; two brothers, Fred and Allen Johnson, also graduates of Georgia Tech; his sister, Janet Tanksley; two sons, Michael and Fred Johnson; a daughter, Catherine Robison; and four grandchildren.

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