Famed math professor dies at 57

By Staff Reports
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 22, 1996

James Ray Clay, UA mathematician who became internationally known for his research on "nearrings," died Tuesday after collapsing while riding his bicycle. He was 57.

Clay, a professor at the University of Arizona for 30 years, had his book, Nearrings: Geneses and Applications, published by Oxford University Press in 1992. His research with nearrings, a type of algebraic structure of which many varied examples contribute to geometry and coding theories, has been used in constructing error-correcting codes. The codes are used to transmit messages from space rockets to earth.

In Nearrings, Clay wrote, "The subject itself is extremely challenging, offering curiously beautiful results to one who is willing to look for structure where symmetry is not so abundant."

Clay published two other books and more than 50 research articles in professional journals.

Clay was born Nov. 5, 1938, in Burley, Idaho. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1956-1959.

In 1960, he earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Utah. By 1966, he earned both a master's degree and doctorate in math from the University of Washington.

In 1966, Clay was working full time as a mathematician for the Central Intelligence Agency in Washington, D.C. when he accepted a faculty position at the UA. He was associate head of the Math Department from 1969 to 1972, when he became the youngest-ever recipient of the Humboldt Foundations' Distinguished Senior U.S. Scientist Award.

He was promoted to professor in 1974 and held that position for the last 22 years. He also worked as a visiting professor at universities in Germany, England, Scotland, Taiwan and other countries, focusing on the nearring theory.

Clay is survived by his wife, Carol, and daughters Thea Patricia Thompson of Tucson; Christine Marie Kenney of Gilbert; Terri Susan Fox of Elizabethtown, Pa.; and 10 grandchildren. The funeral was held Friday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 3700 E. Fort Lowell Road, followed by burial at the church's Binghampton Cemetery.