I live near a used book store in the Mission, Dog-Eared Books. In the window, they have little hand-drawn obituaries for various people, mostly famous writers and revolutionaries. I really like them and usually read one or two when I walk by.

A couple of weeks ago, I stopped to read one and realized that it was not about a famous writer or a revolutionary. It was for one of my college math professors, Dr. Curtis Barefoot.

Dr. Barefoot taught me how to prove theorems; I remember in particular that proof by induction was kicking my ass until he sat down and explained to me that I could only change one side of the equation at a time. I remember spending a great summer competing with a friend to get the highest grade in his combinatorics class (I won by .01 percent).

San Francisco is full of coincidences and chance meetings, but so far this is the least explicable.

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17 thoughts on “Coincidences

  1. Rock

    Where is this posted? I’m a tech student who can thank/blame Dr. Barefoot for the fact that I got a Math degree and much of what I learned from the department. If I can manage for the last day an a half I’m in town I’d like to stop by the shop, I may have to take a couple of pictures myself and ask the people there who is responsible for the posting. I’m unfortunately kinda sad that they never even posted the job after he died, the new students just don’t have what the older ones did. No one could replace that man, but at least someone with a doctorate could be teaching the classes.

  2. Re: Rock

    I don’t know the city well enough to know which of the dog-eared books this is likely to be, and since I’m here for cancer treatment I don’t really have the energy to look at all of them to try and find it.

  3. I miss Dr Barefoot

    I never took a class with Dr Barefoot… and I regret it. He was usually teaching the course I had just taken or the next one I needed to take after the one I was in. I sat in a couple of his classes, and remember thinking I wish I could understand math 1/10th as well as he did.

  4. Re: Rock

    It’s at the corner of Valencia and 20th.

    Good luck with your treatment! My friend D is in his 18th month of remission, so I have some inkling of how you must feel.

  5. wow, that’s cool

    I worked as the IT guy in the math department while Dr. Barefoot was the chair and remember him as a very friendly, kind man. His combinatorics course was the first math class at tech that I actually enjoyed attending, and where I really felt like I understood the material (induction proofs excepted). But I also didn’t mind the day he missed class due to daylight savings time and we got to leave early :)

    I also remember spending hours in MS Paint creating images for his course pages – how I wish I’d know about graphviz back then!

  6. I took CS 122 from him the last semester he was alive. Sadly we did not see him much, but when he did come in I enjoyed his lectures.

  7. This is such an awesome find, thank you for sharing it with us!

    Dr. B was my math adviser while I was at Tech, and I’ve always regretted not speaking to him more often, as whenever I did I was always taken aback by his wonderful personality.

    I never even knew he’d been battling cancer until he died. Whoever wrote this obit for him did a wonderful thing.

  8. Class of 97

    I studied under Dr. Barefoot in the mid 90’s. He so rightly deserves this and I offer a million thanks for sharing.

  9. That made me cry…Two of my closest friends are fighting losing battles with cancer right now, and I forgot Curtis fought a long battle with lymphoma. He was my favorite math prof (tied with Dr. Kerr) and taught me many of my math classes I needed to get my math degree. He was always so happy….I’ll never forget seeing him walk down the hall, bright white smile radiating from his midnight black face….Calculus, Combinatorics, 352….I loved his 352 class….my most favorite class at Tech…..

  10. I poured some out for Dr. Barefoot

    I poured some of my beer for him when I saw this. Dr. Barefoot was one of my favorite professors at Tech, and I took many classes from him and spoke with him often. I took one of his last classes (Abstract Algebra) in 2002 before he completely pulled out of teaching due to his lymphoma. He was always calm, even when I was frustrated. He could explain problems in ways that actually allowed me to understand. I miss you Dr. Barefoot. I hope that when I eventually teach my students I can be as graceful and as helpful as you were to me and my fellow students.


  11. What a great pair of postings on Dr. Barefoot. He sounded like one of those really influential teachers in life that come along all too rarely. I remember just a few such teachers in my life and I wish that I had kept up with them over the years.

  12. I was startled when I found out Dr. Barefoot had died from lymphoma. I cried for the loss of future students, and I am grateful that I got to take at least one class with him (Basic Combinatorics). He made some of the trickiest math look easy and he always had a warm smile.

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