Tom Coleman, dean of Mathematics from 2005 to 2010, and professor of Combinatorics & Optimization from 2005 to the present, passed away on April 20, 2021, after a battle with cancer. He was at home and surrounded by his family, including his loving wife Yuying Li, professor in the Cheriton School of Computer Science.

Tom Coleman had a very prolific research career, spanning the fields of development of computational methods and tools for compute-intensive and challenging problems with emphasis on applications and computing methodologies such as automatic differentiation and cluster computing technologies. His most well-known work was based on fundamental design and analysis of algorithms for trust-region methods in optimization. These trust-region algorithms have been implemented in the Matlab "fmincon" function, which is used by thousands of Matlab programmers every day. Tom was also the principal developer of the Matlab ADMAT automatic differentiation toolbox.   
Tom was the driving force behind setting up an outpost of the Cornell Theory Centre, CTC-Manhattan, just around the corner from the NYSE. Tom, accompanied by Waterloo President David Johnston, then-chancellor Mike Lazaridis, and former chair of Waterloo's Board of Governors Bob Harding, rang the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange on November 18, 2005. 

In recognition of his many research accomplishments, Tom was recognized as a SIAM Fellow in 2016.  

Coleman was the author of three books on computational mathematics and published over eighty journal articles in the areas of optimization, automatic differentiation, parallel computing, computational finance, and optimization applications.   

Pioneer in research and passionate for teaching 

Mark Giesbrecht, Waterloo Mathematics’ current dean, said Coleman was a pioneer in many aspects of optimization and scientific computing including combinatorial scientific computing, parallel optimization, automatic differentiation, and portfolio optimization. 

“He had a passion for teaching in mathematical finance, and for building his institute to further the reach of his ideas and research group. Tom joined the Faculty of Mathematics with a vision to expand beyond the boundaries of the Waterloo campus. As Dean, Tom collaborated closely with senior leadership to advance the University’s globalization strategy. Tom was an enthusiastic supporter of international outreach of the CEMC,” said Giesbrecht. 

Tom Coleman at the 40th anniversary of the Faculty of Mathematics

Current and previous deans of Math at the UW Faculty of Math’s 40th Anniversary  From left to right: P.J. Schellenberg M. Thompson, J.D. Kalbfleisch, D. Sprott, A. George, J.G. Kalbfleisch, T. Coleman


Never short of new ideas and initiatives 

Tom Coleman> Tom Coleman
> Professor, Combinatorics & Optimization
> Former Dean of Mathematics

Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Waterloo, said he was saddened to hear of Tom’s passing. 

“Tom was never short of new ideas and initiatives every time we met. One of his main interests at Waterloo was ensuring connections to centers of research around the world. He travelled constantly to keep this 'dream' alive. We are grateful for his many contributions to the university and his field. He will be greatly missed by his students, former and present, and friends,” said Hamdullahpur.


Dedicated academic career 

Thomas Coleman was born in Montreal, QC in 1950. He earned his PhD from the University of Waterloo in 1979.  

After a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, Tom was a professor of Computer Science at Cornell University from 1981 to 2005. He returned to Waterloo in 2005, holding the position of Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics from 2005 to 2010.   

Tom Coleman at the New York Stock ExchangeProfessor Tom Coleman (third from right) during his tenure as Dean of Mathematics with members of a University of Waterloo delegation ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange in 2005.


Tom was instrumental in securing government funding to build Mathematics 3. He worked with the Faculty of Engineering to build a case for infrastructure funds. The building was completed in record time and was one of few building projects to come in under budget. 

As well, Tom had a significant impact in establishing the Global Risk Institute for Financial Services (GRI) in Toronto in 2011. GRI was set up at the urging of Mark Carney (former Governor of the Bank of Canada) after the financial crisis of 2008. Tom was appointed the first Chief Research Officer of GRI in 2015.   

More recently, Professor Coleman held the Ophelia Lazaridis University Research Chair in the Department of Combinatorics and Optimization, as well as being the director of the Waterloo Research Institute in Insurance, Securities and Quantitative Finance (WATRISQ). 

Tom's research was involved with efficient calculations of sparse Jacobians. This was an area of research he had for many years. In particular he, along with his student, Alex Pothen, made many important contributions on efficient calculation of important objects for optimization, such as the Jacobian, Hessian, and nullspace. This work is highlighted by providing theory, applications, as well as providing software for users. Tom then moved onto research in financial math.  

A private family funeral service was held at the funeral home on Monday, April 26 at 10 a.m. Family and friends are invited to view the livestream and recording of the funeral service at, at the top of Tom’s obituary pageRead the CaringBridge journal entry for Tom.  

Condolences for the family and donations to Grand River Hospital Foundation - Cancer Centre may be arranged by contacting the funeral home at or 519-745-8445.