Heath and Vaughn Funeral Home - Champaign Il

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Thomas Andrew Nevins

Thomas Andrew Nevins died Saturday, February 1, peacefully and at home in Urbana, Illinois, as a result of a glioblastoma. He was 48.

He is survived by his wife, Stephanie; his sons, Nathaniel and Theodore; his nevinsparents, Craig (Susie) and Joanne (nee Hafran) Nevins; his brother, Charles (Therese); Stephanie's parents, Steve and Judith Overmyer, and her siblings Chris (Laura), Andrew (Kimberley), and Sheryl; four nieces and a nephew; and many dear friends and colleagues across the globe.

Tom was born on June 14, 1971 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and educated at Marquette University High School (1989), the University of Notre Dame (BA, philosophy and mathematics, 1993), and the University of Chicago (PhD, mathematics, 2000). After a postdoc at the University of Michigan, he joined the Department of Mathematics at the University of Illinois in 2004.

Tom was a leading mathematical talent whose innovative research focused on the interface between algebra, geometry, and physics. His research is characterized by a unifying geometric viewpoint and especially a strong emphasis on the application of different kinds of symmetry. Some of his early work was the subject of a workshop at the University of Michigan. His recent work, which resolved a celebrated conjecture, helped pioneer the field of symplectic representation theory, which merges the physics of supersymmetric quantum systems with problems in abstract algebra through geometry. His body of research led to his recognition as a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society and as a Simons Foundation Fellow.

Tom generously shared his enthusiasm and insights through casual conversations, collaborations, and inspiring research seminars. He gave lectures and lecture series across the US, Canada, and the UK and in Mexico, France, Germany, Korea, China, Japan, and Hong Kong, and he enjoyed term-long visits to All Souls College (University of Oxford, UK) and the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (University of California, Berkeley). Tom was a dedicated graduate advisor and postdoc sponsor who informally mentored many junior colleagues as well. He was an exceptional instructor and won high-level undergraduate teaching awards.

Tom sought mathematical excellence in his own work and for the department, to which he offered unwavering service. He was sorry to not see to completion the renovation of Altgeld Hall and building of a new Illini Hall on campus, a project he helped lead from its inception. He was appreciated as an open, friendly presence among mathematicians, and we hear that many sought his advice.

Tom was always that same kind of guy at home. Friends at first, he and Stephanie fell for each other during their freshman year of college, 30 years ago; they were married in 1996. Tom was an awesome father to Nathaniel and Theodore, with whom he deeply enjoyed roughhousing and joshing around as well as running, bouldering, ice skating, and swimming; playing tennis, baseball, and monkey in the middle; riding cyclocross; and working on model trains. Tom spent lots of time both with and on his boys, actively promoting their hobbies and interests.

The family loved to travel together, especially by train and sometimes extensively (in conjunction with Tom's sabbaticals). Their all-time favorite overseas destination was the UK, but they wanted to return to Germany and were curious about Japan. Domestically, they looked forward to riding the Southwest Chief from Chicago to Los Angeles. Their most anticipated week each summer was the one they spent in South Haven, Michigan, where they enjoyed time on the beach no matter what the weather (even hoping for storms to create dramatic waves).

Music was another of Tom’s passions. He had eclectic taste stretching from polyphonic medieval vocal music, late Beethoven quartets, and opera to jazz, indie and alternative pop, and even some rap. Highbrow, lowbrow, obscure, popular: he just followed his taste. He made sure his boys learned the best (and most age appropriate) of The Beatles, The Clash, Daft Punk, Chic, Beck, The Police, and Neil Young, among others. His diagnosis unfortunately interrupted the recording of the second EP of original material by their guys band, TNT, which featured Tom on vocals and guitar, Nathaniel on drums, and Theodore on bass. In college Tom was the disc jockey for jazz and alternative rock shows for the radio station WVFI; more recently he mixed sound for the bands leading worship at TCBC. Thank heavens he never sold or even culled his CD collection.

Many Saturdays found Tom working on their old house in West Urbana using skills—including electrical work, basic plumbing and carpentry, painting, laying tile, and groutwork and caulking—he learned from his father-in-law, Steve Overmyer. As in his math, he was attentive to detail on these projects. Tom also took pleasure in doing all his own yard work.

Other beloved pastimes included running (especially), watching movies and British murder mysteries with Steph, and the outdoors. Tom also enjoyed food, from the simple to the sophisticated, and liked to cook or grill dinner for the family. He truly admired a well-drawn shot of espresso.

We keenly miss Tom’s ready sense of humor, which ranged from the wry to the whimsical. There was a great deal of levity in the Nevins household, much of it instigated by him; those who knew him in larger group settings, where he could be reserved, might have been surprised at his willingness to ham it up. He made any task more fun and never lost his cool.

Tom was modest, patient, good natured, and thoroughly decent but also hard working, curious, keen eyed, and full of ideas. He had a bright mind and a kind heart. He was an oasis of calm; if quiet, his faith was nonetheless steady. Tom leaves behind a treasure trove of happy memories.

Memorials may be made to a charity of your choice or to the Urbana Park District Foundation (303 W. University Ave, Urbana IL 61801), the Urbana Free Library Foundation (210 W. Green St, Urbana IL 61801), or the Malnati Brain Tumor Institute at Northwestern Memorial Foundation (541 N. Fairbanks Ct, Suite 800, Chicago IL 60611).

A memorial is intended for this spring, possibly with an optional walk/run.