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In passing

Sun., Dec. 5, 2004

Verona Johnston, 114, oldest person in U.S.

Worthington, Ohio Verona Johnston, America’s oldest person, died Wednesday, her daughter said. She was 114.

She was born Aug. 6, 1890, in Indianola, Iowa. She was the eighth of nine children born to Civil War veteran Joseph Calhoun and Emma Speer Calhoun.

Johnston voted in every election since women earned the right in 1920, even casting an absentee ballot in November.

Relatives said Johnston lived a wholesome life, rarely visited doctors and never used the deductible on her health insurance policy. The secretary at her doctor’s office said Johnston had the thinnest file on record.

Johnston attended Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where she studied Latin and graduated in 1912. At the time, tuition was $54 per year.

Shiing-shen Chern, 93, noted mathematician

Shanghai, China Shiing-shen Chern, a Chinese-American mathematician famous for his breakthroughs in differential geometry, died Friday in the northeastern Chinese city of Tianjin, the Xinhua News Agency reported. He was 93.

After studying at Beijing’s Tsinghua University and the University of Hamburg, as well as in Paris, Chern taught during World War II both in China and at Princeton University in the United States.

After civil war broke out between the Communists and Nationalists, Chern moved abroad again, first back to Princeton and then to the University of Chicago, later becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. In 1960, he moved to the University of California at Berkeley, where a mathematics chair has been endowed in his name.

Chern returned to China after the death of the communist state’s founder, Mao Zedong, in 1976, and in 1985 established the Institute for Mathematics at Nankai and served as its first director.

Chern’s field of research led to the development of the later-named Chern characteristic classes in fiber spaces that came to play a role in a wide area of mathematics and mathematical physics.

Mona Van Duyn, first female poet laureate

University City, Mo. Mona Van Duyn, the nation’s first female poet laureate and a Pulitzer Prize winner, died Thursday at her home from bone cancer, her husband said. She was 83.

Van Duyn published nine volumes of poetry and won a Pulitzer for “Near Changes” in 1991. The following year she became the sixth poet and the first woman named U.S. poet laureate, an eight-month position appointed by the Librarian of Congress since 1986.

Van Duyn won a National Book Award for her book of poems “To See, To Take” in 1971. The year before, she was awarded the Bollingen Prize from Yale University, one of many honors for her poetry.

Her other works include “Firefall” (1994), “Merciful Disguises” (1973) and “Bedtime Stories” (1972). Her first book of poetry, “Valentines to the Wide World,” was published in 1959.

Van Duyn was a lecturer from 1950 to 1967 at St. Louis’ Washington University and a visiting professor for about three years in the 1980s, the school said. Her husband, Jarvis Thurston, is a former chairman of the school’s English department.


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