John Neff, Faculty
This is a Living History interview with Dr. John D. Neff, Georgia Tech professor of mathematics since 1961, conducted by Marilyn Somers on February 20, 1996, in his office on the Georgia Tech campus. The subject of the interview is Dr. Neff life in general and experiences at Georgia Tech. Dr. Neff begins the interview by mentioning Bud Foote and his speed-reading course. He then talks about his early life in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He went to Coe College and majored in mathematics after he had served in the Navy during World War II. He received his masters in mathematics in 1951 from Kansas State University. He then went to work for Bell Labs in various research capacities. He was unable to get a promotion without a Ph. D., so he returned to college at the University of Florida. After he received his Ph. D. in mathematics, Dr. Neff accepted a job as associate professor at Case Institute in Cleveland, Ohio. He met many wonderful people, including Mel Kranzberg, who later became a professor of math at Tech. While in Cleveland, Neff auditioned for, and ultimately preformed with, the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, conducted by Robert Shaw. He sang for four and half years with Shaw until he moved to Tech in 1961. Dr. Neff then mentions his experiences in the Navy, before and after World War II. After the War, Neff served aboard the Shangrala, but he fortunately missed Bikini atom bomb test, which the crew participated in. The interview then moves to Dr. Neff explaining how happy he was to move to Georgia Tech because he did not like the long winters in Cleveland. He was hired in a coffee shop in Washington, D. C., and he had not seen the Tech campus until he arrived in Atlanta. Dr. Neff then relates his first experiences at Tech, because his arrival corresponded with the integration of the first black students at Tech. He also reflects on the changes he has witnessed in the campus. He participated in the National Science Foundation Program for many years and attempted to entice high school students into the sciences. Dr. Neff was teamed with a professor from Emory, named Trevor Evans, and they became close friends due to their traveling. He then mentions many memorable characters from Tech's history. They were: D. M. Smith, Marvin Sled, Vernon Crawfod, Paul Weber, President Hansen, President Pettit, Ralph Spillman, Fred Ajax, Bobby Dodd, Dorothy Crosland, and George Griffin. He also mentions many colleagues in the math department, such as: Chandler Holton, Al Bailey, Joe Ray, Arthur Fulton, and George Cain. He also mentions a faculty club that he enjoyed very much called the Lunch Bunch. He then moves to recent activities, such as serving as the President of the State Math Teachers of Secondary, Middle, and Elementary Schools. During his term, Dr. Neff worked to alter the teacher certification process in Georgia. In reflection, Dr. Neff feels he made the right choices, and he has many wonderful work experiences. As he concludes the interview, Dr. Neff mentions that he thinks Georgia Tech is in good hands with President Clough and he looks forward to the future.
1996 February 20