Dr. Peter Hoadley Sellers



flagPeter SellersGERMANTOWN, PA. and MOUNT DESERT — Dr. Peter Hoadley Sellers, a research mathematician, of Germantown, Pa., and Mount Desert, died at his home, at age 84, Nov. 15, 2014.

He was born in Philadelphia, Pa., Sept.12, 1930, the son of Lester and Therese (Tyler) Sellers.

At an early age, it was clear that Peter had a keen mind, with a special affinity for mathematics.

Despite these natural gifts, after graduating St. Paul’s School in Concord, Mass. (Class of 1948) he followed family tradition and went on to the University of Pennsylvania to study engineering. Soon, however, he returned to his real passion, switching to mathematics, earning his BA and later his master’s and Ph.D. in that subject.

He took a break from those studies for two years during the Korean conflict, serving in the U.S. Navy, as a LTJG, aboard the USS Shea from1953-1955.

When he returned to civilian life, Dr. Sellers re-enrolled at UPenn and completed his master’s degree in 1957.

That same year, he attended the engagement party of a Philadelphia friend, where he met Radcliff undergraduate and fellow Philadelphian Lucy Bell Newlin.

A yearlong courtship ensued and they were married in June 1958.

After a period at the Johnson Foundation for Medical Research, in Philadelphia, Dr. Sellers took his family, now augmented by children Tim and Therese, to Kenya.

There in Embu he taught mathematics at an African secondary school. Their third child Wanja was born in Nairobi.

When the family returned to the states they eventually settled in Germantown, Pa., where a fourth child, another Lucy Bell, was born.

The family moved to New York for two years when Dr. Sellers received an appointment at Rockefeller University, where he worked as a mathematician for more than four decades.

When the Sellers decided to return to Germantown, it was the start of Peter’s years of commuting by train.

“Peter always claimed that commuting was conducive to creative thought,” his wife says, “and that he did some of his best work on the train.”

During his career Dr. Sellers created mathematical algorithms — detailed instructions for finding predictable results that are now used throughout the world for recognizing DNA sequence patterns, the analysis of genetic material and in the study of chemical reactions.

In the university’s tribute to their friend and colleague, Dr. Sellers is described as a “brilliant, pioneering mathematician and a true renaissance man with a broad range of scientific and cultural interests and with the rare ability to draw cogent connections across disciplines.”

The Sellers family spent their summers at their camp Sand Point on Long Pond where the family swam, hiked, fished sailed and rowed a variety of small boats. They also hosted the popular Long Pond Sailing Regatta for 43 years.

But his wife says their greatest pleasure was their annual month long cruises, on their 38-foot motor-free sloop the Lucy Bell. Dr. Sellers built her in a barn in Doylestown, Pa., and launched her on the day of his and Lucy Bell’s wedding anniversary in 1983 in Brooklin. For that occasion, Peter composed a song, which began:

Oh I love to float in a gaff-rigged boat Propelled by the wind and the tide.

If the breezes fail and I cannot sail,

I can scull or paddle of glide.

They sailed, sculled, paddled and glided aboard the Lucy Bell for 32 summers, taking their last cruise together two summers ago; the same year Dr. Sellers was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

With help from hospice Dr. Sellers’ last days were spent at his home in Germantown, happily receiving visitors who came to pay their respects. He was remembered by all, who had the good fortune to know him, for his many kindnesses and the genuine interest he took in their lives. His family was at his side when he died Nov 15.

In recognition of his significant contributions to the biological sciences, Rockefeller University has established a new lectureship in mathematics in Dr. Sellers honor.

Dr. Sellers was also trustee for many years of the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor.

In addition to his wife, Lucy Bell Wait (Newlin) Sellers, he is survived by his son: Mortimer Newlin Stead Sellers; his daughters, Therese Sellers, Wanja Mary Sellers and Lucy Bell Wait Jarka-Sellers; eight grandchildren and two sisters. He was predeceased by a brother.

Services are planned for Saturday, Dec. 6, 1 p.m. at St. David’s Church in Wayne Pa. Friends who wish may donate in Dr. Seller’s memory to College of the Atlantic, 105 Eden St., Bar Harbor, ME 04609.

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