The J. Burton Linker Distinguished Professorship in Mathematics
The J. Burton Linker Distinguished Professorship in Mathematics was established by Joe Burton Linker Jr. of Chapel Hill and Edward Markham Linker of Martinsville, Va., to memorialize their father, who was a longtime professor of mathematics at UNC.
Their combined gifts of $333,000, including contributions from others, qualified for $167,000 in state matching funds from the North Carolina Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust.
“He was so well thought of, we just wanted to remember that and to honor his memory and his service,” said Burton Linker Jr., who graduated from Carolina in 1944.
Dr. Linker was born in Rockwell, in Rowan County. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from Carolina, in 1918 and 1920. He received his doctorate in 1924 from Johns Hopkins University.
Recognized as a top scholar at Carolina, Linker earned membership in the Dialectic Society, Phi Beta Kappa and the Order of the Golden Fleece, the oldest and highest honorary society at the university.
He supported himself throughout his undergraduate career by working as a printer for The Daily Tar Heel, manually feeding single sheets into the campus newspaper’s old printing press. That strenuous routine helped develop Linker’s upper body, and he became boxing champion of the Southern Conference, of which UNC was a member prior to the formation of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Appointed an instructor of mathematics in 1919, Linker left his alma mater during his 45-year career at Carolina only to serve in World War I as a commissioned Army officer, to attend Johns Hopkins and to serve in World War II. He was the first Carolina faculty member called to active duty in 1941.
Linker was lauded during his military service for his innovation of strategies for anti-tank warfare, becoming nationally known as an expert in the field. He was selected to participate in the first class of the School of Military Government in Charlottesville, Va., after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He fought for 27 months in the European Theater, returning to retire with the rank of colonel.
As a professor, Linker disapproved of any attempts to water down material to make it easier; instead, he focused on making his lessons as clear as possible, according to a 1977 faculty resolution.
His high standards and unique treatment of material made his classes unforgettable for most of his students. Math 141, “Differential Equations,” practically became synonymous with his name. Though he taught the same courses year after year, his students attested to his ability to make the material seem fresh, as though he were working the problems for the first time.
Linker also co-wrote four college mathematics textbooks. He retired from teaching in 1964.
“He did not grade on the curve,” Burton Linker Jr. said. “He graded on what the person learned and how he actually mastered the material. He stood for good teaching and good learning.”
Aside from his rigorous classroom environment, Linker was known for his excellent calligraphy. Always happy to help the university and Chapel Hill, he handwrote many certificates and scrolls for various departments and schools as well as for members of the community.
Linker was president of the Chapel Hill Rotary Club and a member of the Mathematical Association of America, the American Mathematical Society, the American Legion and the board of stewards of University Methodist Church. He also was a violinist with the University Symphony Orchestra.
He died in 1977, leaving behind his wife of 55 years, Ione Markham, who has since died; and three sons, Burton Jr., Edward and Robert Polk Linker of Charleston, who received his undergraduate degree in 1955 and medical degree in 1959 from UNC.
Burton Linker Jr. and Edward Linker also established the J. Burton Linker Class of ’18 Memorial to fund the Linker Award for excellence in teaching by a mathematics graduate student.
(Excerpts taken from a January 2006 University news release written by Katie Schwing ’06.)
The J. Burton Linker Distinguished Fellow in Mathematics: