Pioneering EKU math professor dies after fire at her Lexington home

jpatton1@herald-leader.comJune 8, 2014 

In 2011, EKU named a mathetics education technology lab for retired math professors Amy King, right, and Don Ryoti. King died Saturday night of injuries sustained in a fire at her home on Tates Creek Road in Lexington.

EASTERN KENTUCKY UNIVERSITY

A former Eastern Kentucky University math professor known for her professional and personal generosity of spirit died Saturday night after a fire at her Lexington home on Tates Creek Road.

On Sunday, the Lexington Fire Department was continuing to investigate the cause of the fire that killed Amy King, 85. She was taken to University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital suffering from burns and smoke inhalation; her death has been ruled accidental, according to the Fayette County coroner's office.

Dr. King taught at EKU from 1972 to 1998 and remained involved with many former students and with the EKU math department, which named a lab in her honor in 2011.

"To use a math term Amy would appreciate, she really had an exponential influence. She taught so many who became teachers. So I think we have no idea how broad her reach really was," said Sandra Gray, president of Asbury University in Wilmore.

"She had quite a number of 'mentees,' and people today who still honor her for encouraging them. I would not be president of Asbury if it weren't for her," Gray said Sunday evening. "Because in those moments of my doctoral research and preparation, when I thought about not getting through, she wouldn't let me give up."

Gray met Dr. King through Centenary United Methodist Church in Lexington, where Dr. King was involved in Bible studies and fellowship.

"In Sunday school, she taught 3-year-olds," Gray said. "You seldom find people who are good with kids and adults. In my mind, that really reflected who Amy was; she could teach 3-year-olds or college kids, either one."

One of her former colleagues, Robert Thomas, who teaches math at EKU, said even though Dr. King retired before he came to Eastern, she took him under her wing.

"Her mentoring tree has got to be very large and long," Thomas said. "She was kind, considerate, very warm and just a great lady. She came up in a time there weren't too many women in upper levels of education and mathematics, so she was a trailblazer."

A native of Douglas, Wyo., Dr. King received a bachelor's degree from the University of Missouri and a master's degree from Wichita State University in Kansas, where she taught for four years and later established a scholarship. She earned a doctorate at the University of Kentucky.

She was often one of the few female students and later female members of the math department faculty.

"Being a Ph.D. in math, and a woman of her age, it was a very unique thing," said Maureen Sloan, who met Dr. King through Bible study. "People thought she was a little old lady, but she was a very intelligent woman. She used to tell me how people couldn't believe a woman would get a Ph.D. in mathematics."

Sloan, a nurse, said Dr. King had a knack for bringing together friends from various parts of her life. And she would gather from her extensive network books and other gifts for Sloan's trips with CURE International, a nonprofit that helps disabled children in Africa.

"She just jumped right on board, not just writing a check, but gathering dolls, which were a passion of hers," Sloan said. "She would get all her friends to bring bags from conferences to give to patients in Africa, which seems a small thing, but it meant so much."

Sloan said one of the things she would miss most would be Dr. King's daily emails.

"She was really good at relationships. ... Every morning she would send an email to me. I know she did that for several people," Sloan said. "This morning I opened up my email, and I was so sad. There wasn't one from her."

Her last message came about noon Saturday, Sloan said. "She said, 'I'm having a lazy Saturday morning and isn't that what Saturday is about.'"

Dr. King also stayed in contact with many of her former students, and she established several charitable annuities at EKU for students struggling financially.

Dr. King was recognized many times for classroom excellence, including the first award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics, conferred by the Kentucky Section of the Mathematical Association of America in 1992.

She also was the recipient of the Math Education Service and Achievement Award from the Kentucky Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

At EKU, she was named a foundation professor in 1993; it is the highest honor the school gives to its teachers.

Her husband, Don King, was an associate professor of dentistry at the University of Kentucky; he died in 1985.

Amy King is survived by a brother, James D. Patterson, who chaired the department of physics and space sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology before retiring to South Dakota.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete at Milward Funeral Directors.

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: janetpattonhl.

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