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Prof. Patrick O'Donnell passes away

Prof. Patrick O'Donnell

Pat O’Donnell, who became a professor at UTSC in 1966 and taught here for more than 38 years, passed away Dec. 13 at the age of 73.

O’Donnell was a theoretical particle physicist. Born in Scotland and educated at Glasgow University, he was a story-teller with a memorable personality. “He had a fabulous Scottish accent. He was a great raconteur,” says William Gough, chair and graduate chair of the Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences.

One of the stories he liked to tell was about his appearance in the 1997 film Goodwill Hunting, starring Matt Damon as a mathematically inclined janitor at MIT and Robin Williams as the psychiatrist who helps him.

As he told the story to Gough, O’Donnell was having a drink in downtown Toronto when he ran into some of the crew who were in town shooting the film. O’Donnell began to explain some of the intricacies of mathematics to them, and ended up helping with technical advising. He selected and wrote on the blackboards the mathematical problems that appear in the movie. He was rewarded with a cameo role, sitting on a barstool in one scene.

O’Donnell was invited to the premier, and says that he heard people in the audience wondering if he was Sean Connery.

O’Donnell officially retired in 2004, although he taught classes for some years afterwards. For one year, in 1971, he was acting chair of the Division of Physical Sciences. UTSC’s flag was flown at half mast in his memory.

© University of Toronto Scarborough