Ki Hang Kim

Quick Info

5 August 1936
Anju, South Pyongan, Korea (now North Korea)
15 January 2009
Montgomery, Alabama, USA

Ki Hang Kim was a Korean mathematician who worked in America. He published on semigroups and Boolean matricies as well as in many other areas.


Ki Hang Kim was the son of Jin Gyong Kim and Mi Ran Hong. We note that the Korean ordering of his names would be Kim Ki-Hang and, for reasons we will explain below, he also used the name Kim Ki-Hang Butler. Since we are giving Korean names in the Roman alphabet, we note that they have been transliterated from the Korean alphabet and there are different transliterations. For example, when Ki Hang Kim filed a declaration of intent in 1954 to allow him to join the U.S. Air Force, he transliterated his father's name as Jeen Kigng Kim and his mother's name as Mayhryn Hong. The situation with Kim's names is, however, even more complicated since in 1960 he took American nationality and at that time changed his name by decree of Court from Ki-Hang Kim to Keyhany Keem. Despite this change of name, he only seems to have used the new form for a few years before reverting to Ki-Hang Kim.

Jin Gyong Kim was a small scale independent farmer and Ki-Hang was the eldest of his parents' children [1]:-
He grew up within a loving family stressing strict Confucian values and the importance of education. By age 12, Kim already knew some Chinese, Japanese, English and Russian, and had skipped a couple grades of school.
To make sense of his early life we need to give a few details of Korean history. After difficult times throughout the 19th century, the country was forced to sign treaties with foreign powers who took advantage of Korea's weakness. The Korean Empire began in 1897 and for a few years Korea modernised and began to prosper. In 1905 the Korean Empire signed a protectorate treaty with Japan and, in 1910 Japan annexed the Korean Empire. It was in the position of being controlled by Japan when Kim was born. Korean culture and language was being suppressed by Japan, and all Koreans had to speak Japanese in public places. Korean liberation movements led to Japan strengthening its military presence in Korea. The Sino-Japanese War beginning in 1937 and the outbreak of World War II led to worsening conditions in Korea with food shortages as Japan took both food and labour from the country.

In 1945 World War II ended with Kim being at this time nine years old. Various treaties between the Allies led to the partition of Korea in September 1945 with Russia controlling the north while the United States took over running the south. Over the following five years attempts were made to unify Korea but hopes of this ended in June 1950 when the Korean War broke out. At this time Kim was in the part of the country controlled by the Americans but both they and the South Koreans were ill-prepared for war. Kim, now fourteen years old, was acting as an interpreter to the American troops. In September 1950 UN troops invaded the north, but in October 1950 Chinese troops invaded from the north forcing the UN troops and the Americans to retreat. The Americans offered Kim the chance of coming with them as they left and gave him six hours to decide. His father urged him to accept the American offer and go with them. Kim went and left his parents and siblings. He never saw his father again and it would be 30 years before he saw again his mother and siblings. He later said:-
I faced many hardships during the Korean conflict. I was cold and hungry most of the time and barely survived.
Kim travelled with the Americans to Taegu Airbase (sometimes spelt Daegu, and also known as K-2). There he did manual work, served food to the airmen and studied English in the evenings. He passed the qualifying language examination in March 1952 and was assigned as an interpreter to Colonel Decatur Poindexter Butler Jr (1919-1966), the Battalion Commander [1]:-
As the war's end approached, the Colonel and his family offered to bring Kim to the United States and provide for an education. With difficulty, a passport was secured. In December 1953, Kim sailed [on the Sea Serpent] under the Golden Gate Bridge. Kim was always grateful to Colonel Butler and his family.
The Butler family were living in Columbus, Georgia, USA, at this time and Kim joined them there. He spent two years in High School, first in Columbus, Georgia, then after the family moved, in Gallman, Mississippi [1]:-
In December 1955 Kim enrolled in the U.S. Army. Kim wanted to reduce the financial burden on the Butler family, and the GI bill could finance college. In the Army, Kim served as an interpreter for intelligence units in Korea and Japan. He was selected as outstanding soldier of the year; he received his commendation at the Blue House from President Synghman Rhee of South Korea. After a year in the Army, Kim passed a high school equivalency exam.
Before joining the U.S. Army, Kim filled out a Declaration of Intent for the Immigration and Naturalization Service on 25 November 1954, at this time for the purpose of joining the U.S. Air Force. His personal description is: Complexion - Light Brown; Colour of Eyes - Brown; Colour of Hair - Black; Height - 5 ft 6 ins; Weight - 138 lbs.

After two years service, Kim was discharged from the U.S. Army and, in December 1957, entered the Mississippi Southern College in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, USA. This College, founded as Mississippi Normal College in 1912, had around 4000 students and offered Bachelor degrees in Science, Arts, Music and Music Education. In January 1960 Kim received American nationality under the name Keyhany Keem. He gives his address at this time as Box 436 Station A, Mississippi Southern College, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The Certificate States:-
Name changed [to Keyhany Keem] by decree of Court from Ki Hang Kim as part of the Naturalization.
In August 1960, he graduated from the Mississippi Southern College with a B.S. in Mathematics and, one year later, he was awarded his M.S., also from Mississippi Southern College.

At this stage Kim would have wished to progress to a Ph.D. but he did not have the funds to set out on such a programme. He therefore took a teaching position at the University of Hartford, Connecticut, and began teaching there in September 1961. At Hartford, Kim met Myong Ja Hwang and they were married on 31 July 1963; they had two children John Churl Kim born 1965 and Linda Youngmi Kim born December 1970. Marriage meant that he had to delay starting his Ph.D. so he continued to teach at Hartford until 1966 when he enrolled for a Ph.D. at George Washington University in Washington D.C. With a family to support, Kim had to take a job in addition to his study for a Ph.D. and he took a position teaching at St Mary's College in Maryland. Situated in St Mary's City, the capital of Maryland, the College has a waterfront setting in the heart of the Chesapeake Bay region. It is 75 miles southeast of Washington, D.C. Kim's [4]:-
... doctoral dissertation [was] written at George Washington University under the guidance of Professor Jim Bai Kim of West Virginia University and Professor Irving Katz of George Washington University.
Kim was awarded the degree of Ph.D. in February 1971 for his 125-page thesis On (0,1)-Matrix Semigroups and, before the award of the degree, was employed by Pembroke State University, North Carolina as an associate professor of mathematics. His early papers, published under the name Kim Ki-hang Butler, are Binary relations (1971), On Kim's conjecture (1971), On (0,1)-matrix semigroups (1971), On a Miller and Clifford theorem (1971), and An identity in combinations (1971).

The local newspaper Robesonian (Lumberton, North Carolina) regularly reported on Ki-Hang Kim's activities while he served on the faculty of Pembroke State University. You get a fairly detailed account of his professional activities over the years 1971-74 in these reports: see THIS LINK.

These reports give information about papers he gave at conferences. For example he delivered the talk On Kim's conjecture at the Seventy-Seventh Annual Meeting of the American Mathematical Society held at Chalfonte-Haddon Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey, January 21-24, 1971. We also learn of his National Science Foundation award to fund his attendance at the Conference on Algebraic Semigroup Theory held at Szeged, Hungary in August 1972 where he gave the lecture "Combinatorial Properties of Binary Semigroups."

In 1974 Kim was appointed to a Distinguished Watkins Professorship of Mathematics at the Alabama State University. Kim continued to publish under the name Kim Ki-hang Butler until 1976 when Fred William Roush joined the faculty at Alabama State University and the two began a collaboration. From this time on, Kim published as Ki-hang Kim. Their joint papers published in 1977 are General mutants in semigroups, On the residual finiteness of free semigroups and composition of Boolean matrices, On generating regular elements in the semigroup of binary relations, Linear representations of semigroups of Boolean matrices, Some combinatorial properties of free semigroups, and On maximal submonoids of BXB_{X}.

In [5] Fred Roush explains how their collaboration came about:-
[Kim] loved to travel and attend international conferences in his younger days. Hungary and China were particular favourites of his as places to which to travel to conferences. He made friends wherever he went. He was a good collaborator with other mathematicians and through his collaborators both of us received an Erdős number of 2. After he had joined the faculty of Alabama State University, I was introduced to him by another member of the mathematics faculty, John Ivery, who thought we might be interested in working together. I then joined the faculty under a grant Dr Kim had received to set up a computation laboratory. Both of us, I think, were more productive as a result of our thirty-year collaboration; Dr Kim had published considerably more than I had when we began.
Kim's first book was a published version of his Ph.D. thesis which he followed with at least seven more books, most written jointly with Fred William Roush. For extracts from some reviews of these books, see THIS LINK.

The following from [1] give the highlights of Kim's research contributions:-
There are 135 line items of Kim and Roush in the list of Kim's publications. Seven are books. (Kim was also the solo author of the fundamental 1982 reference "Boolean matrix theory and applications," which grew out of his thesis and is still regularly cited.) Their interests were broad: MathSciNet groups their publications in 21 subject areas. They were unafraid of new fields. The final Kim and Roush paper, in 2006, was their only paper in tropical geometry: they proved a result conjectured by Develin, Santos and Sturmfels. They wrote one paper "On a conjecture of Erdős and Renyi" and Erdős gave an appreciative review. They were tenacious, working on some problems for years. They were prolific. Their work in symbolic dynamics contains elegant insights as well as constructions of brutal complication. They solved some difficult and important problems.
Fred Roush writes in [2] about Kim's teaching and about his interests outside mathematics:-
Dr Kim had a gift for explaining higher mathematics in a simple way in the classroom. Alabama State University has a Masters program in mathematics, and over 25 Masters students wrote their theses under him. One of them, Anthony Hudson, told me that Dr Kim was one of the best teachers he had ever known. Dr Kim sometimes said that mathematics was his avocation as well as his vocation, and often worked 7 days a week. Nonetheless he was active in his community, for instance in the Korean-American Methodist church in Montgomery, Alabama. He was the first president of the Montgomery Korean-American Association and remained active in it throughout his life.
As he became older, Kim began to suffer severe health problems as Fred Roush explains [2]:-
In the 1990's he had an operation for a hematoma, but continued successfully with his teaching and research afterwards. In his last years he had a number of health problems, including heart problems requiring a quadruple bypass operation and kidney failure requiring dialysis.
On 25 October 2003 Kim's daughter, Linda Kim, married Kenneth Suslow. The newspaper report of the wedding contains the following [6]:-
Linda Kim and Kenneth Craig Suslow were married yesterday in Los Angeles. Robert A Ringler, a deputy commissioner of civil marriages for Los Angeles County, officiated at the Hotel Bel Air. The bride, 33, will continue to use her name professionally. She is an actress in Los Angeles. She played a former lover of Tommy Lee Jones's character in ''Men in Black II'' (2002), and also appeared in ''Goldmember.'' A graduate of Boston University, she is the daughter of Myong Kim and Dr Ki Hang Kim of Montgomery, Alabama. Her father is a professor of mathematics and the director of mathematics research at Alabama State University in Montgomery.
The announcement of Kim's death in [2] includes the following:-
Visitation will be held at Holy Spirit Catholic Church, 8750 Vaughn Road at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, January 17, 2009. The memorial service will follow at 11:00 a.m. with Pastor Reverend Monsignor Charles Troncale officiating. A reception will follow the service for family and friends at Arrowhead Country Club, 50 Ocala Drive. Interment will be at Alabama Heritage at a later date. Dr Kim is survived by his wife, Myong Kim; son, John (married to Deborah) of Daphne, Alabama; daughter, Linda (married to Kenneth Suslow) of Los Angeles, California; grandchildren, Hayden Suslow and William Suslow; sister-in-law, Marion (Peter) Kwon of New Port, Virginia; brothers-in-law, Young Ho Swang of Glassonbury, Connecticut, Young Hoon Swang of New Jersey, New York.
Let us end with the following assessments of Kim's character. First we quote from [2]:-
Personally, Dr Kim was cheerful and friendly and could be quite witty on occasion. In many respects he was rather easy-going and unpretentious. Dr Kim was glad to talk with ordinary people like the custodians of our building as well as with famous mathematicians, and he always remembered the custodians generously at Christmas.
Finally, we quote from [1]:-
Biographical reviews of outstanding mathematicians typically contain a record of early honours and a meteoric path to mathematical prominence. Kim's story is notable for the ability and drive by which he emerged from difficult circumstances and went on to great success.

References (show)

  1. M Boyle, Remembering Ki Hang Kim, Acta Appl. Math. 126 (1) (2013), 3-5.
  2. Ki-Hang Kim (1936-2009), Montgomery Advertiser (17 January 2009).
  3. Ki-Hang Kim (1936-2009), American Mathematical Society.
  4. Local newspaper reports on Ki Hang Kim 1971-74, Robesonian (Lumberton, North Carolina).
  5. F W Roush, Hang Kim, My Mathematical Comrade, Acta Appl. Math. 126 (1) (2013), 7-8.
  6. Weddings/Celebrations; Linda Kim, Kenneth Suslow (26 October 2003).

Additional Resources (show)

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update November 2019