Margaret L. Lial, a retired American River College math professor and author of textbooks taught to millions of college students, died Friday of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, her family said. She was 84.
Mrs. Lial was an influential teacher who founded one of the most successful textbook series in higher education. Starting in 1971, she published "Beginning Algebra" with ARC math professor Charles Miller. They collaborated on additional books until his death in 1986.
The line was a best-seller for publisher Scott, Foresman and Co., which paired her with other teachers to produce math textbooks for community colleges and universities. Today, the "Lial series" includes about 30 titles on subjects from arithmetic to pre-calculus that are taught in classrooms around the world.
"The name 'Lial' in college mathematics is universally known," co-author John Hornsby said. "There are not many community colleges around that haven't used many of our books."
Mrs. Lial joined American River College in 1966. She taught all levels of math for 25 years with an emphasis on helping returning students prepare for non-math careers.
Her easy-to-read, user-friendly textbooks engaged and encouraged learners. Her warm personality, patient manner and enthusiasm for helping others also eased math anxiety for many.
"She was very student-oriented," said Tony Barcellos, ARC math chairman. "She understood that you have to go to where the students are, listen to what they say and reach out to them in a way that is going to help them learn."
Margaret Louise Bezzone was born in Sacramento in 1927. Her parents, Angelina and Umberto Bezzone, an auto body repairer who immigrated from Uruguay, raised her and two brothers in the Elmhurst neighborhood. She was introduced to math by her mother, a former bookkeeper, and grew up liking problems with numbers.
She graduated from Sacramento High School in 1945, met Ed Lial at Sacramento City College and married in 1948. She went back to school while raising three children and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in math at Sacramento State College.
"A lot of times, she was the only woman in her math classes," said her daughter Janet. "She was really a pioneer."
Mrs. Lial taught at Foothill Farms High School before joining American River College. Her husband, who started a land development firm after a career as an engineer for the city of Sacramento, died in 2005.
Until she was diagnosed with ALS in 2007, she was an avid traveler who visited four continents, toured ancient ruins and volunteered at archaeological digs. She belonged to a wine group in her Campus Commons neighborhood and was active with the Sacramento High School reunion committee.
"She never let ALS get her down," her daughter said. "She used her skills at solving problems to deal with things like picking up the paper from a wheelchair. She said, 'This is what life throws at you, and you deal with it.' "