Talk by Peter Borwein at the funeral of Jonathan Borwein, August 10, 2016 (read by Sarah Borwein):
My brother Jon was a remarkable and unusual talent. He was also an unusual and remarkable brother.
I have fond memories of growing up with Jon, as young boys in St. Andrews, Scotland.
An early memory of Jon is of us fishing off the pier in St. Andrews with our dad David. We would catch rock cod, and make my mother Bessie clean them and make fish cakes. This delighted Jon.
He and I also spent much of our childhood with our guinea pigs, Gilbert and Gulliver. My dad built a cage for them with no bottom, so that the guinea pigs would move around the lawn, acting as lawnmowers.
As young boys we also shared a bedroom in St. Andrews. I used to keep Jon awake at night, by reminding him that the universe was infinite. This bothered him to no end. It’s no surprise that he ended up as a mathematician
I won’t talk much about his academic awards and honors, although there were many, a few of which we shared together.
We co-authored over 25 papers and books, and he solo wrote over 200. He had a remarkable clock speed, a term he liked to use for how fast people worked. He could accomplish in a day or two what took other people weeks, which is one of the reasons he was so prolific. We worked together for over 35 years; we were in the same department for about 20, one of the periods at Dalhousie and one at Simon Fraser. I owe much of my career to him, because people thought they were getting him when they hired me.
I would like to comment on how we worked together, which was intensive. And I also want to comment on the fact that many people thought we ought to compete, that there are ought to be sibling rivalry. In fact there really was no rivalry. He was a very generous co-author. Not always an easy co-author (he could be very demanding), but he was always generous with ideas, and with acknowledgment, and with giving credit, not just to me, but to his graduate students, and colleagues – who he could drive very hard, but if they could keep up with him the pay-off was rewarding.
He was obviously very smart. But what doesn’t show necessarily is that he had a phenomenal memory. When he worked on a problem intensely he would store the facts and not have to look them up. I think he inherited this from my mother. I certainly don’t share this ability. He had a remarkable memory for books, authors – details like that.
We travelled together extensively. In the late 1970s, Jon and Judi, their daughter Rachel, my wife Jenny and I, travelled around Europe for a couple of months.
He also was a formidable opponent in an argument or debate. In fact sometimes he didn’t know when he had won the argument. But it was an impressive gift.
I hadn’t really thought about how intertwined my life and his had been until he died. Thinking it over in the week since his shocking death has been complicated for me. He was a colleague, a brother, and a friend, and I will miss him.