How Jon Borwein became my supervisor

In 1987, I was a student in China. I read a paper by Rockafellar, “Proximal subgradients, marginal values, and augmented Lagrangians in nonconvex optimization” in Mathematical Operation Research (1981). My dream was to generalize results in the paper to infinite dimensional spaces. A literature search found two beautifully written papers by J. Borwein and H. Strojwas, “Proximal analysis and boundaries of closed sets in Banach space I, II,” in the Canadian Journal of Mathematics (1986). The papers were unlike any I had ever seen; their broad applicability and the sheer generality of their results made mathematics seem like child’s play and immediately provided me with all of the necessary tools and ideas to devise and complete my own MSc thesis.

Over the months I continued to indulge myself with Borwein’s papers and was consistently impressed with his mathematical results. Even though it was hard to believe that he was over five thousand miles away, I decided to reach out to him on the smallest hope and whim that I could learn from his brilliance and an even tinier prospect of becoming his graduate student. With computers not widely used in China in 1989, I wrote to Jon by a regular mail, and sent my MSc thesis written in Chinese to him, thinking that he might be able to read Chinese. He was kind and wrote back that he was leaving Dalhousie University for University of Waterloo. I wrote to him in Waterloo, and he wrote back that he was leaving University of Waterloo for Simon Fraser University. In 1992, I wrote to him in Simon Fraser University to seek possibilities to be his student. Brilliant Jon is a constantly moving figure. He moved three universities, and I did three graduate study applications. Finally, I became Jon’s student in 1993, and got my PhD under his supervision in 1999.

Without Jon, I will not be in Canada; without Jon, I will not work as a mathematician today. Jon is my mathematical hero and mathematical father, and he will be dearly missed forever.

Rest in peace; and your legacy will be carried on by students, friends, and colleagues. [Shawn Xianfu Wang, UBC Okanagan, Canada]

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