Jon Borwein: A friend and a mentor

I met Jon and Peter Borwein in 1995 when I was fortunate to become, as Tom Brown’s Ph.D. student, a member of the Centre for Experimental and Constructive Mathematics (CECM). Jon and Peter established the CECM in 1993 at Simon Fraser University (SFU). What an exciting time that was! There was a constant stream of visitors, in addition to Peter and Jon’s graduate students and post-docs, the CECM staff, and many members of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, which made the CECM a vibrant place where the prevailing feeling was excitement about exploration and creating new methods, approaches, and techniques that would forever change the way mathematicians conduct their research.

No doubt that in the early and mid 1990’s Jon and Peter were visionaries, able to grasp and predict many of the possibilities that new technology was bringing. But there was also, particularly with Jon, the strong presence of a pioneering spirit. During his tenure at SFU, Jon was involved in the creation of the Pacific Institute for Mathematical Sciences (PIMS) and the Western Canada Research Grid (WestGrid). Twenty years later, one can’t imagine the research landscape in Western Canada without these two institutions.

On a personal note, I will miss Jon as a friend and a mentor. Listening to Jon talking about experimental mathematics influenced my doctoral work to a great extent. To recognize this influence in summer 1999, I asked my friend Darlene Coffey to create the following cartoon that I used during my thesis defense:


Having the privilege to know Jon and to count on his friendship enriched my personal and professional life in many ways. For example, in 2003, I stopped him on the hallway (I still remember the exact spot) to share my frustration with my inability to prove a “fact” that I was quite certain about. “Veso, sometimes it is easier to see than to say,” replied Jon. This simple truth became a milestone in my development as a teacher, learner, and creator of mathematics. In 2013, when working on a joint publication, Jon and I asked Simon Roy, an artist from Victoria, B.C., to create this cartoon:


Many other memories are surfacing: about Jon’s strong support for the IRMACS Centre over many years, our work on the Coast to Coast series, organizing Peter’s conference in 2008, hosting Jon’s conference in 2011, digitizing the collection of David Borwein’s papers in 2014, and a day in late June 2016 that my son and I spent with Jon and Judi in London, Ontario.

During all our encounters over the years, Jon was always his charming, gregarious self – full of stories and at the centre of every discussion. Thank you for everything, Jon, and farewell. [Veselin Jungic, Simon Fraser University, Canada]

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