Jon Borwein: My gentle-giant mentor

I will always cherish the wildly fascinating years I spent with Jon Borwein, my mentor and graduate co-supervisor, at the CECM.

Jon took me under his wings and offered me a chance to dabble in the world of mathematical publishing during our bus ride to the math department on a hot summer day in 1995. My initiation to the CJM and CMB for the CMS foreshadowed a series of publishing endeavours including a book cover and my eventual MPub report typeset in LaTeX.

Thanks to Jon’s holistic vision for nurturing mathematical and computing sciences, CECM was a cradle of bold and groundbreaking initiatives. He laid the foundation for all resources imaginable for facilitating the development of mathematics in society.

His involvement spanned software (for computation and teaching); technologies (such as Smartboard and Cave for education and visualization); network infrastructure (for collaboration); innovations for dissemination and preservation of research results and knowledge (such as preprint servers and digital libraries), and much more.

Jon brought all walks of life together. He pioneered major institutions with like-minded researchers. He sponsored Pi Day celebrations, Open Houses, and mathematical sculpture exhibitions so that the young and the old could partake in a slice of math. He welcomed work-study students by giving them a headstart in the field.

All these activities were over and above his research, teaching and supervisory responsibilities.

Jon counselled me on my career and he attended my wedding. He and Judi took me along to the ICM where I landed next to John Nash at every brunch line-up. Our CECM delegation made up the handful of privileged Westerners at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ “Brane New World” lecture and enjoyed a hearty laugh when Stephen Hawking shared his Star Trek cameo on screen. We scaled the Great Wall together.

It was an honour to serve in a managing capacity at the CECM during the dawn of the golden age of Canadian mathematics where acronyms like CMS, IMU-CEIC, NATO, MITACS, AARMS, TL-NCE, NewMIC, NSERC, CoLab, IRMACS, and PIMS were like some strange vernacular that dominated our daily communication.

How can I express enough gratitude for the gift of these most adventurous and momentous encounters in life? I can’t. Was it special? You bet every bit it was.

Jon showed us what sharing was all about and how. He’s precious, generous, extraordinary, and phenomenal to me. I will miss him, always. [Jen Chang, Simon Fraser University, BC, Canada]

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