Jon: Mentor, Friend, Colleague (by Henry Wolkowicz)

I met Jon Borwein in July of 1978. This was very early in Jon’s career. Jon was an amazing person of course as a mathematician but he also cared a lot for people and helped people. And of course he cared deeply for his family.

I hope some of these remembrances will be of interest to others.

I had just handed in my PhD thesis but had not defended yet when I joined Jon at Dalhousie University in 1978. I think that I was Jon’s first postdoc and Gail (my wife) started a PhD with Jon and so was essentially going to be his first student. However, we only spent one year at Dalhousie, since I took on a tenure track position at the Univerity of Alberta the following year. As others well know, working with Jon is incredibly hectic and productive. Jon and Judy (and two year old Rachel) took us into their family for the year. We worked when we could during the day at the University, and often worked when I walked with him to his house for a visit; and then worked during supper and after with Rachel running around. Weekdays or weekends were not much different – except no classes to teach on the weekends. Especially enjoyable were the trips to the ‘gradhouse’ each day to meet Judy and Rachel and usually other postdocs from our dept. and to ‘imbibe’ a bit.

I learned that one had to ‘try’ and keep up with Jon. One day we had a great idea. I took it home and started working on it expecting to work all week on it. But then the next day I ended up ‘being very angry’ (tongue in cheek angry) as when I came into work Jon told me he had spent all night working and had already finished the problem, written it up by hand, and the secretary was busy typing it up. (no latex back then).

Jon never learned how to drive and back then Judy did not drive either. So we were often the chauffeur. We often went on ‘family’ outings. Jon would spend his time doing crosswords in the back of the car. We had many enjoyable and comic outings.

Jon not only did not drive but at that time hated to fly. This meant driving him to the airport and going in to the airport while Jon ‘imbibed’ liberally to forget he was going to fly – or at least that is what he claimed.

But working with Jon was quite the adventure. One never knew when he would suddenly appear. A typical scenario was that I would be working in the library and Jon would ‘find me’. He would sit down and grab my pen or pencil and start working on my pad. Then he would leave the work behind but invariably walk off with my pen/pencil. I always wondered whatever happened with all these dozens of pens/pencils.

Over the years I continued to visit with Jon in Vancouver and again in Halifax and also during his tenure at Waterloo. We never spent more than a few days working but still managed contributions that have kept me busy for years afterwards. I am still using theorems/results learned from Jon. Our work on facial reduction has become quite important and is often cited now – 37 years after we completed it in that first great year in 1978. [Henry Wolkowicz, University of Waterloo, Canada]

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