My mathematical father Jon Borwein

I remember falling in mathematical love with Jon Borwein when he proved the Hölder inequality using Fenchel conjugates. This was during a Measure Theory course I took from him at Dalhousie in 1991. Loosely based on Royden’s book, Jon often taught us more elegant proofs as well as additional material. Jon subsequently accepted me as his doctoral student and, as many of the people who have interacted with Jon would testify, life trajectories were changed profoundly.

Jon was an absolutely amazing and inspiring advisor. His breadth and productivity are simply breathtaking and unparalleled. Jon reminded me of Magnus Carlsen (the current Chess world champion) playing a simultaneous exhibition game with many (20+) players. He would come to your table and make his move, meaning I would have a relatively short – but intense – period of interaction with him that advanced our projects on many levels. Then he would move on to the next table while I would make my move, i.e., catch my break, try to digest the implications of his brilliant insights, and work on updating the manuscript in progress until he was back for his next move.

Jon was also an extremely generous and supportive human being, a real mensch. Together with his wonderful wife Judi (who actually latexed our first two joint papers!), he hosted many memorable receptions in their houses, teeming with his amazing daughters Rachel, Naomi and Tova, delightful guests, delicious food and great conversations. Judi would drive Jon and a selection of postdocs and grad students to the regular West Coast Optimization Meetings in Seattle. Jon and Judi would have thoughtful and hilarious conversations on all kinds of topics, briefly interrupted by Jon peppering us with mathematical and other questions that would make us sweat in the back seats. Even riding a car with Jon was inspiring and exhilarating! That was some 20 years ago, but it was no different when Jon, Judi, Shawn Wang (my mathematical brother and friend) and I rode a car in Spain just a couple of months ago in-between meetings in Alicante and Cartagena.

Jon was my mathematical father, mentor, and friend. My words won’t adequately describe the void he left and the loss I feel. He will forever inspire us not only to try harder to reveal truth and beauty in mathematics, but also to be better human beings.

I won’t receive emails from Jon anymore, and I will continue to miss his insights and humour. I conclude with Jon’s last email to me in which he responded – immediately, of course – to a message reminiscing about Spain and discussing a workshop in Mexico in his inimitable style:

Inbox July-31-16 2:09 PM

Dear Heinz, yes Spain was fine.
I will plan to come to Banff South
(assuming the wall has not been made).

JMB in cyberspace

[Heinz Bauschke, UBC Kelowna, B.C., Canada]

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