Recollections of Jon at the CECM

I first met Jonathan Borwein at the International Conference on Analytic Number Theory held in honor of Heini Halberstam at Allerton Park, Illinois in May 1995, about the same time I graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with my Ph.D.

However, we had been communicating by email about some formulas of Ramanujan for about a year prior to that first meeting, and I had been keenly aware of his mathematical interests relating to computational complexity since the late 1980s while still an undergraduate student at Waterloo.

Later in the summer of 1995, I learned that my NSERC post-doctoral fellowship was approved, and was delighted that Jon agreed to be my post-doctoral advisor at his recently established Centre for Experimental and Constructive Mathematics at Simon Fraser University. We wrote several papers together, and even after I joined the University of Maine in 1998, we collaborated occasionally on other papers.

Jon had a brilliant mind that went far beyond mathematics. His boundless energy, voracious literacy and generous spirit inspired many. Several times I was a welcome guest at his home in Burnaby, and once on a Canada Day excursion with his family. There is no question he was an excellent and astonishingly prolific mathematician, but his impact on mathematics was tremendously enhanced by his gifts for exposition and leadership. I don’t know if the CECM was Jon’s first major opportunity to organize and administer a successful lab, but seeing him gather people together who complemented each other well to advance a common cause greater than any one individual could accomplish, and create the infrastructure to do so, was an even more humbling experience for me than collaborating with him on a difficult piece of mathematics.

As a fresh Ph.D., I generally found it difficult to address senior mathematicians by their given names. To this day, I still do. Yet, despite Jon’s incredible gifts and towering intellect, and without any explicit invitation on his part, I never considered calling him anything but “Jon.” He made it easy to feel at ease with him. Once though, early on in our working relationship he bounded up to my desk with an idea, calling out “Dr. Bradley!” I thought, “Uh-oh, what did I do?” and gave him a quizzical “Yes???” Happily, he never addressed me by my title again.

Jon’s untimely passing is a tremendous loss. He will be deeply missed. [David M. Bradley, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Maine]

Comments are closed.