Richard Brown 1941 - 2002

Colleagues in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at York University mourn the recent death of well-loved colleague Richard Brown.

Richard Laurence Wilmott Brown, the eldest of three sons of Laurence Wilmott Brown and Vivian Eliza Brown (nee Kyle), was born in Ottawa on September 17, 1941. He was educated at Nepean High School and at Carleton University, where he received an Honours BSc degree in Mathematics in 1962. In the same year he was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. A fellow Carleton student remembers him as brilliant and unassuming. He went to Harvard University as a graduate student and obtained his PhD under the supervision of Barry Mazur in 1969 with a thesis entitled "Cobordism, Embeddings, and Fibrations of Manifolds". While at Harvard, Richard married fellow graduate student Julia May Nowlin. Richard and Julia (also a Harvard PhD in Mathematics) became faculty members at York, in 1969 and 1970, respectively. They have been excellent colleagues whose dedication, loyalty and performance showed their commitment to the true purposes of the University.

Richard's early research work was in differential topology. The published results of his thesis were quoted and used by others including R. L. Cohen in his work on the immersion conjecture (Ann. of Math. 122 (1985), 237-328). His early work continues to be of interest and is quoted in reviews of recent articles by Y. Kuramoto, Y. Kuramoto and T. Yasui, and by I. Takata. But it would have been out of character for Richard to continue to exploit a single area. He had the knack of extracting the essence from a mathematical result or application and presenting it in a context that anyone could understand. He would illustrate some concepts in catastrophe theory with a model of wood and elastic. His article entitled "The Klein bottle as an eggbeater", Mathematics Magazine 46 (1973), 244-250 is a good example of his approach. Often he adapted his interests to those of the people around him. For example, a sabbatical leave at the University of Sussex led to a joint paper with John Maynard Smith on competition and body size. In recent years, he contributed to the conference and periodical literature on the programming language J. This followed on a long-time interest in APL, and tied in with his teaching interests in optimization and theory of interest. During his last sabbatical at CU-Denver, Richard collaborated with three University of Colorado researchers on numerical models in population genetics. He brought the power and efficiency of J to bear on these problems, writing extremely compact and general codes that out-performed then existing ones.

In the 1970s, Richard introduced a course in game theory at the first year level. This proved to be very popular and filled a niche for a number of years at a time when York discouraged early specialization in the undergraduate program. As more applied programs became the norm, Richard quickly adapted to the new needs, making major contributions to courses in operations research, business mathematics and, in general, to computer use in our courses. Never an empire-builder, he did not seek credit for those of his ideas picked up by others, and did not cling to ideas that had fallen out of favour, choosing rather to pursue new ones.

With the increase of computer use in the 1980s, Richard was a constant source of help and advice to his colleagues. He even started a "Computer Users Newsletter" which was just what was needed at the time. He had a fondness for keeping things elegantly simple and loved to show that a clever idea could do the job of some bloated software. He served the Department well as Undergraduate Director during the years 1987-1992. Richard made an enormous contribution to both York and the Canadian Mathematical Society by serving as Chair of the York Local Arrangements Committee for the International Mathematical Olympiad in 1995. This simple title does not do justice to what was an incredibly arduous task extending over a number of years. That Richard was asked to do it was a testimony to the confidence placed in him by his colleagues. The success of this, the only IMO ever hosted by Canada, was directly attributable to his leadership skills in this huge undertaking.

Richard was quiet and unpretentious. Better acquaintance revealed that he had some strong views but it was observed that rarely, if ever, did he say an unkind or critical word about anyone. It was as if he knew that life is too short for quarreling and that time should be spent in constructive ways.

In summer 2001, Richard was diagnosed with cancer. He bore his suffering patiently but not passively (he studied the literature on cancer, including current developments) until his death on March 9, 2002. He leaves his wife Julia and three children, Daniel, Amanda and Emily. May their pain be eased by the knowledge that dozens of colleagues and thousands of students cannot fail to have been influenced by his genius, helpfulness and dedication.