Omaruru (Namibia): Once Upon a Time by Lisa Pesch, Gudrun Murray

By Lisa Pesch, Gudrun Murray

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His lectures were loud and entertaining. He wrote very large on the blackboard, in a beautiful Italianate handwriting with lots o f whirls. Sometimes only one huge formula appeared on the blackboard during the entire period; the rest was handwaving. His proofs - - insofar as one can speak of proofs - - were often deficient. Nonetheless, they were convincing, and the results became unforgettably clear after he had explained them. The main idea was never wrong. He took umbrage when someone interrupted his lecturing by pointing out some glaring mistake.

A distinguished mathematician, who is still alive, pointedly remarked to me in 1955 that any existence theorem for partial differential equations which had been proved without using a topological fixed point theorem should be dismissed as applied mathematics. Another equally distinguished mathematician once whispered to me in 1956, "Did you know that your algebra teacher Oystein Ore has published papers in graph theory? " Sometime in the early eighties the tables turned, and a stampede away from abstraction started, which is still going on.

After one lecture, I asked a rather senior-looking mathematician who had been 20 o:o I. Persons and Places o:. religiously attending Lefschetz's lectures whether he understood what the lecturer was talking about. I received a vague and evasive answer. After that moment, I knew. W h e n he was forced to relinquish the chairmanship of the Princeton mathematics department for reasons of age, he decided to promote Mexican mathematics. His love/hate of the Mexicans got him into trouble. Once, in a Mexican train station, he spotted a charro dressed in full regalia, complete with a pair o f pistols and rows of cartridges across his chest.

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