Faculty of Arts Newsletter, York University, vol 8, Issue 1, September 1995, p. 7 (slightly revised)

Lee Lorch at 80

Martin Muldoon, Department of Mathematics and Statistics

Lee Lorch will be 80 on September 20. In early celebration of this occasion, a conference "Special functions and related topics in analysis" was held at York University on June 9 - 10, 1995. Nineteen speakers from several Canadian and US institutions as well as from England, France, Belgium, Hungary and Hong Kong addressed themes in mathematical analysis to which Professor Lorch has made particular contributions as well as his dedication to the struggles for civil rights and equal educational opportunities for women and minority groups.

Richard Askey (Wisconsin), a distinguished authority in the area of special functions, talked on Bessel functions (a subject much studied by Lorch) and how to use them when considering more general classes of functions. Mark Ashbaugh (Missouri) spoke of using the work of Lorch in his own important recent researches in isoperimetric inequalities. Roderick Wong (City University of Hong Kong), a leader in the field of asymptotic expansions, traced a vivid account of Lorch's influence on his own work in the past 15 years. These, together with remarks by other speakers, gave the impression of a career marked by important contributions and still undiminished activity.

Donald Newman (Temple University), a former student and collaborator of Lee's, expounded an ingenious new proof of the equilateral property of the Morley triangle. The talk gave an insightful view into the mind of a master problem solver ("sometimes it's easier to prove more ...") and sparked a lively discussion on the part to be played by minorities in the mathematics of the future.

Several talks commented directly on Lee Lorch's work on behalf of women and minorities. Chandler Davis (University of Toronto), himself a victim of the political purges of the 1950's, recalled Lee's troubles with the mathematical establishment. Mary Gray (American University), founding President of the Association for Women in Mathematics talked on "Including the Excluded: Lee Lorch's Contributions to Expanding Access to Mathematics". Cora Sadosky, immediate Past President of the Association, and a plenary speaker at the meeting, paid tribute to Lee in a number of ways. A few days earlier, she and Lee had been featured speakers at an evening of public lectures "Women in today's mathematical world" sponsored by the Committee for Women in Mathematics of the Canadian Mathematical Society as part of the Society's 50th anniversary celebrations. Johnny Houston, Executive Secretary of NAM (the National Association of Mathematicians, the premier organization of African-American mathematicians) gave an inspiring address "Builder of bridges: Lee Lorch as man and mathematician". Following the conference dinner, the president of NAM presented Professor Lorch with the Association's third ever Lifetime Achievement Award.

The dinner featured many tributes to Lee. James A. Donaldson, long-time Chair of Mathematics at Howard University, the preeminent "traditionally Black" institution, spoke with gratitude concerning Lorch's advice and assistance in building up his department and its graduate program. Jean-Pierre Kahane (Paris-Sud) talked of Lee's success in persuading colleagues in France, Sweden and the USSR to honour properly the memory of Sofia Kovalevskaya on the centenary of her death. Among the messages of congratulation was one from the Uruguayan mathematician Jose Luis Massera who himself had celebrated his 80th birthday a few days before; Lorch had been one of the first to organise the protests against his nine-year imprisonment and torture in the 1970's. Greetings were passed on from Vivienne Mayes, author of "Lee Lorch at Fisk: A tribute" (American Mathematical Monthly, 1976), who was too ill to take part. It came as a shock to hear, a few days later, that she had died on June 9, the opening day of the conference.

The conference provided a unique opportunity to reflect on a life of remarkable service (which continues unabated). Apathy or opposition to the causes espoused by Lee, and recent reverses in what seemed to be decades of progress, remind us that the achievements of those who have struggled are neither inevitable nor irreversible. An ominous local sign was the election, on the very eve of the conference, of a provincial government committed to repealing employment equity legislation for racial minorities, women, aboriginal peoples and people with disabilities.

The conference was supported by grants from the Faculty of Arts Academic Initiatives Fund and the York Ad Hoc Fund.