Obituary written by Jan Thomas, originally appearing in The Age, 30 October 2012
GARTH IAN GAUDRY
16-5-41 — 18-10-12
EMERITUS Professor Garth Gaudry, a champion for the mathematical sciences, has died in Sydney after a long illness.
The son of a Queensland primary teacher, he completed his secondary education at Mackay High School, a degree in mathematics at the University of Queensland and a PhD at the Australian National University. His PhD supervisor was Robert Edwards and they later wrote an influential book on harmonic analysis together. The PhD was followed by post-doctoral studies in Paris and England and time at Yale University as a Gibbs instructor, a prestigious appointment for young academics.
In 1971 Gaudry returned to ANU and, in 1972, was appointed professor of mathematics at the newly established Flinders University. He led the Flinders mathematics department until 1992. Fluent in French and Italian, he and his collaborator Alessandro Figa Talamanca, established many years of collaboration between the mathematicians of Italy and Australia.
One of the highlights of his time at Flinders was a special student named Terry Tao.
Tao came to him at the age of 12 and, with Gaudry’s guidance, entered Princeton University at the age of 17. In 2006 Tao was awarded the Fields medal, considered the Nobel prize in mathematics. Seeing Tao presented with the Fields medal at the international mathematics congress in Madrid was undoubtedly a highlight of Gaudry’s life.
In 1993 Gaudry moved to the University of New South Wales where he became head of school. His research interests at this time were aligned with Swedish mathematicians, and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1994.
Gaudry had appreciated his excellent teachers in rural Queensland. They enabled him to gain a scholarship to the University of Queensland and to undertake further study within Australia. He became a leader among a group of Australian mathematicians who view with dismay the lack of similar opportunity for an excellent mathematics education, especially in remote and lower socioeconomic schools, for today’s young people. They have become active in promoting quality mathematics education across Australia.
Gaudry’s involvement in raising the public profile of mathematics and mathematics education began while he was at Flinders. From 1986 to 1990 he was the vice-president and then president of the Australian Mathematical Society (AustMS). He took a leading role in the creation of the Australian Mathematical Sciences Council, an umbrella group for the mathematical sciences on the board of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS). He was the council’s first president and, in collaboration with FASTS’ executive director, the late David Widdup, achieved considerable prominence for mathematical sciences in the media and political circles.
This commitment to the broader mathematical community continued when he moved to the UNSW, especially in regard to school education. In 1995 he particularly enjoyed meetings with mathematics teachers across NSW as a member of a panel asked to review the implementation of national statements and profiles in NSW.
Then, in 2002, a message went to all heads of mathematics and statistics departments in the universities that there was an opportunity to obtain funding through a Victorian government initiative to establish a mathematical sciences institute at The University of Melbourne. Gaudry immediately saw the benefit to the broader mathematical community and committed the UNSW to full membership. Others followed, the funding proposal was successful, and the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute came into being. Gaudry then moved to Melbourne in 2003 when he became the institute’s inaugural director, a role in which he was instrumental in solidifying what has become a major asset to the mathematical community.
Dr Brendan Nelson, minister for education and science at the time, took a keen interest in AMSI. He found funding within his department’s budget for the first summer school, and honours students from around the country were able to attend four weeks of stimulating courses and peer interaction at The University of Melbourne. AMSI will hold its 11th summer school in January.
In 2003 AMSI was awarded a major grant to establish an International Centre of Excellence for Education in Mathematics (ICE-EM). Gaudry chose to relinquish the AMSI director position to become the ICE-EM director. ICE-EM funded many higher-education activities, including the establishment of a network of access grid rooms. These enable someone in Townsville to participate in a lecture given in Perth.
The grant also led to major initiatives in school education. Gaudry arranged several meetings with mathematics teachers and asked them what would assist them most. It was a seminal moment when one of them said: “The textbooks we use are awful.” And so the ICE-EM schools mathematics materials, consisting of books and support materials, came into being. He worked tirelessly to see this project come to fruition until ill health forced his retirement in 2008.
After he left Melbourne, Gaudry was made an honorary life member of the AustMS, and in June he was presented with an AMSI medal for distinguished service.
He pursued many interests other than mathematics. These included music, the theatre, wine and windsurfing. In later years he became involved in outback travel, birds and photography. He took a keen interest in the work of Australian Wildlife Conservancy.
Friends and colleagues who enjoyed his company and counsel over many years, especially while sharing an excellent red wine, will miss him.
His wife Patricia and children Kerry, Rebecca and Peter survive him.
Jan Thomas was a friend and colleague and is a senior fellow at The University of Melbourne.