Ray Vanstone - Canadian Mathematical Society Obituary

The following Obituary appears in the Canadian Mathematical Society Notes 33 (5) (September 2001):


Ray Vanstone (1933-2001)

Ray Vanstone, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at the University of Toronto, died suddenly of a heart attack on April 9th at his winter home in Florida.

James Ray Vanstone, born on August 12, 1933 near Owen Sound, Ontario, obtained both his bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics at the University of Toronto, and in 1959 gained his Ph.D. at the University of Natal, in South Africa. His thesis, Generalized metric differential geometry, was completed under the direction of Hanno Rund.

In 1959, he came to the University of Toronto as a lecturer in mathematics. Two years later, he became Assistant Professor, and then in 1965 was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor with tenure. In 1973, he became Professor of Mathematics, and retired from the department in 1995. His career was punctuated by visiting appointments to Flinders University of South Australia, the University of Arizona, ETH in Zurich, Switzerland, the University of Western Australia in Perth and the University of Mannheim in Germany.

His chief contribution in mathematical research came from a collaboration with Werner H Greub and Stephen Halperin, colleagues at the University of Toronto. During the 1970s, the three collaborated on a substantial and well-regarded three-volume set, Connections, curvature, and cohomology, published by Academic Press, a major source of mathematical research titles. He wrote, sometimes in collaboration with colleagues, papers in multilinear algebra and on differential geometry as it relates to relativity.

The Canadian Mathematical Society (formerly, Canadian Mathematical Congress) benefited from his service in many ways. He was the managing editor of its Bulletin from 1965 to 1967, and of its Journal from 1983 to 1988. He served on its Council for two terms, 1969-1972 and 1981-1983, chaired the program committee for its biennial seminar in 1971, and edited its proceedings.

He was well-liked by his colleagues in the mathematics department, which he served loyally in a number of ways, as associate chairman in 1970-1975, as secretary to the trustees of the Samuel Beatty Fund in 1980-1995, as a teacher not only on the St George campus but also at the Erindale and Scarborough campuses, as a coordinator of large enrolment courses for engineering, as a supervisor of graduate and undergraduate students, and as regional coordinator for Ontario for the Mathematical Association of America's American High School Mathematics Examination. A number of his students were profoundly influenced by his teaching and went on to become distinguished mathematicians.

Professor Vanstone is survived by his wife, Ann, of forty years, his daughters, Brenda and Kirsten, his sons, Jonathan and Roderick, and five grandchildren.


Reminiscences of Ray Vanstone

As a mathematician Ray was a perfectionist. He was never fully satisfied with a piece of work unless it met his high standard of mathematical rigour and full generality. As a teacher he was a major inspiration to many of his undergraduate students, some of whom went on to become distinguished mathematicians elsewhere. One name comes to my mind: Jerry Marsden, who is now a professor at Caltech. When Marsden accepted a rather prestigious prize from the American Mathematical Society he mentioned Ray Vanstone as the most influential teacher he had at the University of Toronto.

Towards his colleagues and friends Ray was generous almost to a fault. He would go out of his way to help them whenever he felt it was necessary.

Ray had several interests outside his profession. He had a passion for science fiction - had a huge collection of Sci-Fi books. He was interested in ancient cultures and ancient languages (such as Latin and Sanskrit). With Ray even a simple conversation would almost always turn into a serious discussion of non-trivial matters.

In Ray Vanstone the department has lost one of its most valuable members and I personally have lost a loyal friend.

- Dipak Sen (Toronto)



Ray Vanstone has been my friend and colleague in the Mathematics Department since 1955, when I came to Toronto as a Ph.D. student. Ray was a Master's student who had already been here as an undergraduate. Being both interested in geometry, we were together in a number of classes, including courses by Donald Coxeter and Hanno Rund. There was no question that Ray had unusual mathematical talent; that was obvious, without his being the least bit arrogant or offensive about it. There was no question either that he kept well informed on current political and social issues, and he was not afraid to speak his mind on these topics. His conversation was well reasoned, but unlike some of us who perhaps did not hesitate to express unfavourable personal opinions, Ray was always polite. Ray and Ann both took great interest in the social life of the department. Their many acts of kindness to visitors and colleagues, and their families, went far beyond simple human civility.

- Arthur Sherk (Toronto)



The time: September, 1959. The place: a lecture room on the top storey of the cloister wing of University College, in traditional mathematics department territory. A small group of fourth year honours students wait to begin their differential equations course, the text, Coddington and Levinson. The lecturer rushes in, somewhat agitated. Someone new. A young, well-dressed man with a dark beard, who already in his prime can write on the blackboard as fast as any of the veterans in the department. This was my first introduction to Ray Vanstone. His lectures were very well prepared and organized, and adhered very much to the transmission standards of the time. But he was also very friendly - after all, only about five years separated him from his students.

The following summer, attending the Summer Research Institute organized by the Canadian Mathematical Congress in Kingston, I took to bumming a lift with various participants, George Duff, Rod Ross or Ray. Ann and his very young son Jonathan were there as well, and we would travel with the Vanstone family in the front seat and me in the back; not an approved way of travelling with a baby today. Ray and Ann were clearly a couple who enjoyed life, each other and their young child.

Ray's contribution to the weal of the world was not through big causes, but in numerous acts of kindness and consideration to his students, staff and colleagues. Ray was a thoroughly decent man, in the highest meaning of this term: thoroughly devoid of any meanness, a man who valued the important things of life, whose family is his most enduring monument. We are all diminished by his passing.

- Edward Barbeau (Toronto)



I knew Ray Vanstone as a teacher, friend, colleague and mentor. His integrity, generosity, devotion to his students and passion for mathematics made him a fine role model for a beginning faculty member. He was completely dedicated to the University and to the Canadian mathematical community, and served both selflessly and tirelessly. He will be missed.

- Steve Halperin (Toronto)



JOC/EFR May 2019

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