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December 22, 2005

Bye Bye, Raoul

Raoul Bott

Raoul Bott was a huge influence on my life. I learned Differential Geometry from him, in a reading course at Dunster House, where he was House Master, and I was an undergraduate. I and a couple of other Dunster House undergraduates met with him once a week, while working through the notes to his graduate course. Of course, there was that one, somewhat intimidating, week, when Sir Michael Atiyah showed up in his stead…

Raoul started out studying Engineering at McGill and, I think, that “nuts 'n bolts” approach to things mathematical never left him (to be fair, though, Marc Grisaru, who knew him from those days, reports that, “Even then, we knew he was a Mathematician.”). He was one of the people responsible for the close working relationship between Physics and Mathematics at Harvard, and was known to admonish his more skeptical colleagues, “Don’t argue with the physicists; they know how to compute!”

He was a warm and approachable House Master, greeting everyone at the Master’s Teas (back in the days when it was still legal to serve sherry to the undergraduates) with a big bear hug. He and Phyllis also had continuous stream of interesting visitors staying with them at Dunster: from the aforementioned Sir Michael to trumpeter Red Rodney to poet Allan Ginsburg.

But I think what impressed my fellow (non-Physics/Math) Dunsterites most was that, on Martha’s Vineyard, where he and Phyllis summered, Raoul was known as “King of the Nude Beach” — a claim-to-fame few other Harvard House Masters could match.

There’s more from Luboš and Sean and the Harvard Math Department.

Posted by distler at December 22, 2005 4:46 PM

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Re: Bye Bye, Raoul

I’m sorry to hear about this. My parents knew him too, but I was too young when I met him to remember.

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Posted by: IrrationalPoint on January 2, 2006 1:01 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

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