A Tribute to Lee Lorch

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Lee Lorch, a Science for Peace Board Member from the 90’s until last year, died on February 28th at the age of 95. A wonderful obituary by David Margolick can be read here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/02/nyregion/lee-lorch-desegregation-activist-who-led-stuyvesant-town-effort-dies-at-98.html?src=twrhp&_r=1

Rachel Deutsch also created a film on Lee Lorch’s life which can be found on the Science for Peace YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/Science4Peace/ videos or via the direct link: http://youtu.be/x3MKhuuMhE0

There will be a memorial celebration for the late Lee Lorch in the Winters College Dining Hall, York University, from 3:30 to 6:00 pm on Monday, June 23, 2014. This has been made possible by funding and sponsorship from the York University Faculty Association. To send your message of remembrance please email leelorchmemorial@gmail.com. Every effort will be made to have messages read out during the celebration. For more information, please contact:
Martin Muldoon at muldoon@yorku.ca.

Some thoughts of farewell to my lifelong friend Lee Lorch by Chandler Davis

A fellow mathematician, a fellow militant in the defence of the Left in our native country the United States, and (when the U.S. cracked down on us) my predecessor in the transplantation to Canada.

Just a few of the many occasions on which he led the way.

In 1950, he had been ousted from two established faculties for his struggle against segregation at Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan, so prospective employers were nervous. Liberals were relieved that Lee, though already a notorious agitator, escaped a complete blacklist: he was hired by Fisk, a prominent historically black college in Nashville. Lee was not content to lie low. When the national mathematical establishment held a meeting in Nashville the following year, with a banquet at a whites-only hotel, Lee and three black colleagues showed up at the banquet, with tickets. The management turned them away, and the organizers didn’t back them up, so they had to dine somewhere else that evening; but they appealed to the general mathematical public, and segregated sessions of the Mathematical Association of America were forbidden in later meetings. Some of us admired the action at the time, and I’m happy to report that the Association came around to honouring Lee officially for fomenting this progress, only 58 years later.

He personally recruited many women and minority students to mathematical careers – all his professional life, but especially during his five years at Fisk. Indeed, the population of black women math PhDs took a noticeable jump with Evelyn Boyd Granville, Vivienne Malone Mayes, and others Lee converted. When the New Left turbulence led to the formation of the Association for Women in Mathematics and the (primarily black) National Association of Mathematicians, Lee was an original member and a loyal one.

In the mid-50s, he and Pete Seeger and I found ourselves in a select company: witnesses under indictment for contempt of Congress for refusing to answer before the US House Committee on Un-American Activities. Lee and Pete and I came through this pretty much intact, but the Committee collapsed in disgrace only a few years afterward.

Canadian mathematics has much to thank Lee for, but I’d like to mention a typical case that might be forgotten. In 1975, word got out that the military dictatorship in
Uruguay had imprisoned one of the leaders of the former left coalition: Professor Jose Luis Massera, very well known in mathematics and a leader of the Communist Party. Massera was kept in solitary for many months, tortured, and kept almost incommunicado. There were impressive world-wide protests by mathematicians, as you may imagine. As far as I know, the very first was the statement of the Council of the Canadian Mathematical Congress, initiated by Lee Lorch. I remember the sunny day in 1984 when Massera, newly freed from prison by the ending of military rule, attended the International Congress of Mathematicians in Berkeley, and buoyantly expressed his thanks to those who had supported him all those years— to none more happily than to Lee Lorch!

At a tribute to Lee twenty years ago at a math meeting, organized by three of us including his one-time student Vivienne Mayes, Lee responded to the praise with a gentle disclaimer: “The only thing that’s special about me is that I’m very stubborn.” Well, we knew what he meant: he often persisted when others wavered. Rather than stubborn, let’s say DAUNTLESS.

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