Honouring Nigel Lloyd

Ladies and Gentlemen, Messieurs Dames, Friends of Nigel Lloyd. My name is Nassif Ghoussoub and I am a friend of Nigel Lloyd.

Nigel: I have many messages from old friends of yours: Steve, Jacques, Luc, Don, and Arvind. The most urgent one is the following: Your retirement is NOT ACCEPTABLE TO US. We know that you’re kind of upset and jealous that you had to share lately Suzanne, Isabelle, and Janet with the minister of science and technology. But, as your old party-mate Mick said once: You can’t always get what you want.

Actually, I am not sure about Mick Jagger, but the mathematics community have a proof that Nigel is a hard-rocker. We believe that during his Cambridge days, Nigel partied with Meat Loaf (yes Meat loaf) before coming to Canada and becoming: The gentleman at NSERC. How did we know? Well after every long and protracted business meetings with Nigel, he always ended it with: “Let me sleep on it, I’ll give you an answer in the morning.” It took us some time to realize that this was a song from Meat Loaf’s album “Bat out of Hell”. Was it how you characterized our meetings, Nigel?

I know that many of you are dying to know why I am here. Well, it’s been 15 years that I’ve been asking Nigel: Nigel, just give me 15 minutes with NSERC’s council. 15 short minutes please and Canada’s granting world will never be the same…. Thank you Nigel for finally giving me my wish. Actually, I have another one: can you please delete all our heated email exchanges from the NSERC archives, before you leave?

Not to worry Suzanne, Isabelle and Janet. I am here, representing (in a way) a national (and noisy) research community that owes NSERC and Nigel Lloyd a great deal, because Nigel has always represented what is best about NSERC. Had we started a signature campaign for a thank you letter for Nigel, he would have by far exceeded the 2400 signatures obtained for his competitor.

Now things weren’t always like this, you see. Almost 15 years ago, Steve Halperin, Jacques Hurtubise, Jonathan Borwein, John Chadam, and I marched into the offices of Nigel nearby asking for our money back (Nigel would say stomped). Mathematics had lost tons of cash in the first NSERC re-allocation exercise. I personally believe that it was a defining moment that made a huge difference in the professional lives of hundreds of Canadian researchers. Nigel of course never did and had no intention to give us any money back, but it turned out that he gave us much more: He simply had the wisdom to reach out, to listen to our crazy ideas, and to just be Nigel.

For one, he gave us a renewed confidence in the system, and who is better than Nigel at radiating integrity, and a sense of fair play. For us, it was the beginning of a long educational process on how the “system” worked. But with leaders like Nigel and Tom, you feel that you have a chance if you persevere enough, if you start thinking globally and coherently the future of your discipline.

Shortly after that meeting, Tom was appointed President and what was his first act? To come meet the angry crowd in Vancouver: Green College 1995. I remember Nigel looking so worried (and you can read everything on Nigel’s kind face) feeling very responsible for bringing the new NSERC boss on his maiden voyage to Falluja. He had reasons to worry… not because we were unpleasant or anything like that, but because we were struggling to explain to them a vague idea of a National network (the first version of MITACS). I mention MITACS because the network is now a benchmark for research and training success stories in Canada and the world. It has made a difference in the professional lives of literally thousands of Canadian scientists (and not only mathematicians). MITACS wouldn’t have existed without the early guidance and support of Nigel and Tom.

I am also well positioned to tell you that BIRS (the Banff International Research Station- another Canadian Success story) had no way to see the light if it hadn’t been for Tom and for Nigel. Now BIRS has been receiving the largest NSF grant in Canada since 2003. But in 2000, it took an unprecedented trip to Washington D.C by Nigel (after a green light from Tom) to communicate all the good vibes to our international partners. To tell them that Canada is open for collaboration, and to make this unprecedented partnership a reality. A message and an action plan that we need to emulate and repeat more often than not, especially now that huge opportunities are flourishing south of the border.

And more recently, when we wanted to engage Mexico for BIRS, it was Nigel again that I looked to for help. He couldn’t accompany me this time around, but I knew that for the national interest, he would let me fake his sexy accent. Actually, I can confess now, that as a research community, before proceeding with any new project, any new idea, I ran them by Nigel first. He was always willing to listen. He became our focus group, our man in Ottawa, the one who would tell us what was possible and what was not.

Thank you for your friendship Nigel: I know that after that faithful meeting in 1994, you became such a trusted friend to so many of us, that you got stuck writing recommendations letter for almost every member of the initial team who became, Presidents, Vice-Presidents, and Deans. As to myself, I know that I’ve always had your support in my role as hell raiser in chief for the good causes. I could always see your chuckle all the way from Vancouver.

You taught us integrity and generosity with style. You gave us time, guidance, and friendship. On behalf of all your friends in the Canadian mathematical community, I say Thank you and good luck in your future plans. Since Gardening must surely be one of them, here is something that may come in handy, especially if you move west where you have many friends.

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