My friend Uli and what define Canadians

Honouring U. Haussman at his retirement luncheon, UBC Golf Club

Every once in a while, we hear pundits explaining to us what made Canada and what defines Canadians.

To me, when I think Canada, I think of the colleagues I got to know first when I arrived here exactly  30 years ago.

None of them remind me of the “I am Canadian” ads for Molson Canadian beer.

None of them remind me of the battle of the Vimy Ridge.

To me Canada was personified as soon as I landed here 30 years ago by the likes of David Boyd, John Fournier, Uli Haussman, Denis Sjerve…… and others that are not to be retired yet (fortunately).

Friendliness, integrity, strong work ethics, hard work, self-effacing,  getting the job done without fanfare. This is what always fascinated me about these four colleagues from whom I have learned so much over the years.

A few secrets are supposed to be told on this kind of occasions and here is one. To those of you who think we have a lax review system at UBC, let me tell you this little story. Just one or two years after I was recruited at UBC,  there was a movement led by some of our “then distinguished colleagues” to re-re-review my file. If you think I am a trouble maker now, just think how bad I was when I was 23 years old. Well, a small group of Canadian colleagues didn’t like what was happening. Their strong sense of fair-play took over. John Fournier volunteered to chair my defense committee. David Boyd and Uli Haussman joined him on it. Simply put, Without them, I wouldn’t be here, my family wouldn’t be here …. and thinking about it,  many of you wouldn’t be here. So they should take all the blame for all the havoc I raked over the years.  But as far as I am concerned, I am and will remain extremely grateful.

Now Uli was the very first friendship I developed upon my arrival here 30 years ago. We were both single at that time and ready to party, and we did. Details will be withheld since too many of you know our wives.

I have always believed that Uli is a first rate scholar. I say scholar and not simply a mathematician because Uli has had a remarkable string of careers in mathematics. He has always seen the future, on his own, quietly without  following any trend, and without fanfare. He started in harmonic analysis, and then switched to control theory, taught himself probability theory way before stochastic control became a prominent field. He then taught himself mathematical finance on which he is active till now.

Uli contributed enormously to this department, and I bet not  many of you know the extent of his contributions. Because Uli never did things for glory. He did them simply because they needed to get done. When asked to be Head, he obliged yet he hated every minute of it and resigned after 3 years: the minimal acceptable period. Yet his contribution as head was crucial for the future of this department. I had never seen Barry McBride, the dean then, more disappointed than when he learned that Uli was stepping down.

It is clear to me that Uli is one of the unsung heroes of the founding of PIMS. He was Head then. Ed Perkins and I were  willing to lead the effort, but we knew how much the odds were against us. UBC administrations had ridiculed past efforts. Canada’s eastern colleagues and institutes were adamant against. NSERC was in no mood for a 3rd institute. I don’t know about Ed, but I can tell you that if I did not have the support of Math and its head, there were no way I would have embarked on such a mission. Uli gave us “carte blanche”. Anything we needed: teaching release, funds, staff support, you name it. We never felt we needed to bargain with him to earn the right to … work for the department. Just the opposite, he knew we needed unconditional support and he gave it. He knew better than to nickel and dime us when so much effort was needed.

Uli is one of the unsung heroes of this department. When other universities were investing hundred of thousands of dollars to catch the trend of establishing programs in mathematical finance. Uli just did it on his own. Programme, students, degree and all. Never asked for funding for help or positions.

Another example is MITACS. When we started the network, it was not an easy task to develop collaborative teams to work with industrial partners, fundraising etc… Uli was the very first person who rallied, again at a great cost to his time and his personal life.

Uli has done it all for this department. In every possible way. You will miss him at many levels. Not me, because destiny wanted that my retirement place be essentially next door to his own on BigBar lake. Uli, my whole family and I are looking forward to keep on planting and harvesting potatoes in your field. Thank you for everything.

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