Buckling under the weight of an award

Last Sunday, the Canadian Mathematical Society had a banquet in downtown Vancouver, where they officially gave out their annual prizes. I was honored to receive the David Borwein Distinguished Career Award.

I was of course thrilled when I was told a few months prior, that I would be awarded this prize. But soon after, our President, Stephen Toope called to congratulate me. Just before he hung up, he slipped: “but it must be disconcerting to start getting career awards.” That’s when it hit me; there is a hidden message in this. Time for Ghoussoub to sail away (quietly) into the sunset. Just when I thought I was warming up!

The banquet was enjoyable. It is always fun to have John Hepburn, our VP-research around. After his speech, he (a chemist) confided: “ I have been giving so many speeches lately about and for mathematicians, that I may start believing it”. His latest was during the BIRS announcement ceremony in September. He wasn’t supposed to be seated on our table, but our wives decided otherwise, breaking the protocol, … among other things.

Before handing me the award, Jacques Hurtubise, the current President of the CMS, made a long and flattering speech about me. The only glitch was: I was the only one in the room who could understand it. It was all in French.

Then the prize came, a beautiful metal sculpture (see above) by the American artist Helaman Ferguson.  The only problem was that it weighed a ton, and as I was handed the weighty trophy, the crowd decided to give a lengthy standing ovation. Luckily, Jacques saw that I was struggling and helped me carry it for the duration.

Time now to give a speech. The prize is about career achievements in both research and service. Getting it was a great honor once you realize that the Canadian mathematical community is hugely blessed with an inordinate number of top scholars who are also willing to serve and lead the global community. I guess the Borwein family knew what they were doing. After all, they  –father and sons—are a class of their own in this category. I did take my first steps into public service under the guiding influence of Jonathan Borwein, and he did show me a few tricks of the trade as we were building PIMS together. Now you can blame him …

A sad part of the ceremony was the absence of Richard Kane. He had nominated me for the award and had promised to come to Vancouver for the event. Richard passed away on September 1. I miss him.

It is now time to carry the sculpture to the car for the trip home. The ever-gentlemanly David Brydges offered to help me carry it. We took turns doing so.  It didn’t help that I couldn’t remember the floor where I had parked. Thank you David.

The triumphal return home was interrupted by an unforeseen realization. None of our IKEA coffee tables could carry the statue. It has to lie on the floor until our next furniture-shopping trip. It might take a while …

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One Response to Buckling under the weight of an award

  1. Pingback: Higgs Boson not confirmed yet, but Mathematics of salt is | Piece of Mind

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