How Alzheimer’s stole the things he loved: Mathematics and Music

Fields medalist Daniel Quillen died yesterday at the age of 70. Known for his role in developing higher algebraic K-theory, Quillen was, until 2006, a Professor of Pure Mathematics at Oxford. His wife of 50 years, Jean Quillen, sent this poignant memo announcing his death. Her description of how Alzheimer’s disease took over his body  and stole the things he loved, Mathematics and Music, is heartbreaking. She also talks about a hospice …

Dear friends and colleagues,

My husband of almost 50 years, Daniel Gray Quillen died quietly and peacefully on Saturday morning around 7 AM, April 30, 2011 at the age of 70.  He is finally at rest and no longer suffering.  In the last week of his life he was wonderfully cared for by the people of Haven Hospice.  My son David, daughter-in-law Amy, daughter Cindy and I were constantly at his side.   Dan died from the final stages of Alzheimer’s and the associated complications.  We were able to follow his wishes of comfort and not making his suffering last any longer than nature had planned.

Alzheimer’s is truly a terrible disease.  It was very hard to watch what it did to Dan over the past 5+ years.  It stole the things he loved and took him from me too early.  It first took his ability to do mathematics, then ability to play music, read, rational thinking and finally recognition of those he loved (except me, thank goodness).

I have no plans for an organized service.  Dan’s body has been donated to medical science, following his clear and long standing wishes.  If the mathematics community would like to organize a memorial service or a memorial colloquium we would be very pleased.

Please do not send flowers.  I don’t know what I would do with them.  If people feel that they would like to do something, I would very much support any assistance to your local hospice or to Haven Hospice

or Alzheimer’s research

The work that hospice does is amazing and finding an answer to this awful disease is unbelievably important.

Thank you for all your support and friendship recently and for almost 50 years.

Jean Quillen

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1 Response to How Alzheimer’s stole the things he loved: Mathematics and Music

  1. Bill Shapiro says:


    I was terribly saddened to learn of Dan’s death. Your moving tribute brought back all the good things I remembered about him from our times together in Cambridge in the 1960s. I think of you and the kids often, although I guess they would have to be called adults now, and I wish you much comfort after these last difficult years.
    -Bill Shapiro.

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