Celebrating Martin Barlow and Ed Perkins

A conference was held last week at UBC on the occasion of the 60th birthday of two of my distinguished colleagues, Ed Perkins and Martin Barlow. I was honoured to be asked to say a few words at a banquet celebrating their achievements. My “words” which unfortunately came just before dessert, could not be few. They allegedly caused the soufflé to sink before it was served. Here is an abbreviated version.

I have known Ed Perkins for 34 years and I cannot think of someone who influenced both my life and my career more than him. To start with, imagine being a young starting mathematician ecstatic each time you understand something or prove a little lemma. Then you see your colleague –same age and same career level— publish a 40-page paper: “Local time of Brownian motion is a semi-martingale,” in which he solves a difficult open problem with a highly technical proof. So what do you do?

Well, you quit probability theory. Actually, it could be worse. Rumour has it that a talented graduate student who was an officemate to Paul Cohen and Norm Ornstein at the University of Chicago quit mathematics altogether. That was my first encounter with a young Ed Perkins.

I don’t think I have ever thought about this before until I started thinking about what to say tonight. It is a fact that I came very young to this country and I had lots and lots to learn about professional life, academic life, personal life, ethical life, and of course sports life in North America.  I learned from Ed about every move of Gordie Howe before I had even seen my first hockey game. Luckily, I wasn’t always alone. I will always remember when he took Jean-Francois Le Gall and I to our first baseball game. You can imagine Jean-Francois’ face when Ed gave him his first hot dog and beer.

Ed was already married to his high school sweetheart and the sweetheart of anyone who gets to know Karen. He was grounded, well grounded. And you could imagine in which direction the learning curve was going. Ed is only a couple of months older than I, but it always seemed, that he was several generations of life readiness ahead of me. And I could never dream of a better influence on my life.

Friendliness, high integrity, strong works ethics, hard work, loyalty and dedication to his friends and family, self-effacing, getting the job done without fanfare. This is what always fascinated me about Ed Perkins. I wish I could have learned all this from him over the years. The truth is that he still sometimes makes me feel like a failed student.

Ed and Karen were the first to know about my wife Louise. Ed was best man in my wedding. Ed is the godfather of my son. Ed is Louise’s and children companion in every outdoors activity. Ed Perkins is my brother and not just my brother-in arms in the many battles we waged together for the benefit of our department and of our discipline.

Ed has contributed enormously to this department over the years and Ed is the unsung hero of the founding of PIMS. I know, the directors always get all the glory, but Ed Perkins has been with me every step of the way in the long and arduous journey in founding PIMS. And as a matter of fact, while I quit PIMS 10 years ago, Ed is still serving on its Board 17 years after its founding.

Now many of you in this room know that Ed Perkins has a not so-secret weapon. Not so secret because over the years, Karen has opened her house and her arms (Her hugs are famous –ask Preston Manning) to most people in this room. I have seen this ideal couple grow beautifully together for the last 34 years. They are an inspiration.

And I’ve seen Ed and Karen’s children grow and blossom. No one in the world has managed to get a consensus verdict from my family than over the gentle, kind, gifted, friendly, respectful, pleasant Jeremy Perkins. Shannon’s music and Emily’s writing have always been an inspiration for our own children.

And let me say a few things about Martin. Now we have in our department a piece of jurisdiction called “the Barlow amendment”. It states that if we were to stumble in our searches for talent on someone outstanding, who may be interested in moving to UBC, then we should go all out to try to hire him or her. This is known in our department as “the Barlow amendment”.

Now it is time for the world to know that “the Barlow amendment” existed before Barlow. Actually, back in the early 90’s, the department had earmarked a position for “functional analysis,” the area in which I was working at that time. It happened to be the year Martin showed interest in moving to UBC. So, David Boyd and I who were co-chairing the hiring committee decided that Martin was a functional analyst. And so we got Barlow, because this Barlow amendment is really the Boyd-Ghoussoub amendment.

But then, another problem reared its head. Fine we had managed to recruit Martin but now how can we retain him away from his beloved Cambridge? Karen Perkins had the solution! Easy, she said. We have to connect him with a nice Vancouver woman. One of those –like my wife Louise– who believes that Vancouver is the belly button of the world and Martin will never leave.

Karen’s matchmaking efforts of course failed as usual. But then, one day Martin approached Ed and I: Let’s go out to dinner. There is someone I would like you to meet. Luckily for us, for UBC and for himself, he had found our beloved and super-gifted Colleen. We knew he was to remain with us in Canada for at least a little while longer.

Now I cannot take credit for introducing Martin to Colleen but I want to say that I am extremely proud of my role in getting Martin to UBC. Why? Because Martin and Ed have been one of the very best hires that UBC and our department has ever made. And I do not need to convince this crowd about how much Ed and Martin contributed to put UBC’s mathematics on the international map.

Happy Birthday, Ed and Martin, and many happy returns. UBC needs you. Probability theory needs you. Your many admiring friends need you.

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