Thank You Notes

The conference held at UBC on the occasion of my 60th birthday has come and gone, and I am still overwhelmed by the generosity and friendship shown by all attendees and organizers. And I am still awed by the powerful, deep and beautiful mathematics displayed by the lecturers. I was warned that I would be exhausted, yet I never felt more invigorated. I was pitied for having to listen to 35 lectures in 5 days, all while sitting in the front row, yet I have never been as attentive to the dazzling display of good mathematics that my friends contributed. I was warned about a banquet turning into a roast, yet never before have I been showered with so much kindness. It is time to say thank you to all those who made this event happen.

First, my deep gratitude goes to all my friends and colleagues who came from afar to celebrate with us and lecture at this conference. I will not cite their names as they are listed on the poster. These guys are among the best mathematicians in the world and I was extremely honoured by their presence. Present –but missing from the poster due to an unfortunate error– is Paul Rabinowitz, a mathematical hero for so many of us. Thanks Paul for being here. My mentor and idol, Louis Nirenberg, was on the scientific committee but could not make it. Get well, Louis. We need your presence.

I can’t thank enough my colleagues Stephen Gustafson, Tai-peng Tsai, Young-Heon Kim, Abbas Moameni, Changfeng Gui and Meijun Zhu, who for over two years dealt with the nuts and bolts of organizing this event. Many thanks to my son’s friend, the super gifted Jaryd Te, for the artful and meaningful poster –and for making me look good!

I am very grateful to the institutions who provided the funding for the conference: The National Science Foundation (NSF), the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (Thanks Alejandro), MITACS (Thanks Arvind), the Centre de Recherches Mathematiques (Merci Francois), the Fields Institute (Thanks Ed), the office of the UBC Dean of Science (Thanks Simon), the department of mathematics (Thanks Mike), and last but not least, the UBC Board of Governors (Thanks Reny and Bill).

I was particularly happy to see so many friends and colleagues joining us at the banquet. The mere presence of, yes, my three bosses was already a great pleasure, but their words on my behalf, deserved or not, were a real joy. By my bosses I meant Alan Eaves, the chair of the Board of Mprime, Doug Mitchell, chair of BIRS and my President Stephen Toope.

Not all the speeches were recorded, but luckily Stephen’s was. And as usual, he managed to articulately, succinctly, and accurately describe my contributions with three B’s, none of them refers to “Bland”.

My very special friend, Ed Perkins did a masterfully fun and meaningful MC job. His references to my wife and children’s contributions to my life, that no one knew better than him, brought tears to many.

Extraordinary circumstances didn’t allow my wonderful friend, Cedric Villani, to make it, but he did send the following fun message that Ed read to the audience.

Ciao Nassif,

It would have been a great joy to be here with you to celebrate, with so many friends from all around the world!  I am sorry that I had to cancel at the last minute, due to family emergencies.

Nassif, you are unique in our mathematical community. If you weren’t here, we would have to invent you! You are always reminding us that it is possible to be at the same time a mathematician and an entrepreneur, building and building again; to be a great scientist and a daring director, well invested in university politics, able to play with the whole world when needed, putting together billionaires and scientists.

With you I had so much fun activating Lebanese networks in Cotonou, sharing knafis in Beyrouth, dreaming and acting together with our common friend Wilfrid for the development of your beloved Africa, chatting over the best way to protect UBC from sin and temptation.

It is all for our mission to do good, for the adrenaline, and for the joy of working together! Happy birthday my friend, and have a long, happy, active life, in Blog and in real!


Last week, I was forwarded the following message from my friend Francois Lalonde, the former Director of the CRM. But before you read it you need to know a little background. A few months ago, the 3 Canadian institutes and BIRS organized a little ceremony to honour and thank Jean-Pierre Bourguignon for his many contributions to Canadian Mathematics. Francois penned such a beautiful tribute on our behalf that I wrote him: Wow! Comme c’est bien dit. Francois, veux-tu t’occuper du discours sur ma retraite, voire mon epitaphe.”

I didn’t need to wait too long for his answer. Je veux bien rédiger ton épitaphe, ce serait un grand honneur. Mais comme tu n’es pas tuable, et que tu résistes à vents et marées, résilience qui est d’ailleurs un bienfait pour l’Humanité, je devrai l’écrire sur mon lit de mort… Amitiés, Francois.

 Luckily, Francois (and I) didn’t have to wait that long for that as he used the occasion to send his colleagues/institute directors this overwhelmingly kind –and certainly undeserved– letter.

     “Some scientists have changed their city, others have changed their region, or their country, and some have profoundly changed the world. Nassif Ghoussoub belongs to all four categories. It is very hard to imagine a person in the scientific world who has had such a tremendous impact on the new institutions that are shaping our future. PIMS, MITACS, BIRS and Peace of Mind, all born in Nassif’s thoughts and rigorous plans, are just the tip of the iceberg. Because there is, much deeper, a genuine and passionate mathematician whose exceptional inspiration and vision have convinced thousands of scientists across the world to follow him — we have indeed followed him with enthusiasm and trust. He has never disappointed us.

       Nassif is a genuine humanist because, in each of his endeavours,  he has always carefully brought into play the best past experiences with his own inspirations, a synthesis that resulted in extraordinary institutions. He is also a mathematician who had and is still  having a major impact in the realm of calculus of variations and PDEs where he developed very original ideas, some of which originated in his sabbatical year at the CRM !

     Bravo, Nassif, and thank you for your extraordinary insights and your powerful generosity. Obviously, this 60th birthday is just a landmark in your career, and it might perfectly be that what will follow will be as striking and decisive as what preceded. I am following your actions closely, and it is always a pleasure to see the vitality in everything that you do, in everything that you achieve.

       Tu as enseigné aux mathématiciens et à tous les milieux que tu côtoyais, à voir grand, à voir loin, à voir beau surtout. Il n’y a pas d’héritage qui soit plus riche. 

Francois Lalonde”

Merci, Francois. I am extremely fortunate to have you as a friend and as a colleague.

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