The Many Sides of Ralph P. Boas, Jr.

Boas, the teacher, on proofs
"I cannot remember who first remarked that a sweater is what a child puts on when its parent feels cold; but a proof is what students have to listen to when the teacher feels shaky about a theorem."

Boas, the mathematical hunter
"We observe that a lion has at least the connectivity of the torus. We transport the desert into four-space. It is then possible to carry out such a deformation that the lion can be returned to three-space in a knotted condition. He is then helpless."

Boas, the mathematician, on understanding mathematics
" Bochner had a number of standard responses to any problem you asked him about ... from 'I think this is not very interesting' to 'I think this cannot be.' Once I got 'I think this is difficult' and then solved the problem. When I took the result to Bochner, he said, 'I think this is trivial."'

Boas, the linguist, on etymology
"I have always been charmed by the fact that the Georgian word for 'father' is 'mama' ' This controverts psychologists who have convincing reasons why a child calls its mother ‘mama.'(In case you are wondering the Georgian word for 'mother' is 'dedi.') The Georgian alphabet seems to have many unexploited possibilities for mathematicians who need new symbols."

Boas, the department chair
"I received a deputation of students who complained about their instructor. They were followed by another group of students who ... wanted me to know what a wonderful teacher they had. Same class, same teacher."

Boas, the editor, on Mathematical Reviews
"Although MR's stated policy was that reviews should be descriptive but not critical, a few vicious comments have crept in from time to time. One review read as follows: 'This paper contains two theorems. The first is due to the referee and the second is wrong."'

Boas, the mathematical expositor, on writing
" Long convoluted sentences, bifurcating into a plethora of dependent clauses, especially those with verbs deferred to the end, with the consequent effect of demanding close attention from the reader, as well as comprehension of sesquipedalian and abstruse words, or of highly specialized technical jargon, are rebarbative and should be sedulously avoided."

Boas, the raconteur
"When I was in England, Heilbronn once invited me to dinner at Trinity He said something about wine. I said that the only thing I knew about wine was that I was born in a good year for port. Heilbronn hesitated barely perceptibly, then said 'Oh, I thought you were older than that."'

Ralph P. Boas, Jr. was a remarkable mathematician. The many facets of his distinguished career as a mathematician, teacher, and editor are explored in these pages. His wit, humor, and humanity emanate from every page.


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