A footnote to Robert H. Mountjoy

In an earlier post titled Mathematical romantic? I mentioned some papers I inherited of one of my mathematical hero’s Andre Weil with his signature. In fact, I was fortunate enough to go to dinner with him once in Princeton in the mid-to-late 1980s – a very gentle, charming person with a deep love of mathematics. I remember he said he missed his wife, Eveline, who passed away in 1986. (They were married in 1937.)

All this is simply to motivate the question, why did I get these papers? First, as mentioned in the post, I was given Larry Goldstein‘s old office and he either was kind enough to gift me his old preprints or left them to be thrown away by the next inhabitant of his office. BTW, if you haven’t heard of him, Larry was a student of Shimura, when became a Gibbs Fellow at Yale, then went to the University of Maryland at COllege Park in 1969. He wrote lots of papers (and books) on number theory, eventually becoming a full professor, but eventually settled into computers and data science work. He left the University of Maryland about the time I arrived in the early 1980s to create some computer companies that he ran.

This motivates the question: How did Larry get these papers of Weil? I think Larry inherited them from Mountjoy (who died before Larry arrived at UMCP, but more on him later). This motivates the question, who is Mountjoy and how did he get them?

I’ve done some digging around the internet and here’s what I discovered.

The earliest mention I could find is when he was listed as a recipient of an NSF Fellowship in “Annual Report of the National Science Foundation: 1950-1953” under Chicago, Illinois, Mathematics, 1953. So he was a grad student at the University of Chicago in 1953. Andre Weil was there at the time. (He left sometime in 1958.) Mountjoy could have gotten the notes of Andre Weil then. Just before Weil left Chicago, Walter Lewis Baily arrived (in 1957, to be exact). This is important because in May 1965 the Notices of the AMS reported that reported:

Mountjoy, Robert Harbison
Abelian varieties attached to representations of discontinuous groups (S. Mac Lane and W. L. Baily)

(His thesis was published posthumously in American Journal of Mathematics Vol. 89 (1967)149-224.) This thesis is in a field studied by Weil and Baily but not Saunders.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The 1962 issue of Maryland Magazine had this:


Mathematics Grant
A team of University of Maryland mathematics researchers have received a grant of $53,000 from the National Science Foundation to continue some technical investigations they started two years ago.
The mathematical study they are directing is entitled “Problems in Geometric Function Theory.” The project is under the direction of Dr. James Hummel. Dr. Mischael Zedek. and Prof. Robert H. Mountjoy, all of the Mathematics Department. They are assisted by four graduate-student researchists. The $53,000 grant is a renewal of an original grant which was made two years ago.

We know he was working at UMCP in 1962. 

Here’s the sad news. 

The newspaper Democrat and Chronicle, from Rochester, New York, on Wednesday, May 25, 1965 (Page 40) published the news that Robert H. Mountjoy “Died suddenly at Purcellville, VA, May 23, 1965”. I couldn’t read the rest (it’s behind a paywall but I could see that much). The next day, they published more: “Robert H. Mountjoy, son-in-law of Mr and Mrs Allen P Mills of Brighton, was killed in a traffic crash in Virgina. Mountjoy, about 30, a mathematics instructors at the University of Maryland, leaves a widow Sarah Mills Mountjoy and a 5-month old son Alexander, and his parents Mr and Mrs Lucius Mountjoy of Chicago.”

It’s so sad. The saying goes “May his memory be a blessing.” I never met him, but from what I’ve learned of Mountjoy, his memory is indeed a blessing.

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