ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Lee Lorch, mathématicien et communiste, est mort
by Jean-Pierre Kahane, mathematician
Translated Sunday 9 March 2014, by
Brilliant mathematician, Lee Lorch, an American, led a fight for equality between blacks and whites, between women and men, and among all peoples.
Last September, when he was asked what gift he wanted for his 98th birthday, Lee Lorch answered "another birthday". That wish, he has not been granted: he died Friday, February 28, calmly, in Toronto (Canada), where he lived for half a century.
A fascinating character. He is known and respected as a mathematician, for work that spans seven decades. But he is still better known as a militant for civil rights. The New York Times Sunday has a long article in his honor, detailing some of the actions he has taken in the past with his wife, Grace, resulting in his subsequent ouster from four university positions. First action: the powerful insurance company Metropolitan Life Insurance Company had built, near New York, a small residential town for veterans, but excluding blacks. Lee and his family settled there, Lee forming a committee against discrimination, obtaining the support of many residents, but without ultimate success. Quite the contrary, he was also ousted from his post at the City University of New York, where he had been recruited just after the war, where he was appreciated as a researcher and as a teacher; the Metropolitan had long arms. Lee had to leave New York, but he kept his apartment in order to hand it over to a black family; Lee was then expelled from the residence, and he lost a second academic position, but the Metropolitan failed to expel the black family, and had to give up its exclusion of blacks from the residence. Then Lee was suspected of communism , and it was McCarthyism that chased him from the universities that had welcomed him, and where he was to award the first black students doctorates in mathematics. It was finally in Canada that he was able to continue his career.
He continually led his struggle for equality between blacks and whites in the United States, between women and men, between all peoples. He fought for Massera, as for the Palestinian people. And long after the period insults, long after, came the honors : the City University of New York awarded him an honorary doctorate, and he is a "Fellow" of the American Mathematical Society, the powerful AMS.
Lee was a tireless fighter, but was also a bon vivant, a delightful storyteller full of good humor. Until his last year. He never separated the mathematical field from his social and political concerns, whether it be racism, the oppression of women, or anti-Soviet opinion, he hunted these down vigorously. We must say a word. Today, no one disputes that Mathematics in the Soviet Union was brilliant. But the highest mathematical distinction given by the International Mathematical Union, the Fields Medal, was never awarded to a Soviet mathematician before 1970, and since then very rarely.
All his life, Lee was a Communist - in the highest sense of the term. McCarthyism had not chosen an inappropriate target. Today, my sadness at losing such a friend and comrade is tempered by the wave of recognition that I see rising around him. His was a fine example of humanity to pass on to new generations.