On a Sixty-Year Friendship

January 6, 2008

It seems like yesterday that I shared classes with Phil Davis at Harvard GSAS . . . classes taught by Ahlfors, Bergmann, and maybe others. And there were the afternoons when Phil and his wife, Handy, would invite me to their apartment for tea. I've always admired Phil for his broad perspective of mathematics and its historical development, even in those early days. Following our stints at Harvard I lost track of Phil for a few years. We reconnected when I visited the applied math group at the (then) National Bureau of Standards in Chevy Chase, which was engaged largely in the development of numerical methods for SEAC (Standards Eastern Automatic Computer).

Phil joined the editorial board of SIAM's first journal shortly after the publication of its first issue (in September 1953). In those start-up days---when we struggled to put out four issues a year with four papers each---Phil solicited numerous papers and contributed significantly to the development of a strong numerical analysis component for the journal; ultimately, SIAM's numerical analysis journal would split off from the main journal.

Through the years, Phil has contributed papers to SIAM journals, but in the mid-80s the focus of his writing for SIAM shifted to SIAM News, on a variety of subjects relating to mathematics. At about that time, Gail Corbett joined the SIAM staff as full-time editor for SIAM News. Quickly recognizing the quality of Phil's writing and the breadth of his knowledge about mathematics and its internal and external connections, Gail encouraged Phil to write for SIAM News. The rest is history. As a rough count, Phil has written close to 200 articles for SIAM News---book reviews and essays embracing Phil's brand of musings, and perspectives of math in science, technology, art, and society.

When I think of Phil, I see not only a mathematician but also a prolific reader with an uncanny memory, and wisdom about mathematics as it relates to the real world. I congratulate Phil on his 85th and offer him my very best wishes for many more years of health, happiness, and productivity.---IEB

A very recent SIAM project, the SIAM History of Numerical Analysis and Scientific Computing, has revealed a new side of Phil. Interested readers can appreciate him as both interviewer and interviewee at http://history.siam.org/.


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