Obituary: Andrew Charles King

April 1, 2005

Andy King, emeritus professor of applied mathematics at the University of Birmingham, died on January 13, finally losing his five-year battle with cancer.

Andy was born in Royston, Hertfordshire, in 1957. His father was in the RAF, which meant that Andy had a peripatetic childhood, taking in Cyprus, Hong Kong, and Germany, before the family finally moved back to England when he was a teenager. He must have been a lively child; I recently discovered, for instance, that he was expelled from two boarding schools. He also claimed, and I have no reason to disbelieve him, that he was a champion water skier during his time in Cyprus.

He began his undergraduate study in the mathematical sciences at the University of Leeds in 1975. After graduating, he started work, also at Leeds, on a PhD with Malcolm Bloor. Through no fault of his own, or Malcolm’s, the research project didn’t work out, and Andy decided to take a job at an engineering company.

Mathematics was always his first love, however, and in 1983, after a brief spell at the Bolton Institute of Higher Education, he took up a lectureship at the City of Birmingham Polytechnic (now the University of Central England). It was there that he honed his considerable teaching skills. I don’t know how he approached his teaching in those days, but in the time I knew him, he never brought any materials to a lecture and yet would produce, off the top of his head, a set of well-written, well-organised notes on the blackboard in his characteristic flowing handwriting.

By 1986, realising that he needed a PhD in order to pursue his academic ambitions, Andy started a new project with Malcolm Bloor, whilst moving to the University of Nottingham as a temporary lecturer. He rapidly produced a thesis on the use of the Schwartz–Christoffel transformation to solve for free surface flows over submerged objects. Years later, at Birmingham, we would often call him “Map Man,” because of his unswerving belief that he could write down a simple formula mapping anything to anything else in the complex plane. In 1989 he moved to the University of Keele as a lecturer. There, his interests widened to encompass reaction–diffusion equations and capillary flows with contact lines. In 1994 I hired him as a consultant for Schlumberger Cambridge Research, and our first collaboration began. In the same year, he moved back to the University of Nottingham as a reader.

Almost immediately afterward, he became a professor of applied mathematics at the University of Birmingham, where he remained for the rest of his career. At Birmingham, he was given the freedom to build up the small Department of Applied Mathematics (and returned my earlier compliment by hiring me), and attracted considerable industrial funding. His work on industrial problems encompassed performance modeling of solid oxide fuel cells, the manufacture of fertiliser pellets, cement hydration, and waves in liquid/liquid separators. In 2002, when his illness forced him to take early retirement, he left applied mathematics in Birmingham in a much healthier state.

Two of Andy’s great loves were nature and, somewhat in contradiction, cars. In particular, he was a very keen fly fisherman, and enjoyed regaling us all with stories about the one that got away, whilst expounding on the virtues of the alloy wheels on his latest car. He was also an avid reader of just about anything, although he was particularly keen on the Flashman novels of George MacDonald Fraser. I hope (and I suppose, as his co-author, I have to say this) that he will be remembered for the two well-received textbooks, Wave Motion and Differential Equations, that we wrote for Cambridge University Press whilst we worked together at Birmingham, for his contributions to the theory of free surface flows, and for his many papers, usually involving an elegant combination of asymptotic and numerical methods.

Andy was an original, and one of the real characters of British applied mathematics. He was a generous man, who helped many people, including me, at crucial stages in their careers. As late as last December, he was still in good spirits, and working with his great friend David Needham on a project for Norsk Hydro. I will miss him very much.

He is survived by his wife, Jane, and their children, Matthew and Danny.---John Billingham, University of Nottingham.


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