Memorial Speech for Hugh Morris (1932-2012)

By Alejandro Adem, Director of PIMS. Delivered at a memorial on January 25, 2013.


Good afternoon to everyone. We are gathered here to remember a special person, someone who had an impact on our lives as a father, husband, colleague, mentor or perhaps most fundamentally as a friend. Because as I think we all discovered, Hugh Morris could not be a simple business acquaintance; his natural kindness coupled with a probing and inquisitive mind always led to interesting conversations. These interactions were, curiously enough, not about him --a rare treat in this era of perpetual bragging -- they were about life and how we live it, about plans for the future, about family. His clarity of thought, integrity of character and gentleness of soul made Hugh a precious human being.

I first met Hugh when we served together on the Board of Trustees for the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, California. I was very impressed with Hugh, not least I must say because he was the first person I had ever met who was in the gold mining industry. To my surprise there wasn't a single moment of uneasiness between us, he became my friend and a wonderful source of advice when I was offered a position here in Vancouver.

Only later did I come to realize that in fact Hugh had been dealing with mathematicians for the better part of a decade, in his role as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences (PIMS). Yes my friends, Hugh led a mysterious double life, as a geophysical entrepreneur by day and as a friend of mathematics by night! Let me quote my colleague, Professor Ed Perkins from UBC:

"Hugh Morris was someone who I greatly admired and of whom I was very fond. He came to the support of PIMS (the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences) when we were really a disorganized but energetic group of mathematicians trying to build a structure of international stature to support mathematicians in Western Canada. He took over in 1997 as Chair of the PIMS Board. Looking back one wonders why someone of his stature would do this as it clearly was going to involve some serious work and the returns were, quite frankly, risky at best ... he liked us, and saw some potential in our hard work and enthusiasm ... it showed Hugh's willingness to help when he felt the cause was just and important. I worked with Hugh on the PIMS Board, and on the steering committee of the Board for a dozen years. He brought calm leadership and experienced guidance, helped in the trenches when needed, and when called for, used his influence to help steer an organization which at times appeared to be pulling itself apart. PIMS is now a mature and highly successful organization supporting mathematical research in the West, throughout Canada and at the highest international levels. Hugh will have many legacies of course, but the success of PIMS will be one of them. It would not have been possible without his committed support at a critical time."

Thanks to Hugh, by the time I became Director of PIMS, our Board was a model of corporate governance. He was an enormously valuable member of our organization, and always provided excellent counsel. In the words of our current Chairman, Brian Russell:

"Through my years on the PIMS Board, Hugh was always the steady voice of reason behind all of our decisions. He was a wonderful and thoughtful individual who will always be remembered by all that knew him."

Another important member of our Board, Haig Farris, summarized things: "I knew Hugh as a PIMS advocate and in his capacity as VP exploration for Cominco. He was a learned man, fair minded but tough and very committed to causes he thought important. His PIMS legacy will ensure that neither he nor his contribution will be forgotten."

The founding Director of PIMS, Nassif Ghoussoub, wrote: "No one could resist Hugh's dashing charm, his commitment to the tasks he undertakes, his dedication to service and community. And Hugh couldn't resist saying yes to any call for duty. I really hope Hugh passed away knowing how much his friendship, his leadership and his contributions were appreciated by not only me but also by many generations of researchers and scholars.”

The mathematical community of Canada owes a big debt of gratitude to Hugh Morris for his vision and unwavering support. Through his work for PIMS and also on the MITACS Board, he helped us realize that in fact there is a world out there to conquer... with mathematics! He had a keen understanding of how mathematics plays a key role in our society and this vision has enabled the ongoing success of PIMS and MITACS.

At PIMS we benefited directly from Hugh's generosity through the endowment of the Hugh Morris Lecture Series, which brings world class mathematical speakers to universities in Western Canada. This will ensure that Hugh's name will shine forever in the constellation of mathematics.

In the past few years Hugh and I would sometimes get together for lunch, he would come to my office at UBC and we would have long discussions about practically everything. I had the privilege of enjoying his company as a dear friend. In this way I can begin to understand what an irretrievable loss his death must be for his family. However, we can all cherish the wonderful memories of Hugh Morris and salute him as an example to all of us for leading a successful and fulfilling life while extending a warm and strong hand of friendship to so many of us.