Lee Lorch

Biographical Information -- March 1995

Lee Lorch was born in New York City in 1915 and graduated from Cornell University in 1935. He did his graduate work at the University of Cincinnati, obtaining his Ph.D. degree in 1941. After some time in mathematically related war work, he joined the US army and saw service in India and the Pacific between 1943 and 1946. His first academic position was at the City College of New York and his most recent was at York University from which he retired officially in 1985.

Professor Lorch has made distinguished contributions to several subfields of classical analysis, including real analysis, summability theory, Fourier analysis, ordinary differential equations and special functions. His publications, spanning over fifty years, have illuminated several difficult problems and have generated international interest. His life-long devotion to scholarship has been recognized in a number of ways including Fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada, service on Grant Selection Committees for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, election to the Councils of the Canadian and American Mathematical Societies, and to the Council of the Royal Society of Canada, and invitations to lecture in several countries.

Lorch is also a tireless fighter for human rights and educational opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities. His long, courageous and continuing struggle for civil rights and for equal educational opportunities for minority groups was carried on at great personal cost including blacklisting which forced him to move from the United States to Canada in 1959. For example, in the late forties, the Lorches attempted to end racial segregation in Stuyvesant Town, a large housing development in New York City. As a consequence, Lee was dismissed from the City College of New York, and subsequently was dismissed from his new position at Pennsylvania State University because he allowed a black family to occupy his Stuyvesant Town apartment. In 1951, we find him protesting because the Mathematical Association of America was willing to hold a regional meeting (in Nashville, Tennessee) in a hotel which would not admit the black members of the Association. (See the letters in Science, August 10, 1951, pp. 161-162.) A few years later (1955), he was dismissed from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, for refusing to testify before the House Committee on Un-American activities. He was called before this Committee after the Lorches attempted to enrol their daughter in their neighbourhood and previously all-black school, following the Supreme Court's decision that school segregation was unconstitutional. In 1957, Grace Lorch rescued a 15-year-old girl from a mob which was resisting the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas where Lee was then employed at Philander Smith College. The funding of this small black college was then placed in jeopardy so he was forced out.

Lorch is a remarkable teacher. Vivienne Mayes (Amer. Math. Monthly, November 1976, pp. 708-711) writes of how he influenced many Fisk University students to pursue graduate work in mathematics. (In fact he taught the only Fisk graduates who went on to do Ph.D.'s in mathematics.) Patricia C. Kenshaft writing on "Black Women in Mathematics in the United States" (Amer. Math. Monthly, October, 1981, pp. 592-604) was able to identify only 21 American Black women who earned doctorates in pure or applied mathematics before the end of 1980. Three of them had studied under Lorch during his five years at Fisk and had clearly been influenced by him to continue their studies.

Professor Lorch moved to Canada in 1959 and spent nine years at the University of Alberta before moving to York University in 1968. He is well known for speaking out on behalf of mathematicians (and others) who are the victims of discrimination, aggression, occupation or economic blockade. He is a strong advocate of peaceful coexistence and of the role of scientists in this effort. Some understanding of his views on how mathematics can be a force for international understanding can be gained from his account of the 1966 International Congress of Mathematicians (Canad. Math. Bull. 10 (1967), 157-162; abridged version Science, 155 (1967), 1038-1039). Further information on Professor Lorch's many-sided activity can be gleaned form his book reviews in Mathematical Intelligencer (10 (1988), 65-69, 11 (1989), 70-71 and 13 (1991), 74-78), his letters in Notices Amer. Math. Soc. (20 (1973), p. 179, 25 (1978), p. 243, 28 (1981), p. 423, 30 (1983), p. 402), 41 (1994), 571-572 and in Nature (281 (1979), p. 98; 301 (1983), p. 9). See also the letters Discriminatory or Compensatory in the May 1995 Notices of the AMS and Further on DMV Obituaries in the August 1995 Notices of the AMS and his remarks on "Gabor Szego: One Hundred Years" in the AWM Newsletter, July- August, 1995.

revised October 27, 1995