Writing in Bertinoro, Italy, I have just learnt of the death earlier this year of J. Martin Harvey (1949-2011), a friend and former colleague, and one of Zimbabwe’s great mathematicians.
Martin was the first black student to gain First Class Honours in Mathematics from the University of Rhodesia (as it then was, now the University of Zimbabwe), the first person to gain a doctorate in mathematics from that University, and the first black lecturer appointed to teach mathematics there. (Indeed, his three degree certificates name three different universities – London, Rhodesia, and Zimbabwe – but all were granted by the same physical institution.) He later became an actuary, one of the few of any colour in Zimbabwe, but this was a career that lost value with the declining Zimbabwe dollar: actuarial science is about financial planning under uncertainty, and planning is impossible and pointless in an economy with hyper-inflation. He then became part of the great Zimbabwean diaspora, lecturing at the University of the Western Cape, in South Africa.
Martin was a true child of the sixties, with all the best qualities of that generation – open, generous, tolerant, curious, unpompous, democratic, sincere. He was a category theorist, and like most, a deep thinker. Martin was a superb jazz flautist, and on his travels would seek out jazz musicians to jam with. He wrote and recited poetry, and indeed could talk with knowledge on a thousand topics.
I once spent a month traveling the country with him on a market research project we did together, and his conversation was endlessly fascinating. Despite our very different childhoods, I recall a long, enjoyable evening with him in a shebeen in rural Zimbabwe talking about the various American and Japanese TV series we had both seen growing up (which I mentioned here). Among many memories, I recall him once arguing that a university in a marxist state should have only two faculties: a Faculty for the Forces of Production, and a Faculty for the Relations of Production. There was great laughter as he insisted that the arts and humanities were essential to effective production, and so belonged in the former faculty; this argument was typical of his wit and erudition.
Our mutual friend, Professor Heneri Dzinotyiweyi, another great Zimbabwean mathematician, has a tribute here. I send my condolences to his wife, Winnie Harvey, and family. Vale, Martin. It has been an honour to have known you.
J. M. Harvey : Categorical characterization of uniform hyperspaces. Mathematical Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 94: 229-233. Available here.