Obituary: Professor Bernard Scott
Saturday 18 December 1993
BERNARD SCOTT was the founding Professor of Mathematics at Sussex University, from 1962 to 1980, and the Independent's first chess writer.
At the time of his birth in 1915, he had the surname Schultz, but he changed it in 1939. The Schultzs were a Jewish family of fur and skin merchants living in Golders Green, and Scott attended the City of London School from 1925 to 1934. Contemporary school magazines give examples of his early penchant for argument and debate, and also record his enthusiasm for sport, especially rugby. His talents for chess and mathematics are also apparent, and he won an Open Scholarship in mathematics to Magdalene College, Cambridge, from where he graduated with First Class Honours, and a Distinction in Part III of the Mathematical Tripos in 1937.
While at Cambridge he met Barbara Noel Smith, whom he married in 1939. They had four sons, but after the children had reached maturity the marriage broke up in 1972. In 1937-38 Bernard remained in Cambridge as a research student of WVD Hodge, and his work led to a Rayleigh Prize in 1939. After a brief spell as a schoolteacher, he became a Lecturer in Mathematics at Queen Mary College, London, just before war broke out.
During the war, as a chess player of some distinction and a pure mathematician of great talent, Scott found his way to Bletchley Park - coyly referred to as 'Room 17, the Foreign Office' in his own curriculum vitae. The success of that project is now widely understood, but so firmly had the ethos of secrecy been maintained that many of Scott's friends only became aware of this work when his wartime colleague Arnold Lynch spoke movingly of those times at his funeral.
After the war, when universities were again allowed to recruit staff, Scott moved to Aberdeen, but stayed less than a year before returning to London as Lecturer in Mathematics at King's College in 1947. His research in algebraic geometry led to the award of a Junior Berwick Prize from the London Mathematical Society in 1951 (his son Peter was also to win a Berwick Prize 35 years later), followed by promotion to Reader in 1953. The depth and elegance of Scott's work were internationally recognised. He expressed his views on mathematics teaching very forcefully; more senior members of the college appreciated his value as a lively and provocative colleague, but his undiplomatic manner was not to everybody's taste.
A big career change took him to be the founding Professor of Mathematics at the new Sussex University. He took up his appointment in 1962, but for almost a year before this he had to recruit students, appoint staff, design courses and conduct publicity for his new charge, while still employed by King's. The new department expanded more rapidly than he had thought possible, and the general glitter of Sussex in its 'Balliol-by-the-sea' era meant that obtaining students was also easier than expected. He did not confine his activities to his own subject; he was a frequent - and witty - contributor to debates in Senate, and his influence in those early years is still apparent.
With his King's colleague Rex Timms, he wrote Mathematical Analysis: an introduction (1966), both to influence the teaching at A level, and to be an undergraduate text. He founded the Sussex branch of the Mathematical Association, and kept long-standing contact with former students, especially those who became schoolteachers. Despite the heavy demands of teaching and administration in a new and expanding department, he continued to publish research. He believed that significant advances in mathematics occur because talented individuals wish to pursue their own ideas, and saw no value in the present fashion for seeking to separate teaching from research.
Outside his work, his interests included chess and opera. He visited Glyndebourne as often as possible, and had been Sussex Individual Chess Champion before becoming the Independent's chess correspondent in his retirement. During a chess game, he suffered his last heart attack, and died 10 days later. He had specified the precise conduct of his Quaker-style funeral, and asked that his family and friends gather afterwards to partake of Madeira and Madeira cake.
He was not an easy man. When he was roused, the sharpness of his remarks could wound, and despite his superb command of language, he would often express himself elliptically, for his audience to puzzle out later. But he was a loyal, warm-hearted and essentially kindly man who could, above all, never be dull.
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