Celebratio Mathematica

Lily (Brown) Atiyah

Wedding to Michael, 1955

A short biography

noted by Linda Kirby

Lily Brown was born in Ed­in­burgh in 1928. She was the old­est of three sis­ters, whose fath­er was a dock­work­er at the Rosyth nav­al dock­yard and whose moth­er stayed at home to care for the girls. Lily’s re­min­is­cences of child­hood with her sis­ters re­vealed fun-filled times not without a cer­tain de­gree of mis­chiev­ous­ness. Lily went to one of the best sec­ond­ary non-private schools in Ed­in­burgh and was the first in her fam­ily to go to uni­versity. She was for­tu­nate to re­ceive a schol­ar­ship that en­abled her to at­tend Ed­in­burgh Uni­versity, after which she con­tin­ued on to Cam­bridge to do her Tri­pos. She then entered Gir­ton Col­lege and be­came a stu­dent of Mary Cartwright. When I asked her why she went in­to math­em­at­ics, her reply was “be­cause I wasn’t good at any­thing else!” Lily’s main in­terest lay in geo­metry and she really wanted to work with Ar­thur Er­de­lyi (1908–1977) but he left Cam­bridge to go to Cal Tech. She then wrote her PhD thes­is in ana­lys­is/com­plex vari­ables with Cartwright.

While at Cam­bridge, work­ing on a maths com­mit­tee, Lily met Mi­chael Atiyah. They cour­ted for sev­er­al years and mar­ried in 1955. Mi­chael had been in­vited to the In­sti­tute at Prin­ceton and Lily had to de­cide wheth­er to stay at Bed­ford Col­lege where she was a ju­ni­or lec­turer, or go with Mi­chael. With no re­grets then or now, she chose Amer­ica to be with Mi­chael.

Lily, true to Brit­ish tra­di­tion, is an avid walk­er. She has a sharp memory and an in­nate in­tu­ition when it comes to land­marks and dir­ec­tions—she’s a great nav­ig­at­or! She also has an in­terest in the arts and has taken a few courses in paint­ing and sculp­ture.

Lily and their three boys ac­com­pan­ied Mi­chael on the ma­jor­ity of his many trips, en­rolling them in the loc­al school sys­tems when ap­pro­pri­ate. They have three grand­chil­dren, El­len,16, and two twin boys, 14, who live in Manchester, Eng­land, and whom they see not quite of­ten-enough be­cause of all the chil­dren’s ex­tra­cur­ricular sports activ­it­ies.