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.