Andrew Gleason 1921–2008
, coordinating editor
Andrew M. Gleason was one of the quiet giants of twentieth-century mathematics, the consummate professor dedicated to scholarship, teaching, and service in equal measure. He was too modest to write an autobiography. The folder marked “memoir” in his files contains just a few outdated copies of his impressive CV. But those of us lucky to have known him will offer in the essays that follow some reflections on his mathematics, his influence, and his personality: codebreaking during the Second World War; his role in solving Hilbert’s Fifth Problem; Gleason’s Theorem in quantum mechanics; contributions to the study of operator algebras; work in discrete mathematics; concern for mathematics education as a teacher, author, and reformer; and his service to the profession.
Andrew Mattei Gleason was born November 4, 1921, in Fresno, California, to Eleanor Theodolinda Mattei and Henry Allan Gleason. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on October 17, 2008.
He grew up in Bronxville, New York, and was graduated from Roosevelt High School, Yonkers, in 1938. He received his B.S. from Yale in 1942. While at Yale he placed in the top five in the Putnam Mathematical Competition in 1940, 1941, and 1942, and was the Putnam Fellowship winner in 1940.
In 1942 he enlisted in the navy, where he served as a cryptanalyst until the end of the war. He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War and retired from the navy in 1966 with the rank of commander.
Gleason went to Harvard in 1946 as a Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows. He was appointed assistant professor of mathematics in 1950 and associate professor in 1953, when Harvard awarded him his highest degree, an honorary A.M. He became a full professor in 1957. From 1969 until his retirement in 1992 he was the Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy.
Throughout his time at Harvard he maintained his association with the Society of Fellows, serving as a Senior Fellow for nineteen years and as its chairman from 1989 to 1996.
In 1952 the American Association for the Advancement of Science awarded Gleason the Newcomb Cleveland Prize for his work on Hilbert’s Fifth Problem. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1956, to the National Academy of Science in 1966, and to the American Philosophical Society in 1977.
From 1959 to 1964 he chaired the Advisory Board of the School Mathematics Study Group; he was cochairman of the Cambridge Conference on School Mathematics in 1963 and a member of the Mathematical Sciences Education Board from 1985 to 1989.
Gleason delivered the Mathematical Association of America’s Hedrick Lectures in 1962. He was president of the American Mathematical Society in 1981–82 and served on the Council of Scientific Society Presidents 1980–83. He was chairman of the organizing committee and president of the International Congress of Mathematicians, Berkeley, 1986.
On January 26, 1959, he married Jean Berko, who is now professor emerita of psychology at Boston University. They have three daughters: Katherine, born in 1960; Pamela, born in 1961; and Cynthia, born in 1963.