Celebratio Mathematica

Andrew Mattei Gleason

Andrew Gleason 1921–2008

Ethan D. Bolker, 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.

In this Chapter: