For more than forty years, Irving Kaplansky was active in the American Mathematical Society, and for much of that time he was a driving force. He began as associate editor of the Bulletin at the age of twenty-eight in 1945 — the same year that he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago. Two years later, he became an editor for the Transactions, and ten years after that he was an editor for the Proceedings. He thus served as editor for the entire complement of AMS journals at the time.
In addition to his role with journals, Kap was active in the Society’s governance for many years. He was elected to the Council in 1951 as a young faculty member, and later was elected to the Board of Trustees (as an older one). He was elected vice president in 1974, putting him back on the Council, and finally in 1985–86 was elected president of the AMS. All together, he served a total of ten years on the Council and seven years on the Board — a great many meetings for anyone!
The four years from 1984–87, which included his time as president elect and past president, were particularly eventful for the Society. Kap played a key role in every one of those events. The AMS hosted the 1986 International Congress, which took place in Berkeley; Kap was on the local organizing committee and oversaw many aspects of the Congress. The Society was undergoing some radical changes during this time, including its recovery from a disastrous financial situation earlier in the decade and a restructuring of Mathematical Reviews administration; again, Kap played a key role in reshaping the AMS. And it was during this period that the AMS decided to create a premier journal — the Journal of the American Mathematical Society. Kap was the one who championed this idea (which came from the Committee on Publications) and helped bring the journal to life by carefully choosing the first editorial board.
The most remarkable feature about Kap’s service to the Society was his style. In every job he undertook — in everything he did — he was forceful and yet graceful, eloquent and yet thoughtful, energetic and yet polite. When he received the AMS Steele Prize, Career Award in 1989, the citation acknowledged that style by honoring him for “his energetic example, his enthusiastic exposition, and his overall generosity.” It went on to point out that he “has made striking changes in mathematics and has inspired generations of younger mathematicians.”
Kap left his mark on many parts of mathematics, but he especially left his mark on the Society.