Celebratio Mathematica

Shōshichi Kobayashi

Remembrance of Shōshichi Kobayashi

by Arthur E. Ogus

It is a sad but very great hon­or to at­tempt to ex­press our De­part­ment’s enorm­ous ad­mir­a­tion of and ap­pre­ci­ation for Shoshi­chi Kobay­ashi, a task which I am find­ing as mo­ment­ous as any I have yet faced. Kobay­ashi was a ma­jor fig­ure in the his­tory of math­em­at­ics and of our de­part­ment: a stel­lar col­league and math­em­atician and a hero­ic chair­man. He had a bril­liant ca­reer, hav­ing been ap­poin­ted As­sist­ant Pro­fess­or in 1962 and rising rap­idly to the rank of Full Pro­fess­or by 1966. He was also a very kind man, with a quiet strength and a dis­arm­ing smile whose com­pany was sim­ul­tan­eously com­fort­ing and awe-in­spir­ing. Of course I had heard of him long be­fore I came to Berke­ley, and when I ar­rived I was thrilled to meet him and at­tend some of his sem­inars. Sho was chair­man of the de­part­ment from 1978 to 1981, and was very kind with me and oth­ers. This was also at the time of the fam­ous “space wars,” when the cent­ral cam­pus ad­min­is­tra­tion was at­tempt­ing, by means of ob­scur­ant­ist pro­clam­a­tions, for­mu­las, and cal­cu­la­tions, to take a large amount of space away from the math de­part­ment. Calv­in Moore, in his book on the his­tory of our de­part­ment, says “…through subtle and clev­er dip­lomacy, Sho suc­ceeded in hold­ing the loss to about ten per­cent of the total space… a vic­tory.” I re­mem­ber it some­what dif­fer­ently: each time our de­part­ment re­ceived a memo from the ad­min­is­tra­tion, Sho would post it in pub­lic on the bul­let­in board, along with a po­lite but thor­oughly dev­ast­at­ing re­but­tal. This made for enorm­ously amus­ing read­ing for mem­bers of the de­part­ment, but was not so amus­ing for the ad­min­is­tra­tion. Sho’s me­tic­u­lous work re­vealed to me then the dif­fi­culty and com­plex­ity of the role of chair­man. I deeply wish he were still here to help me with his pro­found and kind wis­dom. When I be­came chair, I asked him for gen­er­al ad­vice, based on his time as chair. He warned me not to try to do big things to make a name for my­self. If I can do half what he did for our de­part­ment, I will be very proud.