Celebratio Mathematica

Thomas Milton Liggett

Tom Liggett, mathematics…and me

by Chris Liggett

In 1966, I, Christina Goodale, began my long as­so­ci­ation with the Math­em­at­ics De­part­ment at UCLA as Seni­or Typ­ist Clerk. I was the Re­cep­tion­ist for the Math­em­at­ics De­part­ment in MS6115 in the old wing of the Math­em­at­ics Build­ing. That small of­fice was the cen­ter of the De­part­ment. It con­tained the Chair’s Of­fice, his as­sist­ant’s of­fice, the of­fice of the Seni­or Ad­min­is­trat­ive As­sist­ant, and a con­nect­ing door to the of­fice of the Gradu­ate Ad­min­is­trat­ive As­sist­ant, MS6103. The Math­em­at­ics De­part­ment at that time was small, but then something like Sput­nik came along, and Rus­sia was in space, and the US de­cided it needed math­em­aticians and sci­ent­ists to catch up rather quickly.

A new math­em­at­ics build­ing was planned. New young as­sist­ant pro­fess­ors were be­ing hired, as well as more seni­or fac­ulty, and the gov­ern­ment provided many more US fel­low­ships for in­com­ing gradu­ate stu­dents. My job changed too. I be­came Sec­ret­ary to the Gradu­ate Ad­min­is­trat­ive As­sist­ant, and in 1968, I be­came the Gradu­ate Ad­min­is­trat­ive As­sist­ant, mon­it­or­ing 300 gradu­ate stu­dents! The staff was ex­pand­ing too, as we pre­pared to move in­to the new wing of the Math­em­at­ics Build­ing.

One of my many du­ties at that time, was to take pic­tures of all the new fac­ulty and vis­it­ing Pro­fess­ors. Their pic­tures, as they are today, were to be dis­played on the de­part­ment’s main bul­let­in boards. My cam­era was an old po­lar­oid that only took black and white pho­tos. Some were price­less and of the times; long side­burns, longish hair, big glasses, and men with ties, and yes, still very few wo­men!

Tom ar­rived at UCLA on Ju­ly 1, 1969. He loved to tell the story of how he, a new PhD from Stan­ford, had asked for an ap­plic­a­tion from UCLA and oth­er in­sti­tu­tions, and not only did he get an ap­plic­a­tion from UCLA, he got a job of­fer as an as­sist­ant pro­fess­or at an aca­dem­ic salary of \$10,200.00! He was com­ing to UCLA!

I took his pic­ture, and now my story be­gins…

Tom was tall and thin, had brown hair, long side­burns, big brown glasses, and he wore a tie, and he was very shy.

I was short and thin, had brown hair, brown glasses, and I was fairly out­go­ing. It was a busy time, lots of stu­dents and fac­ulty, and I didn’t see him around all that much un­til 1971. After all, these young as­sist­ant pro­fess­ors were hav­ing to prove that they were ready for ten­ure track po­s­i­tions, pub­lish or per­ish was the cry! So­cial­iz­a­tion for the Math­em­at­ics De­part­ment was very im­port­ant. The an­nu­al Spring Soft­ball Fac­ulty/Gradu­ate stu­dent game was al­ways a big draw for a nice Sat­urday gath­er­ing for fam­il­ies, staff, and stu­dents. Tom was not a good soft­ball play­er, and I loved base­ball, a Dodger fan forever!

On Fri­days after of­fice clos­ing time, some­times some of the staff, gradu­ate stu­dents, and fac­ulty, would walk in­to the Vil­lage to the loc­al Pizza joint and share Pizza and a glass of beer. By the way, Tom nev­er liked beer, and that is when I star­ted to get to know him, Tom Lig­gett, a mu­sic lov­er as I, who liked to sing as I, and en­joyed books and travel as I, the man I mar­ried on Au­gust 19, 1972.

Our blos­som­ing court­ship in the sum­mer of 1971 was in­ter­rup­ted by Tom’s first sab­bat­ic­al to Par­is to work with Jacques Neveu, a fam­ous prob­ab­il­ist at the Uni­versity of Par­is VI, with stops in Spain and Is­rael. I would meet him in Decem­ber, 1971, in In­di­ana­pol­is to wel­come him home, and meet his par­ents. He wrote me 44 let­ters between the peri­od of Au­gust 20, 1971 to Decem­ber 28, 1971; let­ters which I still have and read today…

We be­came en­gaged in May of 1972. A re­la­tion­ship between a staff mem­ber and a fac­ulty mem­ber, es­pe­cially when a mar­riage was be­ing planned re­quired ad­min­is­trat­ive ap­prov­al. NEPOT­ISM had to be avoided. Aca­dem­ic per­son­nel had to ap­prove of Tom, and it had to be ap­proved that I was a qual­i­fied ap­plic­ant for my cur­rent job, and the De­part­ment couldn’t af­ford to do without me, and I was not al­lowed to have ac­cess to Tom’s re­cords, etc. I turned in my mas­ter key, but I got to keep my Pro­fess­or!

Tom be­came a ten­ured fac­ulty mem­ber in 1973. It was be­com­ing ob­vi­ous that he was go­ing to have a bright fu­ture as a young math­em­atician. He was awar­ded an Al­fred P. Sloan Re­search Fel­low­ship in 1973, and plans were emer­ging that I would re­tire from UCLA on Ju­ly 1, 1973. We would plan a vis­it to Cor­nell Uni­versity in early Janu­ary, 1974 to be­gin a semester, where Tom would col­lab­or­ate with the gi­ants in Prob­ab­il­ity, Frank Spitzer and Harry Kesten. We left LA right after New Year’s Day to drive across the coun­try to Ithaca NY, through the snow and cold of winter. It was fun! Tom and I loved the out­doors, the beauty of the land. This was the be­gin­ning of many travels we would share to­geth­er the rest of our lives.

We had a very pleas­ant stay in the East. Tom en­joyed his work, and I en­joyed ex­plor­ing down­town Ithaca and of­ten lived in the Ithaca Lib­rary! I had nev­er been this far east, and every week­end we ex­plored cent­ral NY, the Lake Cay­uga area, and even made a trip to Niagara Falls. When Spring came we headed home after at­tempt­ing to learn to play ten­nis, and en­joyed watch­ing Cor­nell play lacrosse, something you don’t see that of­ten here on the West Coast. This trip would be our only trip we ever took to­geth­er where we would be gone from Los Angeles for such an ex­ten­ded peri­od of time.

The rest of 1974 be­came a blur of activ­ity. We de­cided we wanted to buy a house when we re­turned from Ithaca, and between Tom’s in­creased math­em­at­ic­al activ­ity and math­em­at­ic­al trips, we man­aged to buy our Stan­wood house in Septem­ber, 1974. We also wanted to start a fam­ily, and bingo, Timothy Jack­son Lig­gett was born Ju­ly 27, 1975, in­to an­oth­er blos­som­ing fam­ily, “In­ter­act­ing Particle Sys­tems.” We were so proud!

I have been very for­tu­nate to have met a vari­ety of in­cred­ibly, in­ter­est­ing people in my life, of course, in­clud­ing math­em­aticians, and in 1976 I had the pleas­ure to meet some of the best and bright­est with their fam­il­ies, at the Saint-Flour Prob­ab­il­ity Sum­mer School in Saint-Flour, France. This two-week sum­mer school was held in an “old” eight­eenth-cen­tury sem­in­ary build­ing on top of a moun­tain. Tom had been one of the in­vited lec­tur­ers to teach a short course, for a group con­sist­ing of doc­tor­al stu­dents, in­struct­ors and re­search­ers in­ter­ested in prob­ab­il­ity.

I can’t re­mem­ber how I felt as a new mom with a 12-month-old little boy, hes­it­at­ing about fly­ing with Tom to Par­is with Tim, but some­how, the three of us, with only an old-fash­ioned stroller, com­pared to today’s stand­ards, flew off to Par­is, took a train through the rugged moun­tains and ended up in an eight­eenth-cen­tury sem­in­ary! Thank­fully, pa­per di­apers had just be­come avail­able, but Tim was not used to drink­ing milk that was sit­ting in the kit­chen, un­re­fri­ger­ated in a wooden vat full of flies, and Tom the proud Dad he was, was not go­ing to have his son drink that milk! (Tom loved to tell this story!) Yes, we were able to get milk in a car­ton, and fruit from the small loc­al gro­cery store, and a bassin­et was provided for us, and yes I could rinse out Tim’s clothes from the sink in our room, and lay them on the bushes out­side our win­dow to dry. Those were the days, my friends… Math­em­at­ics ruled the day­time. We would play cards at night, wine and con­ver­sa­tions around the table, good food for meals, and at the end of the con­fer­ence, the cook­ing of a lamb on a spit, the cul­min­a­tion of a suc­cess­ful meet­ing. Last­ing friend­ships were made. Tom’s Saint-Flour notes were first pub­lished in 1977; the spread­ing of “In­ter­act­ing Particle Sys­tems” had be­gun.

Tom be­came a full pro­fess­or of math­em­at­ics at UCLA in 1976. His math­em­at­ic­al stature was grow­ing and in that same year he be­came a fel­low of the In­sti­tute of Math­em­at­ic­al Stat­ist­ics. He also loved be­ing a dad, hav­ing our own home, and he be­came the garden­er of the fam­ily. He loved be­ing out­side and work­ing with his hands. He did all the paint­ing, but was not great with plumb­ing or elec­tric­al work!

We had also thought about hav­ing an­oth­er child and Tom was be­gin­ning to be­come in­volved with de­part­ment­al ad­min­is­tra­tion. In 1978, he be­came Vice-Chair for Ad­min­is­tra­tion, work­ing with Ted Gamelin, the Chair at that time. He would hold that po­s­i­tion un­til 1981.

1978 be­came a mo­ment­ous year for us, Tim would be three and our second child, our be­loved daugh­ter Amy, was born on May 31, 1978, three and a half months be­fore she was sup­posed to make her de­but! Know­ing the amaz­ing wo­man she has be­come, she ob­vi­ously wanted to be in­volved with the grow­ing ac­com­plish­ments of this young Lig­gett fam­ily. Amy was nev­er kept in a bubble. Yes, it was hard, rais­ing a child with spe­cial needs; but we took her every­where, Na­tion­al Park Trips, con­certs, mu­seums, Dis­ney­land, the zoo, air­plane rides to vis­it grand­par­ents. We learned how to modi­fy our lives, get­ting res­ults but, with dif­fer­ent sets of “how to do.”

As I stated earli­er, Tom loved be­ing a Dad, he was also one of the most or­gan­ized, and dis­cip­lined per­sons I ever knew. He at­ten­ded t-ball, little league games, BB games, Amy’s chor­al con­certs, all the kids school activ­it­ies, and still was able to main­tain his high pro­file in math­em­at­ic­al re­search and teach­ing. He was tak­ing on more de­part­ment­al ad­min­is­trat­ive du­ties, as well as pro­fes­sion­al du­ties, be­com­ing an as­so­ci­ate ed­it­or of the An­nals of Prob­ab­il­ity in 1979–1984. Yes, and he still liked to work in the garden!

It seems like after Amy’s birth, there be­came a burst of activ­ity in the Lig­gett house­hold. Tom and I real­ized that more space would be needed in our 1947 home, and plans were emer­ging to add a second story. Tim’s toys were over­tak­ing Tom’s desk, which was in­ter­rupt­ing his math­em­at­ic­al out­put. So, plans were un­der­way to pro­cure an ar­chi­tect and a build­er. A con­tract was signed on 7/15/80, and we were a go for con­struc­tion! Tom knew every de­tail of the plans, and his math­em­at­ic­al mind cer­tainly helped. The job was com­pleted through sweat and tears, but it in­deed was the right pro­ject to do for the fam­ily. Per­son­ally, I don’t know how we man­aged the early years after Amy’s birth, but with our sup­port­ive par­ents and dear friends, and amaz­ing ther­ap­ists and teach­ers for her, and yes love, and com­pas­sion for one an­oth­er, we were head­ing to­ward an ex­cit­ing and amaz­ing life for our fam­ily after all.

Dur­ing this time, we en­ter­tained many math­em­at­ic­al guests who came through UCLA, and it was al­ways a pleas­ure to meet them. We also es­tab­lished a pat­tern of in­vit­ing postdocs and vis­it­ing schol­ars for Thanks­giv­ing din­ners. I didn’t real­ize that my life would be chan­ging from home or­gan­izer, cook and bottle wash­er to a tech­nic­al typ­ist, but Tom needed my tech­nic­al skills to com­plete a pro­ject he had been work­ing on in 1985; his clas­sic book, In­ter­act­ing Particle Sys­tems. He al­ways gave me cred­it for con­vin­cing him to write this book, and now he needed a typ­ist, someone he could work with every day who was not a tech­nic­al typ­ist in the Math­em­at­ics De­part­ment. I agreed. As Tim al­ways said, “My Mom is just a typ­ist!”

Tech­nic­al typ­ing was an art at that time. It in­volved chan­ging sym­bol wheels with al­pha­bet­ic­al wheels, and sten­cils were used to fill in fig­ures not found on the sym­bol wheel. You needed to know how to break a the­or­em or a proof; it was in­deed a chal­lenge, and in­deed an art. Any changes were time con­sum­ing! (My warn­ing to Tom.) The book was pub­lished in 1985. He ded­ic­ated it to our fam­ily.

Not only was Tom’s book pub­lished in 1985, he be­came Ed­it­or of the An­nals of Prob­ab­il­ity, and he needed an ed­it­or­i­al as­sist­ant. Amaz­ingly, Tom and I worked very well to­geth­er on the book, and since Tim and Amy were es­tab­lished in their re­spect­ive work part-time. The powers to be of the Ed­it­or­i­al Board didn’t like the idea of me work­ing at home, nor Tom hir­ing his wife, but Tom in­sisted. I was hired through the Math­em­at­ics De­part­ment which provided me with an of­fice, but my salary was paid for by the IMS, which was also the fund­ing source for the An­nals. The An­nals provided me with an old friend, a trusty IBM elec­tric type­writer. No com­puters yet! No email! Everything was typed by me; ed­it­or­i­al re­ports, all cor­res­pond­ence, of course with car­bon pa­per cop­ies. We had a budget for stamps! I was mail­ing doc­u­ments all over the world.

In 1986 Tom was an in­vited speak­er at the In­ter­na­tion­al Con­gress of Math­em­aticians which was a great hon­or for him, and it happened to be at UC Berke­ley! For­tu­nately, with the help of a won­der­ful babysit­ter, I was able to fly up dur­ing the day to hear his talk and leave early the next day to get home to Tim and Amy. Tom was a won­der­ful speak­er, his en­thu­si­asm for his sub­ject was very evid­ent and I was so glad I could share this won­der­ful mo­ment with him, and many more mem­or­able math­em­at­ic­al mo­ments dur­ing our 48 years to­geth­er.

Tom’s ed­it­or­ship ended in 1988, as did my po­s­i­tion, but the Math­em­at­ics De­part­ment kept me on as a cas­u­al em­ploy­ee for typ­ing, and learn­ing a new sys­tem, a com­puter tech­nic­al typ­ing pro­gram, AMS\( \mathrm{\TeX} \)!! Yikes!

In 1991, Tom, who was 47, be­came Chair of the Math­em­at­ics De­part­ment and served un­til 1994. Dur­ing that time as Chair, he had 16 pa­pers pub­lished, and Tim and I ac­com­pan­ied him one sum­mer to Chile, Ar­gen­tina, and Brazil for meet­ings and sight-see­ing.

This was a very dif­fi­cult time for the UC sys­tems throughout Cali­for­nia with tight budgets for the whole state. The Dean at that time was very dif­fi­cult and not par­tic­u­larly friendly to the Math­em­at­ics De­part­ment. There were few po­s­i­tions avail­able to all of phys­ic­al sci­ences. Those were lean years, and Tom did his best to keep the mor­ale of the De­part­ment up, and be its strong ad­voc­ate. He al­ways was a man of high stand­ards and high prin­ciples. Dur­ing this time, I was work­ing part time as Stu­dent Af­fairs As­sist­ant for un­der­gradu­ate stu­dents, and then in 1992, I went back to my roots as the Gradu­ate Stu­dent Af­fairs As­sist­ant un­til 1998, when I of­fi­cially re­tired again on Ju­ly 1st. Our son Tim was get­ting mar­ried on Ju­ly 11, 1998, a year after he gradu­ated from Har­vey Mudd Col­lege, and Amy had just fin­ished her first year of col­lege at Cal State North­ridge. My how they had grown!

Dur­ing Tom’s Chair­man­ship, we hos­ted many fac­ulty din­ners, and yearly Chair’s parties, and a spe­cial din­ner party for an in­cred­ible staff that has al­ways worked for the Math­em­at­ics De­part­ment. We even hos­ted a Col­loqui­um Party dur­ing a power out­age by candle­light, one of our high­light mo­ments of host­ing! I had to use my neigh­bor’s stove to bake my cake; hers was gas, mine was elec­tric!

Tom was tired when he fin­ished be­ing Chair, and after he took some time off to en­joy our fam­ily pool built in 1992, he was look­ing for­ward to teach­ing again, and of course get­ting back to full-time re­search. In 1996 he was chosen as the IMS Wald Me­mori­al Lec­turer, and in 1997, he was awar­ded a Gug­gen­heim Fel­low­ship through 1998.

Dur­ing his fel­low­ship year, he was con­tem­plat­ing an­oth­er book, and his second book, Stochast­ic In­ter­act­ing Sys­tems: Con­tact, Voter, and Ex­clu­sion Pro­cesses was pub­lished in 1999. This book be­came his 74th pub­lished work, and he typed it him­self!

In the Fall of 2000, at age 56, Tom was dia­gnosed with dia­betes. His fath­er was a dia­bet­ic, dia­gnosed later in his life, and as dis­cip­lined as Tom was, he needed to make changes. No more sweets, less carbs, and more ex­er­cise. I needed to be­come a more cre­at­ive cook; Tom did love to eat! He be­came a biker, first in the neigh­bor­hood, then down to the beach, and the bike path, up and down the coast he went! With a new diet, and bik­ing, his sug­ar levels were un­der con­trol.

The dec­ade of 2000 be­came mo­nu­ment­al for our fam­ily. Tim and Am­ber had bought a house in 1999, Amy gradu­ated from North­ridge in 2003 and would start her fall semester at the Clare­mont School of Theo­logy, and our first grand­child, a grand­daugh­ter, Aman­da Vir­gin­ia Lig­gett was born on Oc­to­ber 19, 2004! Wow, this was big for Tom and me. At this junc­ture in his math­em­at­ic­al ca­reer, he now had 82 pub­lished writ­ings. He also de­cided that at age 60 he would ac­cept the po­s­i­tion of Un­der­gradu­ate Vice-Chair from 2004–2006, one more ad­min­is­trat­ive po­s­i­tion he would serve for the De­part­ment. In June of 2007, Amy gradu­ated from Sem­in­ary with a M.A. De­gree in Re­li­gious Edu­ca­tion, fol­low­ing in her Grand­moth­er Lig­gett’s foot­steps, and to top that, our second grand­daugh­ter, Jenna Ruth Lig­gett was born on Novem­ber 1, 2007! Grandma Chris and Grand­dad Tom were so proud!

In early April, 2008, the ma­gic­al math­em­at­ic­al mo­ment came to Tom; a 6 AM phone call con­grat­u­lat­ing HIM on his elec­tion to the Na­tion­al Academy of Sci­ences!!!! At age 64, 39 years of be­ing a UCLA math­em­at­ics pro­fess­or, 88 pub­lic­a­tions, two of which were books, the crown­ing achieve­ment of his ca­reer! Our fam­ily was in­cred­ibly happy for him, and he was so pleased that he could share this mo­ment with his dad, who was able to at­tend a re­cep­tion for him and two oth­er Phys­ic­al Sci­ence nom­in­ees at UCLA. In late April, Tom and I flew to Wash­ing­ton, DC for the in­duc­tion ce­re­mony, one of the most glor­i­ous and hap­pi­est oc­ca­sions in our life, to be wined and dined, and even dance to­geth­er at an el­eg­ant din­ner held at the Na­tion­al Por­trait Gal­lery.

In 2009, Tom would turn 65, and one of his former PhD stu­dents, Day­ue Chen, who was now a prom­in­ent Math­em­at­ics Pro­fess­or at Pek­ing Uni­versity flew to Los Angeles in late 2008 to see if Tom and I would fly to Beijing in June of 2009. To­geth­er with En­rique An­djel, an­oth­er of Tom’s stu­dents, and Tom Mount­ford, a former UCLA col­league, Day­ue wanted to host and or­gan­ize a 65th birth­day work­shop in In­ter­act­ing Particle Sys­tems from June 15–19, 2009. Tom and I were get­ting tired of long-dis­tance fly­ing, but it was such a spe­cial oc­ca­sion for Tom that we both said yes. It turned out to be an AMAZ­ING trip and work­shop with many of Tom’s math­em­at­ic­al friends present and former stu­dents, and of course, the stu­dents of China. Turn­ing 65 wasn’t half that bad!

Tom de­cided he had one last book he would write and in 2010, Con­tinu­ous Time Markov Pro­cesses: An In­tro­duc­tion was pub­lished. He also was very pleased with a pa­per that he wrote with Pietro Cap­uto, and Thomas Rich­tham­mer, “Proof of Al­dous’ spec­tral gap con­jec­ture,” which was also pub­lished in 2010.

Tom was still act­ive in re­search, but teach­ing and ad­min­is­trat­ive du­ties were be­gin­ning to wear him down, and I was con­cerned about his health. Even though his dia­betes was un­der con­trol, it does take a cer­tain toll on one’s body. I was dis­cuss­ing with him that per­haps it was time to re­tire, en­joy his re­search and chal­lenges of solv­ing prob­lems and puzzles, but take time to smell the flowers! He loved the back yard, our kids, grand­daugh­ters, and cruis­ing. In 2010, he already had put in 41 years of teach­ing, re­search, and ad­min­is­trat­ive work, served on Uni­versity com­mit­tees, ed­it­or­i­al work; you name it, he did it!!

On Ju­ly 1, 2011 he of­fi­cially re­tired. He was 67, and had 100 pub­lic­a­tions, three of which were books. To help out the Math­em­at­ics De­part­ment, he came back to teach two more courses in 2012, one in the Winter, and one in the Spring. Then fi­nally, he really was re­tired, but his in­terest in re­search nev­er stopped. In 2012, he was elec­ted to the Amer­ic­an Academy of Arts and Sci­ences, an­oth­er great achieve­ment. We flew to Bo­ston to be part of the in­duc­tion ce­re­mony at Har­vard to hon­or the new nom­in­ees. It was a very his­tor­ic mo­ment! It also gave us a chance to rent a car and take a breath­tak­ing trip dur­ing the chan­ging of the col­ors through Mas­sachu­setts, New Hamp­shire and Ver­mont. It was beau­ti­ful.

On Oc­to­ber 17, 2012, Tom’s ap­point­ment as Dis­tin­guished Re­search Pro­fess­or in Math­em­at­ics for the peri­od be­gin­ning 11/1/2012 through 6/30/15 was ap­proved by Dean Joseph Rud­nick, Phys­ic­al Sci­ences, on au­thor­ity del­eg­ated by Chan­cel­lor Gene Block. We again were so proud! Then, Tom was se­lec­ted as a Fel­low of the Amer­ic­an Math­em­at­ic­al So­ci­ety in 2013!

Life was golden for us! We were head­ing to­ward a 50th wed­ding an­niversary, and what could be sweeter than Tom walk­ing our be­loved Amy down the aisle to marry Dar­ren on Ju­ly 13, 2013! It was ma­gic­al and beau­ti­ful!!

Tom was en­joy­ing his weekly sem­in­ar vis­its to UCLA, lunch­ing with col­leagues, friends at the Fac­ulty Cen­ter, and still work­ing in his study up­stairs and talk­ing with postdocs and fel­lows. He ex­pan­ded his pub­lic­a­tion list to over 100, not for the count, but from en­joy­ment of solv­ing of a puzzle. We were plan­ning two ex­cit­ing cruises down south, one through the Panama Canal, and then one to Lima, Peru. Tom was brush­ing up on his Span­ish! We also planned a trip to Se­dona in 2016, which would be a won­der­ful car trip, and also a fu­ture trip to out­side of Flag­staff to take a train to the Grand Canyon! We loved trav­el­ing to­geth­er, wheth­er it was just up the coast to San Simeon, or wherever our Acura RDX would take us that wasn’t too far away.

In 2016, our son Tim was ap­poin­ted Prin­cip­al of Whit­ti­er High School, and Tom and I went to the meet­ing of the Su­per­in­tend­ents ac­know­ledging his ap­point­ment and we heard Tim’s speech, and we saw the in­flu­ence of our fam­ily val­ues brought forth in his com­mit­ment to the best in edu­ca­tion for his stu­dents. Tom and I held hands, and I of course was reach­ing for a Kleenex.

I have been dread­ing writ­ing the end of this story. It star­ted with a de­cision to vis­it Maui, an an­nu­al trip we took for ten years be­fore, where we ren­ted a beau­ti­ful condo from a Ca­na­dian couple and en­joyed the lazy, hazy days for a week or so of beaches, and total re­lax­a­tion from the main­land. In 2018, we ren­ted a condo in Ki­hei, and on the 2nd day, Tom fell down a flight of stairs and shattered his wrist, and when we re­turned to the main­land he had re­con­struct­ive wrist sur­gery, with weeks of oc­cu­pa­tion­al ther­apy. The fall had left him with a con­cus­sion, which could have in­flu­enced oth­er health prob­lems along the way. We had planned a Novem­ber month-long cruise tour­ing the Amazon. For­tu­nately, we were able to go, due to Tom’s dis­cip­lined home wrist ex­er­cises!

When we came home at the end of 2018, he lost total hear­ing in his left ear, which in­volved see­ing a hear­ing spe­cial­ist at UCLA, and an MRI. Everything was prov­ing neg­at­ive, but the spe­cial­ist wanted to either give him a shot of ster­oids in his ear, or have him take ster­oids by mouth, with the warn­ing that it would dis­rupt his sug­ar read­ings. He chose the lat­ter, and his sug­ar levels went wild, and our Feb­ru­ary trip to our time-share in Palm Springs was not good. When we re­turned home from Palm Springs, he de­cided to take the shot in the ear to try and help re­store his hear­ing, and his sug­ar read­ings began to sta­bil­ize.

We knew that his former PhD stu­dents, Am­ber and Paul, and col­leagues Marek [Biskup] and Georg [Menz] were plan­ning a 75th birth­day meet­ing at UCLA in his hon­or in March, 2019. Tom was thrilled, be­cause many of his friends and col­leagues from around the world would be com­ing. He was so look­ing for­ward to this meet­ing, and then came the worst of all things, he caught what we thought was a cold. It wasn’t, it was bron­chit­is, which turned in­to pneu­mo­nia, which turned in­to a hos­pit­al stay of ten days.

Tom went in­to the hos­pit­al on Feb­ru­ary 28, 2019, and was dis­charged on March 10, 2019. Sat­urday, March 9th was the fi­nal day of the con­fer­ence, end­ing with a de­light­ful din­ner. We were so hop­ing that he would be able to at­tend, but it was not to be. It was a very suc­cess­ful con­fer­ence, and Tim’s fam­ily, and Amy and Dar­ren, and I rep­res­en­ted the Lig­getts. Dar­ren video­taped the speeches giv­en by Am­ber, Marek, Tim, Amy, and Aman­da, our old­est grand­daugh­ter, and Paul. Of course, there was the en­ter­tain­ing Higgledy/Piggledy presen­ted by Al­ex­an­der Hol­royd and Robin Pe­mantle! Tom and I so en­joyed watch­ing those videos many times.

Re­cov­ery was slow. Tom had lost a lot of weight, and even though the pneu­mo­nia had been cured he still had a cough, and very low en­ergy. He was on oxy­gen for four months after his dis­charge. We also dis­covered that he had suffered per­man­ent scar­ring of the lungs, pul­mon­ary fibrosis, due to an un­spe­cified con­di­tion. Our philo­sophy be­came “one day at a time.” I say that to my­self now every day.

My goal was to keep him as com­fort­able as pos­sible at all times. Our last fam­ily out­ing was Christ­mas 2019, when we, with Amy and Dar­ren, went to cel­eb­rate Christ­mas at Tim’s house. We knew Tom wasn’t get­ting any bet­ter, the doc­tors were not telling us that, but we knew they were think­ing that. Friends were stop­ping by for vis­its. We really ap­pre­ci­ated their friend­ships.

In early Feb­ru­ary, we de­cided I needed some ex­tra help, and we had Gina, a very nice Lat­ina wo­man come in the morn­ing for four hours to give a help­ing hand. Of course, she was Span­ish speak­ing, and she and Tom got along very well. We also de­cided, after dis­cus­sion with our fam­ily and our primary care doc­tor, to en­roll Tom in a hos­pice pro­gram. It was a very dif­fi­cult de­cision, but it is what we both wanted for him. He was los­ing who he was, and he did not like that.

Tom turned 76 on March 29, 2020. Cov­id-19 was be­gin­ning to rage in the na­tion and our fam­ily took part in video calls. I es­pe­cially made in­fre­quent out­ings, and Dar­ren or Gina did some shop­ping for me. I wanted to spend most of my time with Tom. I didn’t want to lose him, but I knew it had to be. He was ready to leave…and he did, peace­fully, on May 12, 2020 at 9:35 PM.

He lives on in his pub­lic­a­tions, con­tri­bu­tions to math­em­at­ics, and in Tim and Am­ber, Amy and Dar­ren, Aman­da, Jenna and me, 48 years of a life­time of in­cred­ible memor­ies and jour­neys. Your fam­ily thanks you Tom for a life well lived! We love you and miss you so!