Celebratio Mathematica

Andrew A. Ranicki

How Andrew Ranicki and I got together

by Ida Thompson

I was an as­sist­ant pro­fess­or in the Geo­logy De­part­ment of Prin­ceton Uni­versity when I found my­self single. I asked a friend how to meet men in Prin­ceton and she sug­ges­ted I go to the Prin­ceton Unit­ari­an Church Singles For­um which met every Fri­day even­ing, so the next Fri­day I went. When I ar­rived, I was as­signed to a dis­cus­sion group. My dis­cus­sion lead­er was a good-look­ing but older man who in­tro­duced him­self as Hassler Whit­ney. I think the top­ic that even­ing was, “Is there such a thing as free will?” There were about ten people in my group, equally di­vided between men and wo­men.

In the brief so­cial peri­od after the dis­cus­sion, Hassler asked me if I would like to come to his house for din­ner and I agreed. After that, I dated him for about two months. Hassler was a math­em­atician and a mem­ber of the Prin­ceton In­sti­tute of Ad­vanced Study.

Hassler in­vited me to join him at a party at the house of Jack Mil­nor, an­oth­er math­em­atician. At this party, I was in­tro­duced to An­drew Ran­icki, an as­sist­ant pro­fess­or of math at Prin­ceton. I thought he was very young, maybe about 19 and rather silly. He giggled a lot. I wasn’t im­pressed.

A few days later, Hassler gave a talk at the In­sti­tute en­titled, “On Love.” Of course I went, and found a seat to­ward the back of the room. There were about 35 people present. Hassler began by talk­ing about his work try­ing to im­prove the teach­ing of math­em­at­ics to school chil­dren. After about five minutes, An­drew Ran­icki entered the room with a wo­man. He in­dic­ated to the wo­man to sit near the front of the room and then came back and sat next to me. I was em­bar­rassed, since Hassler was talk­ing and An­drew was talk­ing and I couldn’t con­cen­trate. I tried to ig­nore him. Then he took out of his pock­et what looked like a deck of cards but were tick­ets to vari­ous per­form­ances around the Prin­ceton area. He spread them out and asked if I would like to take one of the tick­ets. I saw a tick­et for a play en­titled “The Torch Bear­ers” the next week at the Mc­Carter Theat­er, which was on cam­pus. I took the tick­et, which had the wanted ef­fect of caus­ing An­drew to leave, pick­ing up his wo­man on the way out.

Not long after, Hassler fin­ished his talk. I am afraid that I had no idea what he said.

I showed up at the theat­er and found my­self seated next to An­drew. We en­joyed the play and I went back to his flat af­ter­wards. I told him that I would need to end my re­la­tion­ships with vari­ous men and then I would be free to date him. About two weeks later I real­ized I was in love with him. And he was 29, not 19, still young­er than me but that didn’t seem to both­er either of us.

I mar­ried him the next Oc­to­ber, 1979, and we had a baby, Carla, in Decem­ber. We had 40 lovely years to­geth­er.