Celebratio Mathematica

Andrew A. Ranicki

Andrew Ranicki, 1948–2018

by Carla Ranicki

My fath­er, An­drew Al­ex­an­der Ran­icki (ori­gin­ally An­drzej Aleksander), was born in Lon­don in 1948, the only child of Mar­cel and Teo­fila (known as To­sia) Reich-Ran­icki, Pol­ish-Ger­man Jews who had sur­vived the li­quid­a­tion of the Warsaw Ghetto and been hid­den by a Pol­ish fam­ily un­til the ar­rival of the Rus­si­an army. His moth­er’s fath­er had com­mit­ted sui­cide in the ghetto, and his re­main­ing grand­par­ents and uncle were all killed in the camps.

His par­ents re­turned to Warsaw after his birth and he lived in Po­land un­til the age of 10, when the in­creas­ingly un­ten­able polit­ic­al situ­ation forced them to leave the coun­try il­leg­ally and seek refuge in, of all places, Ger­many. My grand­fath­er had been sent to school in Ber­lin be­fore the war, and there he de­veloped a pas­sion for Ger­man lit­er­at­ure. He worked as a journ­al­ist at Die Welt and the Frank­furter Allge­meine Zei­tung, even­tu­ally be­com­ing the coun­try’s most fam­ous lit­er­ary crit­ic and present­ing a tele­vi­sion show about books, “Das Lit­er­ar­isches Quar­tett”, for many years. His auto­bi­o­graphy, Mein Leben, was a best­seller, trans­lated in­to 16 lan­guages.

Mar­cel’s cous­in, Frank Auerbach, had been sent from Ber­lin to Eng­land in 1939 at the age of 8, and also ex­celled in his field, be­com­ing a world-renowned paint­er, one of the School of Lon­don, along with Fran­cis Ba­con and Lu­cian Freud. After leav­ing Po­land, my grand­moth­er suffered from de­pres­sion, and for some time my fath­er was sent to school in Lon­don, when he stayed with his aunt Gerda, who had man­aged to es­cape Ber­lin with her hus­band in Septem­ber 1939. He also at­ten­ded the In­ter­na­tion­al School in Ham­burg, be­fore trans­fer­ring to King’s School in Can­ter­bury at the age of 16 to pre­pare for the Cam­bridge Uni­versity en­trance ex­am for math­em­at­ics.

After gain­ing his BA from Trin­ity Col­lege in 1969, he then com­pleted his PhD there in 1973 with a thes­is on al­geb­ra­ic \( L \)-the­ory, su­per­vised by An­drew Cas­son and Frank Adams, two form­at­ive in­flu­ences on him. He was a Fel­low of Trin­ity Col­lege between 1972 and 1977, and then an as­sist­ant pro­fess­or at Prin­ceton Uni­versity from 1977 un­til 1982. It was at Prin­ceton that he met my moth­er, Ida Thompson, then an As­sist­ant Pro­fess­or in the Geosciences De­part­ment. They were the first two Prin­ceton pro­fess­ors to marry, in Oc­to­ber 1979 at the top of Fine Hall, home to the Math­em­at­ics De­part­ment, and I was born shortly af­ter­wards, in Decem­ber. In 1982 my fath­er was hired as a Lec­turer at the Uni­versity of Ed­in­burgh, and taught there un­til his re­tire­ment in 2016. He was ap­poin­ted to the spe­cially cre­ated Chair of Al­geb­ra­ic Sur­gery in 1995, a title which pleased him im­mensely, es­pe­cially when ex­plained to med­ic­al doc­tors.

He held vis­it­ing po­s­i­tions at the In­sti­tut des Hautes Études Sci­en­ti­fiques in Bures-sur-Yvette, the In­sti­tute for Ad­vanced Study in Prin­ceton, the Uni­versity of Ken­tucky, the Uni­versity of Göttin­gen and the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia San Diego. He was awar­ded Cam­bridge Uni­versity Smith’s Prize (1972), the Ju­ni­or White­head Prize (1983) and the Seni­or Ber­wick Prize (1994) of the Lon­don Math­em­at­ic­al So­ci­ety, and was elec­ted a Fel­low of the Roy­al So­ci­ety of Ed­in­burgh in 1992.

He par­tic­u­larly en­joyed su­per­vising gradu­ate stu­dents, and saw 11 of them ob­tain their PhDs. Over the course of his ca­reer, he wrote around 80 art­icles, au­thored sev­en books, and ed­ited some dozen pro­ceed­ings. His fi­nal book, The Geo­met­ric Hopf In­vari­ant and Sur­gery The­ory [◊], coau­thored with Mi­chael Crabb, was pub­lished just a few weeks be­fore his death. It was ded­ic­ated to my son, Nico Mar­cel Val­lauri, who was born in 2015, and who knew him as “Grandrew”, as did the four chil­dren of his stepchil­dren, Mat­thew and Alice Thompson, my moth­er’s son and daugh­ter from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage. The same year as Nico’s birth my fath­er was dia­gnosed with my­el­odys­plasia, which even­tu­ally de­veloped in­to acute my­el­oid leuk­aemia, and he died peace­fully just after mid­night on the 21st Feb­ru­ary 2018, with my moth­er at his side. His name lives on in my second son, who he sadly nev­er met; Alex An­drew Val­lauri was born in Feb­ru­ary 2020. More about An­drew, his work and his fam­ily can be found at his per­son­al web­site, which he care­fully cur­ated:­ick/.

After study­ing Eng­lish at Uni­versity Col­lege Lon­don and journ­al­ism at Columbia Uni­versity, Carla Ran­icki worked for food magazines in New York be­fore mov­ing to Italy, where she met her hus­band, Ugo Val­lauri. She now works as an Itali­an-Eng­lish trans­lat­or and lives in Lon­don.