by William Fleissner
Mary Ellen Rudin was an inspiration to me and other graduate students. Intellectually, she was enthusiastic about set-theoretic topology. Emotionally, she was warm and kind not only to mathematicians but also to their spouses.
I remember seminars on the ninth floor of Van Vleck Hall, with large windows overlooking Lake Mendota and the city of Madison. Once she presented the Reed–Zenor proof that locally compact, locally connected normal Moore spaces are metrizable. She drew a Cantor tree, put a unit interval at the top of each branch, sketched a red circle about the 0’s and a blue circle about the 1’s. It was not a proof of the theorem. It was more an explanation why a counterexample cannot be constructed from Martin’s Axiom. Even that was not rigorously proved. But she conveyed the ideas with great enthusiasm. In the audience, I thought, “I want to do mathematics like that!”
There were memorable evenings at their Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house on Marinette Trail. (Occasionally, tourists would look in the windows, and Walter would stick out his tongue.) There would be food and drink in the kitchen, and a circle of chairs in the living room, which was large in width and length and two stories high. The winters in Wisconsin can be bitterly cold, but then there would be a fire in the fireplace, making the gathering warm and cheery. The conversation was varied, and everyone was welcome to talk, not just the distinguished professors. The research group at Wisconsin felt like a big family.