University of Calgary
UofC Navigation

Emeritus professor marks a century of life and learning

Richard Guy’s passion for both mathematics and mountains shapes an extraordinary career
September 29, 2016
University of Calgary emeritus professor Richard Guy waves to the crowd at the Faculty of Science's June 2016 convocation ceremony. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary.

University of Calgary emeritus professor Richard Guy waves to the crowd at the Faculty of Science's June 2016 convocation ceremony. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Louise and Richard Guy: a couple with remarkable love of life and learning, the Guys have been pillars of the University of Calgary community since arriving in Canada in 1965. Photos courtesy of Chic Scott, and Louise and Richard Guy

Louise and Richard Guy: a couple with remarkable love of life and learning, the Guys have been pillars of the University of Calgary community since arriving in Canada in 1965. Photos courtesy of Chic Scott, and Louise and Richard Guy

Richard and Louise Guy at Mount Alexandra Camp in 2007.

Richard and Louise Guy at Mount Alexandra Camp in 2007.

Richard after climbing The Towers in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in 2006, aged 90.

Richard after climbing The Towers in Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in 2006, aged 90. 

Teacher, colleague, philanthropist, mountaineer, and treasured friend: the incomparable Richard Guy has worn many hats, and made his mark on the world from the United Kingdom to the summits of the Canadian Rockies.

An emeritus professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Calgary, Richard celebrates his 100th birthday on Friday, Sept. 30, 2016. As rare as it is for someone to live for a century, it is even more remarkable to encounter a centenarian who presents at international mathematics conferences, climbed mountains well into his 90s, and still comes to the office five days a week.

Dual passions of mathematics and mountains spark international teaching career

Following an international stint as a wartime meteorologist with the Royal Air Force, Richard's early years in academia and as an educator began in his native England in the late 1940s. Later, throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, he taught at the University of Malaya in Singapore and the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, India. While in India, he and his wife Louise, who shared his love of mountains, trekked the foothills of the Himalaya, making it to Rohtang Pass and the Kulu Valley.

It was another mountain range, however, that would bring the Guys to the place where Richard would spend the rest of his teaching career. In 1965, he and Louise received a letter from Edna Lancaster, a longtime friend and wife of Richard’s colleague Peter Lancaster.

“We got a letter from Edna Lancaster enclosing some photographs of them picnicking at Spray Lakes in the snow. This was just before the monsoon in Delhi,” Richard says. “They suggested that I come to Calgary. I thought it seemed really attractive, so I said yes, I’d come.” 

“We told them of the opportunities here — and what fun we had in the mountains, so Richard applied for (and got) a position in Calgary,” says Lancaster, who is also an active emeritus professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

Promising new university gains top-tier math educators

In 1965, the University of Alberta Calgary Branch was preparing for its transition to a new, autonomous university. "I participated in the General Faculties Council at the time when they were discussing the future of the university and deciding on the motto, the tartan, the names of the degrees, and things of that kind, and the name of the university for that matter,” Richard says.

“In the event, I proposed the motion that the university should be the University of Calgary. Herb Armstrong, who was president in those days, knelt over toward me and said ‘The University of Calgary’ so I said ‘The University of Calgary.’”

From those early days, Richard played a key role in building the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and served as department head for four years. A scholar of number theory, combinatorics, and game theory, he was able to attract a number of well-known mathematicians, like Louis Mordell, Robert Rankin, Richard Rado, Marshall Hall, John Conway, and Eric Milner to teach at the University of Calgary for at least a term. “I’m an extremely lucky person,” says Richard. “One of the many reasons for that is I’ve met so many good mathematicians. We’ve had quite a good supply of number theorists and combinatorists, many of them with an international reputation. I think they are one of the principal reasons why we’re on the map and why people respect us.”

An energetic couple leaves lasting legacy

The Guys became integral to the university’s academic and social life, with the vivacious Louise quickly developing a reputation as a superb hostess. It was also not long until the two started to explore the mountains that had brought them across the world from Delhi to Calgary. Shortly after arriving in Canada, they began climbing the trails and summits of the Rocky Mountains. They became involved with the Alpine Club of Canada, taking up hiking, cross-country skiing, and various volunteer and philanthropic pursuits. In 2015, the ACC dedicated a two-story lodge in a remote area of Yoho National Park to Richard and Louise, who had, sadly, passed away on Richard’s 94th birthday in 2010.

Among their many efforts, the couple participated in the Alberta Wilderness Association's Climb for Wilderness for many years. With Louise's initiative, the Guys first participated in the Climb for Wilderness in 2002. In April of this year, at the age of 99, Richard climbed the 190 metres up the 802 stairs inside the Calgary Tower, wearing a photo of Louise around his neck.

Throughout Richard’s career, he and Louise — to whom he was married for nearly 70 years — dedicated themselves to sharing their zest for life and Richard’s love of mathematics with students, colleagues, and the community. Though he is undoubtedly preeminent in his field and has authored over 100 academic publications, Guy strives to make mathematics accessible to all. Through his own efforts and some personal funds, he and Louise worked with the Strens family and the Government of Alberta to bring the Eugène Strens Recreational Mathematics Collection to the University of Calgary library. They also made generous financial donations to the university. Another of the couple’s lasting contributions to the University of Calgary is the popular Richard and Louise Guy lecture series, which was a 90th birthday present from Louise to Richard in recognition of his love of mathematics.

“Educators like Richard Guy, who have a contagious love of learning and strive to share it with others, are what make our faculty so special,” says Faculty of Science Dean Lesley Rigg. “Our faculty and community are richer because of his efforts.”

Work with students continues long after retirement

To this day, Richard often spends five days a week at his office, continuing to work on mathematics problems and serving as a valued mentor to students long past his official retirement in 1982 (although, he insists: “I didn’t retire. They just stopped paying me”).

Richard, in fact, holds a record for one of the largest age gaps between co-authors on an academic paper, which he wrote with current Harvard student Julian Salazar, while Salazar was still in high school. Ever the mathematician, Richard says, “the age gap was more than 70 years, and the age ratio was something like 5.1.”

Among the impressive numbers in Richard’s life, he has been sharing his love of life and mathematics with the University of Calgary community for 51 years. “I think it’s a great pleasure to see people learning things, begin to understand things, and I think it’s a very rewarding thing to be a teacher,” he says. However, the University of Calgary is just as fortunate to have had a role in the remarkable life and career of Richard Guy.

Leave your birthday wishes

Richard Guy has been a friend and inspiration to many. We invite you to join the entire University of Calgary community in wishing him health and happiness in his 100th year by leaving birthday wishes on a Web page created to mark this occasion. Click on the “Share your birthday wishes” tab, and scroll to the bottom of the page to leave a comment.

Richard Guy is one of the many intrepid educators who came from around the world to shape the University of Calgary in the early days. Their stories have been captured in a 22-minute video that you can see on our 50th Anniversary website. Take a little time to poke around, and share your own UCalgary story there.