The remarkable mathematician Mischa Cotlar passed away: Self-taught, he had worldwide prestige.
Venerated by his disciples, and admired for his generosity and great humanism, the great mathematician Mischa Cotlar passed away yesterday, who, despite being born in Ukraine, had lived and worked most of his life in Latin America.
Cotlar was a remarkable character. According to how it is counted, since nobody knows it for certain, he had been born in Russia, in 1913. He arrived at Uruguay at the age of 16 years, after emigrating with his family from Kiev.
He came from a bourgeois family, his father being a very cultured man whose name appears in the history of chess with the variant "Lasker-Cotlar", according to Dr Héctor Ciapuscio in an article published in the newspaper Río Negro, when a few years ago he was distinguished with an honorary doctorate of the University of Buenos Aires.
Mischa was the protagonist of an extraordinary story. Although he only received one year of formal education, he earned his living in Montevideo, first, and in Punta del Este, later, as a pianist in a classical music trio.
There he met an Argentine teacher who, in 1935, brought him to Buenos Aires, where he was immediately "adopted" by the local mathematical community, since from a young age he had felt a passion for mathematics. Here he met Julio Rey Pastor, González Domínguez, Alberto Calderón and Manuel Sadosky, who took him to the Faculty of Exact Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires.
He participated in a golden age of the university, and even without an academic degree he taught and formed a school of researchers.
According to Ciapuscio, Manuel Sadosky and his wife, Cora, also a mathematician, soon realized his exceptional value. Then an American professor who was visiting the country got him a Guggenheim scholarship. In the United States he studied at Yale and obtained his first degree, a doctorate, at the University of Chicago.
"He returned to Argentina in 1953 and taught Exact Sciences," says Ciapuscio, "and donated part of his salary to the Albert Einstein Foundation every month for scholarships to young scholars until, in 1966, military intervention forced him to emigrate, first to Rutgers University, near Princeton, and then to Venezuela."
A gesture that paints a complete picture of him is the improvisation he delivered on the occasion of being honoured with the honorary doctorate from the University of Buenos Aires. He did not speak of himself, but referred to his love of mathematics, the country that had welcomed him, and the friends who had helped him.
Last year he received the Domingo Faustino Sarmiento Prize, awarded by the Senate of the Nation. On that occasion he stressed: "Both my teachers and my Argentine and Uruguayan friends and collaborators were people of exceptional human quality. They taught me that human quality come before being a scientist."