Dom George Temple

Dom George Temple, CBE, FRS, Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy, Oxford University, 1953-68, and honorary fellow of The Queen's College, Oxford, died on January 30 aged 90. He was born on September 2, 1901.

ONE of Britain's leading applied mathematicians, George Temple became a monk in 1980 after the death of his wife and joined the Benedictine community of Quarr Abbey, near Ryde, Isle of Wight. While he spent his academic career at the frontiers of knowledge in his subject, delving into relativity or the quantum theory, he had another side to his intellect: he quietly pursued the interest in theology that had occupied him all his adult life. For him the physical world that he explored was not inconsistent with the beliefs that he devoutly held. He had a straightforward, intelligent but simple faith which accommodated his inquiring mind: there was no tension between the two regions of his thought. As a monk he continued his theological studies while remaining active in the mathematics which took him to The Queen's College for a week or ten days once a year.

Temple was educated at Ealing County School and Birkbeck College, London. He took his PhD at London in 1924 and had junior staff posts at Birkbeck and the City and Guilds College. In 1928 he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, for further studies before returning to Imperial College as assistant professor of mathematics. In 1932 he became professor of mathematics at King's College, London, where he stayed for 21 years, apart from a period during the second world war when he was seconded to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.

There he rapidly showed that he was capable of finding practical solutions to problems that were more than theoretical. Confronted by wheel wobble on American Douglas aircraft he drew on the experience gained at Brooklands motor-racing track and after investigation found the solution. He also helped speed up the then primitive calculating machines and tackled the danger of aircraft icing up.

In 1955 he was appointed CBE. After the war, as dean of the faculty of science, he was a tower of strength to the principal and college administration.

Temple was one of the earliest British mathematicians to understand the quantum theory. His first book, written in 1931, set out to explain it to his fellow mathematicians. Sbsequently his interests widened. He moved into the realm of aerodynamics and fluid flow and served as chairman of the Aeronautical Research Council from 1961 to 1964; he grew interested in the theory of vibrations and in the theory of distributions. In his ease of movement between pure and applied mathematics he was in the best tradition of British applied mathematicians. It was entirely fitting, therefore, that his Oxford chair should be a chair of natural philosophy, and that his research students should write their theses sometimes in pure mathematics and sometimes in applied.

Elected FRS in 1943 he was at various times president of the London Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Association and the International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics. In Oxford his urbane figure soon became well known. He had spells on the Hebdomadal Council and the general board of the university, and was first chairman of the mathematics faculty when this was established in 1963. His long association, as external examiner, with the Irish universities was recognised by an honorary DSc from the National University of Ireland in 1962. He also received an honorary degree from the University of Wesrn Ontario.

In 1930 Temple married Dorothy Lydia Carson of Liverpool and their home life was a singularly happy one. He played an active part in the Newman Society, and was active on many other committees. For some time he was on the council of Oxfam.

His range of interests was wide. Typically he picked on interesting problems before they became fashionable, wrote a few papers full of insight and then moved on to some other topic. His classical knowledge and historical sense led him to devote himself in his later years to the history of mathematics, and on retiring from the Sedleian Chair he embarked on an ambitious project resulting in publication in 1981 of 100 Years of Mathematics.

Temple was a man of delightful courtesy and charm, though capable of trenchant comments. He was disciplined in his monastic observance and in his use of time, wasting none of it. For relaxation he read widely including Dickens, C. P. Snow and Peacock.

The Times (London, England), Feb 5, 1992 p13 The Times, 1992