Ralph James dies suddenly

On page 3 of the Gulf Islands Driftwood on Wednesday, 23 May 1979 there was a report of the death of Ralph Duncan James under the headline "Ralph James dies suddenly at Salt Spring Island home." We give a version of the report below.

Ralph James dies suddenly at Salt Spring Island home.

One of the youngest students ever to enter the University of British Columbia and a brilliant scholar for all his 70 year, Ralph Duncan James of Salt Spring Island died suddenly on Saturday, May 19.

He and his wife, Rose, had come to retire on Salt Spring Island three years ago after a lifetime in mathematics. Until retirement he was still teaching mathematics at UBC, where he had been head of that department for 25 years.

He had also served as president of the Canadian Mathematical Congress from 1961 to 1963.

Born in Liverpool, England, Ralph James came to Vancouver at an early age. He attended John Oliver High School and then went on to UBC.

He was heading for a career as actuary and took mathematics for that purpose. He graduated with first class honours and was encouraged to continue to his master's degree.

Following his second degree, he gained a Cyrus Eaton scholarship for the University of Chicago, where he was awarded his doctorate.

In 1932 he was awarded a two-year United States National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship. One year was at Cal Tech and the second year at Cambridge.

To Berkeley

Two years later he accepted a teaching position at Berkeley, in California. There, he spent five years, where he continued his work in number theory.

In 1939 he was invited to assume the post of head of mathematics at the University of Saskatchewan. He arrived there shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1943 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and came back home. He moved to the University of British Columbia as a professor. Five years later he became head of his department.

When, in the 1950's, he investigated the teaching of mathematics in the public schools, he was named an honorary member of the British Columbia Teachers Federation. He played a leading role in the subsequent revision of the mathematics curriculum in schools.

Honorary president of the B.C. Association of Mathematics Teachers, he was also first president of the B.C. Committee on the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics. In 1964-65 he was chairman of the National Research Council Associate Committee on Pure and Applied Mathematics.

In the world of mathematics the name of Ralph James was held in high esteem, according to a summary of his work published in the News and Comments of the Canadian Mathematical Congress two years ago.

He had been an active member of the Catholic parish on Salt Spring Island and was a member of the Parish Council.

He leaves his wife, Rose, at home, Mount Belcher Heights; two sons, Alan C, in Calgary, and Peter D, in Vancouver; a daughter, Mrs Bryan (Vickie Lee) Sullidge, in Richmond; five grandchildren and a sister, Mrs Nola Fawcett and one niece and one nephew.

Funeral services were held in the church of Our Lady of Grace at Ganges on Wednesday afternoon, with Rev P A Bergin officiating.

Cremation followed.

Last Updated March 2021