James Alexander ("Sandy") Green - Warwick University and Mathematics

We reproduce below a version of the speech by Stewart Stonehewer at the funeral of Sandy Green at Botley Cemetery, Oxford, 17 April 2014. Stewart was a colleague of Sandy Green at the University of Warwick.

[Stewart was also my [EFR] Ph.D. supervisor to whom I owe a great debt of gratitude.]:

I consider it a great honour to have been asked by Margaret to say a few words about Sandy, with particular reference to Warwick University and Mathematics, especially Algebra.

I first met Sandy in 1965, it could be 49 years ago to the day. It was certainly in the Easter Vacation. I came down from Newcastle-upon-Tyne University to Warwick for an informal interview. What I remember most about that day is Sandy taking me for a walk across the campus, quite a long walk. I think it was, and possibly still is, the largest campus in the UK. After that walk and conversation with Sandy, I was convinced that coming to Warwick would be a unique experience not to be missed. And I was right. The leadership of Christopher Zeeman and Sandy, right from the start, was totally innovative and, as my grandchildren would say, awesome!

Obviously in the coming months much will be written in the journals about Sandy's mathematical achievements. And I am sure you will agree that this is not the time or place to go into the details of the Representation Theory of Groups. But there is one thing I would like to say about Sandy's achievements. Some years ago I was having a conversation with Jim Wiegold. Many of you will remember Jim, a mathematician and algebraist from Cardiff. In fact in the 1950s he was in Manchester with Sandy and Margaret. Jim was telling me about a conversation that he had had with Graham Higman. Again many of you will remember Graham, a mathematician and algebraist from Oxford. Coincidentally Graham was also in Manchester in the 1950s with Sandy and Margaret. Jim told me that he had asked Graham why so few algebraists in the UK were Fellows of the Royal Society. Graham replied - essentially with these words, though please do not quote me verbatim - that Algebra is the most difficult branch of Mathematics in which to gain recognition at the highest level. Algebra is mainly about serving the other branches of Mathematics. Well, Sandy was one of the distinguished few who did reach that highest level of recognition. And that was despite having the most unfortunate health problems to deal with along the way. The other algebraists at Warwick simply felt honoured to be in the same Department as Sandy.

But it was not only in research that Mathematics at Warwick was so challenging and rewarding at the highest level. The teaching, initiated by Christopher Zeeman, was also quite different from what was the norm in most places. The one-to-one tutorial system, whereby a member of staff tutored undergraduates singly throughout their three year course, was also exceptional. It was all about teaching rather than simply lecturing. In this connection there is a relevant story that I would like to recall. It concerns Max Newman, to whom Alastair has already referred in connection with Bletchley Park and Manchester. In the late 1960s Max retired from Manchester and spent a year at Warwick. He gave a 30-lecture third year undergraduate topology course, to which Brian Hartley and I both went. We sat on the back row keeping a low profile. The first lecture took place in a fairly small classroom with a blackboard on an easel at the front. And Max spent the whole hour, while he was lecturing, walking around the room. Along one side to the back corner, then across the back wall behind us all, returning along the other side and across the front, etc, etc, etc. Occasionally, when he passed the blackboard, he would write on it an 'X', 'Y' or 'Z' or perhaps draw an arrow. Brian Hartley and I looked at each other and said, "This is not going to work". Nevertheless, the students sat politely throughout the whole hour. However, later that day we heard that the students had marched in formation from the main campus to the Mathematics Institute and knocked on Christopher Zeeman's door. Christopher let them into his office, whereupon the students' leader said, "We don't know who this guy Newman is, but either he goes or we go!" Then Christopher performed a miracle. Brian and I went to the second lecture, this time in a large tiered theatre with the wall behind the speaker covered by blackboards. Max began his second lecture by saying, "I have been told that my first lecture was so successful and so much enjoyed by everyone that I have decided to repeat it!" In that second hour he went through what had occupied the first half of the first lecture, writing everything on the blackboard. That second lecture and the remaining 28 were indeed a great success. All credit to Max for adapting so quickly to the Warwick system of "teaching" rather than simply lecturing.

Another interesting innovation was allowing the students to fill in a form on the completion of each course, rating many aspects of the course and its content. The Chairman showed each completed form to the lecturer concerned, and we were able to see what the students had written. Generally this was very helpful to us. Also the students were encouraged to write comments on the back of the forms, often quite amusing and encouraging. I remember getting "Needs trendier hairstyle!" and "The best jokes since Monty Python and the dead parrot sketch!"

But I must conclude by saying that there was much more to life at Warwick than research and teaching. There was a very special and important social side. For the algebraists, this was thanks to a very large extent to Margaret and Sandy. The hospitality and generosity offered on such a regular basis at parties at No. 40 High Street, Warwick, were exceptional. So many people were always invited and so many people always came. As a result, friendships began in the early years that continued for decades and even into retirement for many of us. We have such good memories and so many of them. And those memories will continue to give us so much pleasure in the years still to come.

Sandy and Margaret, I know that I speak on behalf of a great many friends when I say


Last Updated November 2014