Herbert Federer

Herbert Federer, one of the founders of geometric measure theory, was a good friend to me. I met him at my first conference, at Park City, Utah, as a graduate student in 1977. My advisor at Princeton, Fred Almgren, was one of his graduate students and had shared fond memories with us students.
The first talk was completely incomprehensible to me, and I was afraid I would be exposed as a mathematical ignoramus. I hoped somehow to sneak quietly out of the lecture room. As we filed out in twos from opposite sides of the room, I was alarmed to find myself paired with the famous Federer. As he turned to me I prepared for the inevitable humiliation. His words: “I didn’t understand a word of that talk. Let’s go for a walk and you can tell me about your thesis.” From that day I found him a good friend.
Federer attended few conferences after that one. I loved following his student and my advisor Fred Almgren around at meetings and marveled at his ability to answer apparently any question by citing a page and line in Federer’s Geometric Measure Theory book.
After Herb Federer retired I enjoyed visiting him and his wife Leila in the retirement home they designed just outside Providence. Everything was meticulously planned, from the lovely paths around the property to the way that Federer’s file cabinet fit perfectly into his bedroom closet. They loved their home, each other, their daughter Leslie, and their grandchildren, and it always made me happy just to visit them.
Although I was sorry to miss the memorial mini-conference (see photos), I had at that exact time the compensating satisfaction of spreading the gospel throughout Asia: Pakistan, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
Federer will not be forgotten by mathematicians and friends.

One Comment

  1. Weekly Picks « Mathblogging.org — the Blog:

    […] Friday saw some interesting discussions, one at Gaussianos on an arXiv paper with the latest ” Marvelous Proof of FLT” (translation) and one at Gödel’s Lost Letter and  P=NP on navigating cities — and proofs. Shorter but no less worthwhile was Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folk writing about the MathCounts National Competition and Frank Morgan remembering Herbert Federer. […]

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