MAYER, PROFESSOR OF MATHEMATICS
When Ray Mayer applied for a temporary faculty post at Reed in the mid-1970s,
his choice of schools was guided by the study of maps rather than math.
I took a map of the United States and drew a big circle around Los
Angeles and the entire East Coast, says Mayer, an erstwhile New
York City resident who had recently become a faculty casualty of New York
Universitys financial woes. Then I looked for places outside
of those circles.
At the end of his one-year stint at Reed, he was offered a half-time position
and then a full-time post. Twenty-eight years later, Mayer is such a fixture
in Reeds math department that as his impending retirement nears,
his colleagues are firmly stuck in the first stage of grief: denial. Its
horrifying to imagine Ray gone, says Jim Fix, a relatively new member
of Reeds tight-knit mathematics faculty.
In fact, Mayer hopes to retain an office at Reed, so colleagues wont
soon miss his amiable personality, his elfish sense of humor, or his fluency
in a wide range of mathematical topics. He hopes to remain connected not
only to colleagues but also to students, whom he credits with keeping
him at his job for more than a quarter-century. Reed students are
great. Im astonished at what they will put up with in terms of difficult,
abstract courses, says Mayer. I think at most places, there
would be a revolt. But students at Reed want to work.
The faculty, he says, are in turn infected by the scholarly ardor of students
one of whom once sought to crown Mayer as Reeds first monarch
by plastering Ray Mayer for King posters around Eliot Hall.
That incident, says mathematics professor Joe Buhler 72, illustrates
how Mayer endears himself to students with an engaging and direct teaching
style. He has an enthusiasm for teaching and an ability to be interested
in almost anything, says Buhler.
Mayers mathematical interests center on classical analysis
which includes the underpinnings of advanced calculus as well as
the foundations of mathematics, which are as constant as his field is
ever-changing. In particular, Mayer marvels at how much the computer has
changed his profession. He figures he taught the first class at Reed that
used computers, an upper-level course in numerical analysis, and says
the machines have forced mathematicians to think much more algorithmically.
His surroundings have evolved, too. He recalls his top-floor perch in
Eliot Hall and its view of Mt. St. Helens when it still had its top. Today
a shelf in his temporary office in the physics building holds a spice
jar containing ash that he scooped off his office windowsill after the
Mayer says he hopes to be around for even more changes. Hes not
ready to stray too far from Reed just yet. We have a great common
interest, he says of both his colleagues and his students. Its
hard to find people to talk to about a technical subject like this.
In retirement, hell continue to work on individual mathematical
challenges hes currently immersed in quasi crystals
and resume teaching himself Latin grammar so he can more deeply delve
into the history of mathematics by increasing his comprehension of seventeenth-century
texts. In many ways, his post-retirement life is likely to resemble what
came before. I look forward to Rays retirement, says
Buhler, because hell be able to do lots of mathematics.