I first came across the name mathematician Jones in middle school, when I was reading the Chinese edition of What Is Mathematics by Robbins and Courant to feel good (and ultimately the opposite), and one of the addendum chapters introduced me to “New Zealander Jones” and his work on knot theory. I never thought maths could be invented to study such things, and before that memory faded too far into obscurity, I’ve seen such theory’s use in particle physics.
After coming to New Zealand, I have personally met Sir Vaughan Jones twice, both times thanks to NZ Mathematical Research Institute (NZMRI), which he co-founded. We’ve hiked together on both sides of the Cook Strait. I took a few photos of him, and he told me some of his stories. I might have shared a few maths memes along the way too.
Academically, there’s a sense of personal connection deeper than me reading his Math 104 (Real Analysis) lecture notes and attending seminar talks. I quite often told my friends that if you trace through the same three points, The Library at Auckland Grammar School, the Science Centre at The University of Auckland, and Evans Hall at UC Berkeley, we’ve probably worked in the same room quite a lot of times!
Of course, these pseudo-para-social bonds might be trivial observations. I am aware that a coincidence of paths does not guarantee myself any long term success if I just sit around complacent about them.
This January, at the end of the NZ Quantum Gravity Summer Workshop, before he drove his Toyota away from Nelson, I thanked him for making such an opportunity possible for students like myself, and said that I looked forward to seeing him again, by which point I would have considerably more technically nontrivial things to share with him.
I will honour that promise. One day.
Rest in Peace.
7 September, 2020