Obituaries: Professor Will Light
When I arrived in Leicester, Will made it known to me that he wanted to make a contribution to the University beyond his department. First he became a Dean where he was the champion of several new developments. He set up arrangements where departments that recruited additional overseas students would get further posts. He established all the ground work for the development of the Mathematical Modelling Centre Ė thinking about it not only in intellectual but also physical terms so that its members could be appropriately housed. Indeed, as a Dean and subsequently as a Pro-Vice-Chancellor he was a strong advocate of inter-disciplinarity. He also devised a system for establishing secretarial norms in departments Ė a system which is still in use.
It was with very great sadness that we learned that Will Light had died suddenly on the evening of Sunday, December 8, 2002 at his home at Illston on the Hill from a heart attack. For everyone who knew Will this was a great shock as well as a devastating blow. He was always so energetic and full of life that it is very hard to appreciate that he has left this world.
was born in 1950 in Chester. He took his undergraduate degree at Sussex, where
he read for a BSc in Mathematics, graduating in 1972. He then moved to Bangor
for a PGCE and was subsequently offered a position as a schoolteacher.
However, the lure of the possibility of doing research in Mathematics proved
too strong and he went to Lancaster to read for an MA and then a PhD under the
supervision of Charles Clenshaw. After he completed his PhD he became a
lecturer in Mathematics at Lancaster.
at Lancaster, Will developed an international reputation for his research. He
published papers of a very high quality and formed several collaborations with
leading researchers, including Ward Cheney, Rick Beatson and Manfred von
Golitschek. We were very fortunate at Leicester, when we advertised a Chair of
Applied Mathematics, to be able to secure Willís services, and he joined the
University in 1991.
joined the Department of Mathematics as Head of Department. He inherited a
department which only had nine permanent staff all of whom had been at
Leicester for a considerable period of time. At 41 Will was the youngest
permanent academic member of staff. The research base was very low. One
indication of Willís impact on Leicester is how Applied Mathematics advanced
from a Grade 1 in the RAE before Will joined us through to a Grade 5 in the
of this advance was achieved by Will quickly choosing dynamic and exciting
staff to join him here. His judgment was Ďspot oní; of the three young
applied mathematicians who arrived at Leicester in Willís first year, Mark
Ainsworth is now a Professor at Strathclyde, Marco Marletta a Senior Lecturer
at Cardiff and Jeremy Levesley a Senior Lecturer here at Leicester. Will was
always very good at spotting talent and he had the strength of character to
back his convictions. Both Pure and Applied Mathematics prospered under his
leadership and he must take a great deal of the credit for establishing
Leicester as one of the leading Mathematics departments in the UK.
was not just concerned with the research environment at Leicester. Whilst
still at Lancaster, he and John Gilbert started the SERC (later EPSRC) Summer
Schools in Numerical Analysis, aimed (amongst other things) at improving the
mathematical education of PhD students. These summer schools transferred to
Leicester after Will came here and they have played a central role in
developing the careers of Numerical Analysts.
research interests were mainly in approximation theory and particularly in the
approximation of multivariate functions and data, where the number of
independent variables is high. Two fundamental tools for this type of problem
are radial functions and ridge functions. Arising from the ridge function
aspect is a strong link with the theoretical aspects of neural networks -
large parallel computing machines whose architecture is based (in a loose
sense) on the human brain. His interests also overlapped into functional
analytic questions in approximation theory, particularly those involving
tensor products. He was the
author of several books including a research level text with Ward Cheney on
Multivariate Approximation Theory.
addition to his own outstanding research record and his building up of the
Mathematics research profile at Leicester, Will was also a very gifted
teacher. His lectures were always very clear, often punctuated with moments of
informality or humour which the students invariably appreciated. Whilst he
particularly enjoyed teaching mathematical analysis, as this related to his
own research area and is a subject that is very difficult to convey
effectively to undergraduates, he taught a very wide variety of subjects over
his career and he was always ready to take on new courses. This ability to
teach so well was also a factor in the frequent invitations Will received to
be a keynote speaker at leading international conferences; these invitations
reflected his wonderful communication skills as well as his own research
the University front, one of Willís many other achievements was in helping
to continue the establishment of Computer Science as a serious discipline at
Leicester. Shortly after his arrival he
initiated discussions to merge the departments of Mathematics and Computing
Studies into a new Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.
Amongst other benefits, this allowed for the establishment of a degree
in Computer Science and the ensuing expansion of the Computer Science group.
In addition to Mathematics, Computer Science has benefited enormously from
Willís support over the last decade.
stayed as Head of Department until 1996, overseeing the departmentís
teaching and research strategy and making many further excellent appointments.
After stepping down as head, he continued to play a very active role in
shaping the departmentís future, offering support and advice to subsequent
heads, and he remained as the head of the Applied Mathematics research group
he had created.
was never one to have a strong sense of his own importance. He was always very
modest about his own achievements and was never one to Ďstand on
ceremonyí. Visitors to the department from countries where the academic
systems were rather more hierarchical than ours would find it rather
disconcerting to discover that the great mathematician they had come to visit
was being teased by his colleagues and, in addition, was often telling jokes
at his own expense.
was very generous by nature and had time for everyone no matter whatever their
role or position in the University. Whilst he could be firm when necessary, he
was never unkind nor would he harbour resentment when people disagreed with
him. If there was a matter to be decided, Will would engage in a full and
frank discussion; then, when that debate was over, the slate was wiped clean
and we would go on to the next issue that needed to be considered.
1998 Will became Dean of the Faculty of Science and then Pro-Vice-Chancellor.
The Vice-Chancellor has written about Willís work in these areas. Will still
continued to play an active role in departmental affairs, however, and,
amongst his other achievements, he was the person most responsible for the
establishment of the Centre for Mathematical Modelling in which his department
plays a major role.
interests were not confined to the University and Mathematics. He had a
pilotís licence and he would take colleagues on flights with him either for
the pure fun of it or to actually go somewhere. He was an enthusiastic skier,
and he had also been an amateur racing cyclist earlier in his life and also a
keen badminton player. With his wife Anita, whom he met on a rock-climbing
expedition while a student at Sussex, he built two houses (one in Lancaster
and one in Leicester), sometimes engaging the assistance of young lecturers or
PhD students for the less cerebral aspects of the construction. He was an
invaluable source of information to members of the department on a wide range
of topics ranging from the finer points of approximation theory through to the
practical issues of plumbing. Most importantly for Will, he and Anita were
committed Christians, and Will often preached himself.
funeral was held at Holy Trinity Church, on the
corner of Regent Road and Upper King Street, on Monday, December 16, 2002. The
church was packed with friends, relatives and colleagues who had come to pay
their respects. The size and mood of the congregation, and all the comments
made, were ample testament to the high esteem in which we all held Will. We
have lost a highly valued colleague and a very good friend.
Last updated: 16 April 2003 11:50
Maintained by: Barbara Whiteman
This document has been approved by the head of department or section.
If you are an authorised user you may edit this document through your Web browser.