Memory of Bill Thurston
Bill was a great mathematician and it is a huge loss for the entire community that he left us. But before all of those, Bill was my own teacher, a great mentor and a good friend to me. I still remember the moment I had the first conversation with him at his office on the 5th floor of Malott hall, Cornell University. I knew he is a famous mathematician and studied hyperbolic geometry a lot, but that was it. I had no idea how influential he was and what he actually has done. I was a first year graduate student who did not even know which field to study. The first question Bill asked to me was this, "Tell me about you. Anything." He carefully listened to me, and gave a lot of advices what to try in order to figure out what my interest really is, and he said, "I will be happy to talk to you again when you are ready." I was not sure what he meant by 'ready', and to be honest, I was a bit discouraged to try to talk to him again, since I always thought I was not ready.
About a year later, I could be more certain about myself, my interest, what kind of math makes me excited. I knocked the door of his office again, and we talked and talked. From then, we had had one or two meeting per week. I guess what he really meant was he wanted to give some time for me to think about my interest by myself, which he always emphasized.
Some times we sat down on the floor of his office together, and played with pieces of zometool. When we were doing math, he was not just standing there but he really tried to think in my way together and do a lot of experiments. I do not recall him as a teacher who taught me a lot of knowledge, but he has taught me how to think. He completely changed how I understand spaces. But at the same time, he never forced me to think in a particular way. He did not emphasize his way of thinking, he did not try to make me learning other people's ways of thinking. He really wanted me to develop my own way of thinking. I feel deeply sad that he left me before I really develop my ways of thinking, but I believe I am on my way and the ideas and inspirations Bill gave to me will be there always.
He was a very responsible teacher even after he got melanoma. When he first told me about this, he said "I will try to be with you." I believe he did, and he will be inside me as always. After his surgery, I visited him at the hospital in NYC. After my visit, he wrote an email saying "Thanks so much for taking all the trouble to come down, and help brighten my life with your ideas, your help, and really most important of all, your companionship. I'm very happy every time I talk with you, too."
I visited Bill at Rochester on August 20th, which was the day before he passed away. Bill was not responding to us, but we believed he could feel us around. Luckily, I could tell him about my happy memories I had with him, and how much I liked working with him.
Bill, I loved every single moment of being your student for last two years. R.I.P.
- written in Sep. 2012.
I really like Daina's writing and photos (many of them contain me, in fact).