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WHO AM I?

Lee Dickey

I was born in 1939, in New Castle, Pennsylvania,  a small city in western Pennsylvania, long known for its tin mill and for its porcelain china.  Recently it has earned a reputation for its fireworks.  During the second world war, my father worked in a steel mill. I suspect that this was classified as an essential industry, and thus he was not called up for military service.

In 1946 my parents moved Tucson, Arizona with its hot dry climate in the hope that the weather there would help my mother's rheumatic condition.  Today, this area is known for its high quality, long staple cotton, and for a very large air base which currently cocoons many airplanes, probably more than ever will be useful. 

One of my hobbies in high school days was ham radio.  I earned my novice ticket WN7UXO by "reading" Morse code at 5 words per minute and later got my general class ticket, when I could read at 13 words per minute.  Today, I believe that Morse Code is no longer a requirement.  

I had an early interest in music: clarinet, oboe, piano and baritone saxophone.  I worked part time (Saturdays) for a pipe organ tuner and builder.  He tuned all the pipe organs around, and I got acquainted with them.   I learned the importance of maintaining a steady temperature in the hall, because any shift in temperature causes a change the density of air in the pipes and this upsets the tuning of the instrument and it is especially noticeable because of clashes between the reeds and the flutes. 


One thing I remember about my employer was his account of a meeting with a particular church committee about what sort of organ they wanted to have.  He was suggesting some ranks of pipes that would have substantial volume to them, but maybe not as loud as the big ones we hear in great cathedrals, the ones that seem to shake the whole building and resonate in our chests.  The lady who played every Sunday said that she wanted an organ that would play music very softly.  My employer countered with the comment that, "You can't do anything with a soft organ."  There was a stunned silence followed by muffled laughter.  He got the contract, but for budgetary reasons they had to compromise on how many ranks would be installed.
 
During my years at the University of Arizona, I played 2nd oboe with the Tucson Symphony.  Those years also increased my interest in Mathematics, and especially, in Geometry.



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It was also at that time that Carol and I started dating seriously and we married the summer after I graduated and before I started graduate school.  One child later, we moved on to Wisconsin, where I focused my studies on Finite non-Euclidean Geometry, 

This was the Sputnik era, when lots of money was pumped into education, both in Canada and in the US.  At the same time the US became entangled in Viet Nam, and most students strongly opposed the war, encouraging President Nixon to "Pull out now!  Don't make the same mistake your father did."   

This was also a time of concern about over population, and there was a movement toward Zero Population Growth.  By then we had two girls, and we adopted our third child, a boy. 

The year 1970 marked the completion of my degree requirements.   Waterloo was not my first offer, but it was my first choice. The recently  founded Faculty of Mathematics caught my imagination.   Every other university that I knew about had a math department that was part of a faculty of science or a part of the faculty of liberal arts, or sometimes it was arts and sciences.  In all of these cases, the funding of mathematics was well down the priority list in importance.  At Waterloo, the Faculty of Mathematics had 5 different departments, each with its own specialties and the Faculty had its own Dean of Mathematics.   What a heady idea at the time!  This was the beginning of my career as a professor of mathematics that has lasted 42 years, so far. 

At Waterloo, the Math building was called the Mathematics and Computer building, and it housed one of the largest computers in the world at that time.  I have been told that the ministry of education was shocked when it received the bill for the computer, and said that they would not pay for it.  It is said that the university responded by reminding the ministry that they had agreed to pay for the building and for its furnishings, and how could you have a Math and Computer building without furnishing it with a computer?  In the end, the Ministry did pay.  The minister of education at that time was William Grenville Davis, and perhaps that is why today there is a building on campus named The William G Davis Computer Research Centre.  (There are members of this club who can probably add more details about this particular topic.)  

While at Waterloo, with its abundance of computing power and leadership it its use,  I too became interested in the use of computers to aid in the discovery of new results in mathematics and geometry, and sometimes to even aid in the proof of such results.

I became interested in a programming language, APL, which stands for A Programming Language.  I developed some expertise in the area and joined with the Standards Council of Canada in its efforts to develop a national standard for this language.  After some time the chair of my committee moved on and I became the chair.  In that capacity I was, of course, obliged to attend (a) the corresponding international APL meetings and (b) the Canadian committee for all programming languages.   Responsibilities increased, and I found that I was soon traveling a

lot in this capacity.   I was thrilled to be able to visit many wonderful places.  I did my best to attach some free time after each meeting for purposes of personal enrichment in the local culture.  On may occasions, my wife Carol was able to accompany me.  

An important part of my life has been  First Unitarian Congregation of Waterloo, which is now situated in Kitchener.  We have recently voted to change our name.  Soon we will be officially known as  The Grand River Unitarian Congregation.  We are proud to have been a part of the Welcoming Congregation program, officially making welcome those who are Gay, Lesbian, BiSexual and Transgendered.  

For several years I served as Treasurer to the national board, The Canadian Unitarian Council.  In that capacity, I was sent as a representative to various financial meetings of  the corresponding US organization.  One of the problems the American organization was that many of their member churches were not paying their fair share, and it was noticed that the Canadian organization was not having that problem.

They asked me why?  I told them that I was not sure, but having grown up in the US, one of the big ideas I had been exposed to was the idea of "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness".   During my time in Canada, I came to believe that the closest correlate of that was the phrase "Peace, Order, and Good Government" and commitment to good government has its consequences.

Other local organizations I have also been involved with are the Laurier Association for Lifelong Learning,  Third Age Learning,  Interfaith Grand River, and the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast.

I would like to tell you about an incident that happened one time we crossed the border to visit some cousins in the US.    We were heading toward Fort Erie, and the kids had reached an age where the immigration officer at the bridge might ask them questions, so to prepare them for that, I told them they might be asked where they were born. 

They asked me how the officers would know that we were telling the truth.  I said that they would listen carefully to the pronunciation of certain words.  That silenced them for a while.  Then a small voice came from the back seat, with an accent that was something between  German and Swedish:  "I vass born een VeesKonSeen."     I kept my cool, and explained that if she said that at the border we might all have to spend the afternoon at the immigration shed, and we probably would not get to Grandma's that night. 

Today, the kids live: one in Kitchener, one on the Bruce, and one in Jasper, Alberta.  There are seven grands.  Once, after each of them had two children, I asked if they intended to have more or were two enough.  The mothers each said that two were enough, but one more came along, and I considered it best not to mention the previous conversation.  Some time later, I was talking with my brother, who lives in Texas, and he told me that one of my nephews was trying to have a baby.  I told my daughter that her cousin was having trouble getting pregnant, and her response was, "I can recommend a very good riesling!"

 

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