Reminiscences of a friendship
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 April 2013
It was at a party in Ann Arbor in the summer of 1938 that I first met Al Clifford. He was one of a small squadron of mathematicians pausing for refreshment on their journey westward from the Institute for Advanced Study. We didn't meet again until the Spring of 1942, when, having been called to active duty as lieutenants (junior grade) in the Naval Reserve, we found ourselves in the same office in Washington. Within a few weeks I was ordered to the Pacific, and he, meanwhile marrying the talented linguist Alice Colt, who served in the Office of Strategic Services, was sent to the European theatre in 1943. In the Spring of 1945 he returned from the U.K., and I from Pearl Harbour, and this time we began to talk mathematics together.
Brought up as a point-set topologist, I was ignorant of algebra, and Al gently set me on the right path in his always kindly way. (I have seen him do this with other mathematicians – leading them to discover the answers to their questions without ever letting on that he knew the answer all along. A skillful director of dissertations!) Making a detailed analysis of the group axioms, I stumbled on the concept of what we later called “zeroid elements” (a term we both regretted subsequently!); I suspected that the things formed a subgroup, but was unable to prove it. Al could, and did, and this became the main theorem in our first joint paper.
- Semigroup Theory and its ApplicationsProceedings of the 1994 Conference Commemorating the Work of Alfred H. Clifford, pp. 1 - 2Publisher: Cambridge University PressPrint publication year: 1996