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Following the death of Dr Peter M. Neumann OBE, mathematician and Emeritus Fellow of The Queen’s College, on 18 December 2020, we have received many tributes and personal memories from his family, friends, colleagues and former students, which we are happy to share here. If you would also like to contribute, please contact news@queens.ox.ac.uk.

Queen’s Fellows and Staff

‘Peter was a fine mathematician, and later historian of mathematics, whose influence on his subject and generations of students will not be forgotten. He was very warm and hospitable when we first arrived in Oxford. He clearly loved the College, and we remember with pleasure many guest nights at which he was a most gracious and charming host.’ John Ball (Emeritus Fellow) and Sedhar Ball

‘When I arrived at Queen’s in 1981, Peter was Tutor for Admissions. In a community that was new to me, he instantly stood out as an especially warm and welcoming presence, and he remained so through my decades as a Tutorial Fellow. His own early years at Queen’s had been overshadowed by some difficult colleagues on the Governing Body, and I think the memory of that reinforced his own natural courtesy. His scrupulous care for his pupils, his colleagues and the wellbeing of the College was legendary, and he was unfailingly dignified and considerate, even during occasional disagreements. In dining and all other social activities he was a delightful companion, with a fund of unexpected knowledge, and a rich sense of humour that was never far below the surface. He earned deep respect and affection from his colleagues, and is very greatly missed.’ John Blair (Emeritus Fellow)

‘Selflessness and generosity absolutely encapsulated Peter’s whole relationship to the College, to the University, to Mathematics, and to people in general. He had an utter and humbling dedication to people’s well-being, without a thought for the cost to himself. As Senior Fellow, as well as Senior Tutor, he had to bear a heavy load of hospitality in College, and how well he always did it. In the evenings when he presided Peter never failed to display a deep pleasure in entertaining our guests.’ Angus Bowie (Emeritus Fellow)

‘On behalf of the whole College community, I would like to offer condolences to Sylvia and the rest of the family at this sad time. Peter was exceptional in many, many ways and, in particular, in the extent to which he won the respect and affection of Fellows, students and staff alike. I am sorry that, as a relative newcomer, I only met him a few times but, even in those limited exchanges, he conveyed the intellect, curiosity, concern for the College and the good humour that many others saw during his lifetime. The College is rightfully proud of its association with him, and grateful for all he brought to it.’ Claire Craig (Provost)

'Peter was wonderfully kind to Helen and to me when I took up my post in Queen’s in 1981. And thereafter, over many years, always courteous, helpful, a man you could without any hesitation engage in conversation on subjects that mattered. He was interested, he paid attention, he had things to say in return. He was a good colleague, and that means a great deal.' David Constantine (Supernumerary Fellow)

'I will always be grateful for the very warm welcome that Peter gave me to Queen’s. As Senior Tutor he was incredibly helpful and supportive when I started as a College Lecturer in the 1980s. Both Peter and Sylvia made Queen’s a much friendlier and less intimidating place than it might have been.

'My son, Stephen, is also grateful for Peter’s work with the UKMT. From junior Maths Team challenges to a residential Maths week at Queen’s, Stephen looks back on those activities as some of his best school-days experiences. It is great to think of the many young people inspired by Peter in this way.' Ruth Dixon (College Lecturer in Biochemistry)

‘I have very fond memories of Peter. He was always so sociable and friendly at High Table and Common Room towards us and our guests, making everyone feel at ease and helping conversation flow. I felt that everyone would leave his company feeling enriched and happy. I also remember well seeing him lighting the candles that decorated his family Christmas tree, with a mixture of pleasure and concern that the tree might catch fire! It was quite safe in Peter’s capable hands!’ Peter Dobson (Emeritus Fellow)

‘I first met Peter on my interview panel back in 2005, and I was immediately struck by his love and enthusiasm for all things Queen’s related. He was immensely proud of Queen’s and everyone connected with it. He was encyclopaedic in his knowledge of all the traditions regarding the service of food and drink, from impressive gaudies to his beloved UKMT annual events. Peter always had time to stop and ask how I was doing and showed genuine interest in my life and that of my family; he never forgot even the tiniest detail. He was beloved by staff and students alike and he will be sadly missed by all of us.’ Dawn Grimshaw (Catering Manager)

‘Peter M. Neumann was internationally known and greatly respected for his contributions to mathematics, its history, and to mathematical education. He achieved eminence in all three fields with works of lasting influence. In the history of mathematics, Peter’s writings are characterised by enormous precision and meticulous attention to detail, qualities that he brought to all of his work.  Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in his comprehensive 2011 edition of the mathematical writings of the precocious and much-romanticised French mathematician Évariste Galois (1811–1832).  Peter’s was the first full English edition, carefully compiled from Parisian archive materials, opening up Galois’s writings to a wider mathematical readership.

‘Peter was a great champion of the study of the history of mathematics.  He served as president of the British Society for the History of Mathematics, and was the long-term organiser of “Research in Progress”, the society’s annual conference, usually held in Queen’s, for research students in the history of mathematics. Peter’s lifelong commitment to teaching also extended to the history of mathematics: he was a co-founder, along with his great friend and colleague Jackie Stedall (and others), of the Oxford Mathematical Institute’s undergraduate module in the history of mathematics.  Many young scholars in the history of mathematics (including me) have benefitted enormously from the sheer breadth of his knowledge, and from his encouragement, always warmly and generously given.  The mathematical world has lost not only an eminent scholar but also the kindest of gentlemen.’ Christopher Hollings (Clifford Norton Senior Research Fellow in the History of Mathematics)

‘There are a few people who make a truly outstanding contribution to their academic discipline and community. There are also some whose personalities are universally admired and appreciated. Peter Neumann was unusual in falling squarely into both categories. He was an exceptionally distinguished scholar and researcher, in both Mathematics and the History of Mathematics, and he was also a famously inspirational teacher and mentor. His contributions to the mathematical community were extremely highly regarded: he had a significant impact at the London Mathematical Society, where he led in modernising the Society’s publications and acted as Vice-President, and he was notably the first Chair of the United Kingdom Mathematics Trust, where he led on advancing the education of young people in mathematics at the national level. However, my abiding memory of Peter is that he was a deeply kind and generous man whose warmth made a lasting impression on everyone he met. He was widely liked and deeply respected, as popular as he was distinguished. He will be greatly missed by the mathematics community.’ Jon Keating (Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy, The Queen's College; and President of the London Mathematical Society)

‘So sad to hear of Peter’s passing. He was a lovely man. My deepest condolences at this sad time.’ Linda King (IT Support)

'The Gardener

'Arriving in Queen's in 2002, at the introductory lunch in the Provost's Lodgings, my wife and I met Dr Jackie Stedall, a fellow SCR fresher and brilliant scholar of the history of mathematics, accompanied on this occasion by her delightful daughter Ellie, who would later come up to study English at Corpus and obtain a doctorate at Cambridge.

'We immediately formed a strong bond and very soon afterwards, Jackie introduced me to her close friend Peter Neumann whom she had gotten to know when she became the Clifford Norton student in 2000. Like many, I was immediately struck by Peter's kindness and patience with a foreigner to these strange lands. I learned a great deal about many different things from Peter and in particular about the mores and traditions of Queen's. Perhaps as a result of his own difficult early experiences at Queen's, he was always extremely attentive and friendly. Without fail, over the years my guests to Queen's high table always enjoyed meeting him and often commented on how Queen's must be the friendliest of Oxford colleges.

'Several years later, my young daughters had come to love the enchantment of the Fellows' garden; playing croquet and climbing trees. One fine summer day my eldest daughter ran ahead whilst I fetched the mail. As I came into the garden, I saw her in deep conversation with Peter who was sitting on a chair in the shade of her favourite climbing tree. I quietly sat down on a garden bench, whilst the two of them happily chatted away. After quite some time, Peter got up to leave and my daughter ran over to me, excitedly exclaiming: "What a great gardener you have in Queen's!"

'Peter was delighted to hear that she had taken him to be the gardener and afterwards, he became known as the Gardener in our family. Reading the many other tributes, I can't help but think that this was in fact quite a fitting description of this distinguished scholar. Peter treated his many students, colleagues and friends with the love of a gardener who wanted everyone to thrive. To be in his company left one feeling cared and nurtured for.

'Many years later, after Jackie's tragic passing in 2014, on several occasions I brought Ellie back for high table. Despite the pain, these were joyous occasions, made even more so by the kindness of Peter and Sylvia whom she felt very close to.

'From time to time, my family and I would see Peter cycling around Oxford, slightly bent forward, pedalling hard but always with that charming smile and a ready wave. It is tragic to have lost this gentle Gardener so early; Rest in Peace.' Morten Kringelbach (Senior Research Fellow)

'Peter was something like the good spirit of Queen’s, because of the length and depth of his attachment to the place. I shall always think of him as a genial, benevolent presence, going about his business in College with an equal blend of duty and relish. It was as if, by smiling at the right moment, asking the right kindly question, letting the sweetness of his attention and curiosity rest on everyone at exactly the point it was needed - all of those entirely natural, unforced things - he was maintaining the spiritual economy of the College, and it was true. I can only imagine that in some sense he is still at it - keeping the place in tune, steadying us, assuring that Queen’s always stays true to itself while always also adjusting.' Charlie Louth (Fellow in German)

‘Peter was a defining influence on the character of the College – setting very high standards by example in engagement with students and his colleagues. As tutors, we aspired to emulate the detailed attention and inspiration given to the maths students. He took on the major College Officerships and performed them brilliantly, and with apparent enthusiasm. In the Common Room, he knitted together the sense of community and shared purpose amongst the senior members by a constant, welcoming presence combined with a strong sense of intellectual pursuit. Sitting on external committees, I came to realise how much these qualities were recognised and revered by academics across the University. At a personal level, his friendship and the integrity of his dealings with me have formed a ‘golden thread’ through my career in the College, and I am sure that many colleagues would share that sentiment.’ Paul Madden (Fellow 1984-2004 and Provost 2008-2019)

'I first met Peter in 2005 when I started in the Lodge. He was the first person to greet me when he came in to the Lodge and introduced himself. He came across to me as a very caring person, and along the years he would always have time to chat - which we did a lot of as I was from Manchester, and he was from Hull, so we would have the great northern chat about life in general.

'Later in time Peter gave a lot of help in schools in his retirement, including to my son in maths at St Joseph's Primary School. This was a great help for my son, who went on to succeed in getting his grades, for which I would always be grateful to Peter, and sums him up as the great man he was - in caring and helping when needed. Thank you, sir. Rest in Peace.' John Maguire (Lodge Porter) 

‘I first met Peter when I was a student at Queen’s in the early 1980s and he was Tutor for Admissions. It was immediately apparent to me that he was an immensely kind and friendly person who enjoyed his interactions with students and was passionate about learning.  When I returned to the College as a Fellow, I found him constant in this respect and a wonderful colleague who always had time for others. He would go to lengths to ensure that new members of the College felt at home and included. He has been a superb role model and I will miss him greatly. My thoughts are with Sylvia and his family.’ Chris O’Callaghan (Fellow in Medicine)

‘It was such a privilege to have been taught mathematics by Dr Neumann in my undergraduate years at Queen’s and later on to teach alongside him during my DPhil years. He not only taught me mathematics, but it is thanks to him that I use a green pen for marking and quote “back of the envelope” for doing rough mathematical calculations. Thank you being a mathematical inspiration and Rest in Peace.’  Jasmina Panovska-Griffiths (Lecturer in Probability and Statistics; and Old Member – Mathematics, 1996)

‘I’ve always associated Queen’s with Peter: partly by chance as he interviewed me in December 1981 as Tutor for Admissions (genial but sharp, interested, distinctly Yorkshire), but also because his kindness set a tone for the whole College in my student years: his smiles, sideways as he walked past (though usually he stopped to say hello); his postcards with messages and requests (a postcard with thanks always followed). Later at Old Member events, everyone was delighted that he remembered their names (he always did). In recent years at College meals, he would draw in new Fellows and guests with anecdotes evoking the College as an inclusive and supportive community, and gently implying its obligation to be so (after an evening in the SCR with him and Sylvia, “that was a lovely evening – a very Queen’s evening, don’t you think?”).

‘So many acts of kindness (always shrewd) and introductions (always thoughtful) have influenced many lives and careers beyond mathematics and scholarship; so many people have said in the past weeks “I owe Peter so much” (I do). He took other people seriously, and he made a huge difference to them: we have all remembered individual acts across the decades (“he was the first Fellow who ever spoke to me”). He quietly championed the outsider, the diffident. When I was asked at a Stonewall training course to think of an inspiring role-model (alive, dead or fictional), I named Peter: he embodies for me all that is best and most human in the academic world, and always will. Two of his remarks stay in my mind as characteristic: he was very proud (his word) and delighted at a get-well card sent by children studying maths; shortly before his stroke, he said in passing, as if about an unexpected and undeserved gift: “I’ve been very lucky; the College has been very kind to me”.’ Richard Bruce Parkinson (Professor of Egyptology)

‘Peter was one of the kindest and most generous-hearted people I have known, and was unstinting in the time and energy he gave to people. He was extremely helpful to me when I arrived at Queen’s (I had the challenge of succeeding him as moral tutor to the music students, in which role he was superbly supportive and encouraging). Peter was actively involved in – and took a keen interest in – the musical life of the College, including as an instrumentalist: he played regularly in Eglesfield Musical Society concerts, and I have happy memories of playing chamber music with him in chapel. He was a wonderful colleague and a key member of the College community, and is sorely missed.’ Owen Rees (Fellow in Music)

‘Peter and I shared the experience of education in Yorkshire schools but it was the warmth of his welcome to me when I arrived as a Professorial Fellow which I shall always remember.’ The Revd Christopher Rowland (Emeritus Fellow)

'When I first joined Queen's in 2004 as a young (then) colleague of Peter Neumann, I was struck immediately by his characteristic kindness and infectious enthusiasm for the College. Having enjoyed Peter's company over many years in various College settings, and having witnessed his professionalism and devotion to the College, I consider it to have been an honour to have served in the College at the same time as Peter. My sincere condolences go to his beloved Sylvia.' Dan Sarooshi Q.C. (Senior Research Fellow, The Queen's College; Professor of Public International Law, University of Oxford)

‘One of my abiding memories of Peter was his ability to make you feel like you mattered. He combined this with grace and humanity, recognising the contribution individuals made, always finding the time to thank people, however small they believed their part had been.  In this way, he nurtured cooperation and self-belief – particularly amongst the staff at Queen’s. He took people along with him enabling him to make things happen, however tall the order appeared at the outset. 

'He was generous with his time and love of mathematics. I was fortunate to witness him teaching a group of catatonically demotivated maths GCSE students from a school as part of a local outreach initiative. I was not overly confident that the class would go well but Peter had them enthralled – non-engagement just was not an option. He carefully explained how they needed to think and approach the problem, pitching the instruction just right with both humour, great timing and understanding. The evident joy that these students had in discovering they could do something that they thought impossible at the outset was a moment that will stay with me.

'The re-opening of the Upper Library after a major refurbishment was marked with a ceremony of music and readings. Peter read passages from both Euclid’s Elements and The Whetstone of Whitte by Robert Recorde beautifully. There seemed to be no difference – whatever he was doing – Peter was able to rise to all occasions and with him came his characteristic joy, commitment and enthusiasm.

'Peter will be sadly missed and my condolences go to Sylvia and his family at this time’. Tessa Shaw (Reader Services Librarian)

Family

'As the daughter of his sister Irene, I have known Peter Neumann as "Uncle Peter" all my life. I have memories of him on his bicycle on long countryside rides with us when I was a child, of riding on his shoulders and holding his warm bald head, of composing amusing limericks about family members with him, of him annually lighting the candles on the 'Burnside' Christmas tree, and of the delight with which he welcomed every new baby born into the family. He has been a good and kind uncle to me, he and Aunt Sylvia gave me a home with them when I needed one; he enabled my trip to Berlin to say goodbye to our Tante Dora (Hanna's sister) whom I was close to; he drove all the way from Oxford to Bangor and back in one day to bring me home from hospital; supported my unwell brother; and gave me book tokens and good books many, many times. When he attended a talk I gave, his listening face made me feel I had arrived somewhere. He supported me in more ways than I can say. Uncle Peter has been a warm and constant figure in mine and my daughter's lives. It is always dangerous to start a list because there will always be things left off it, and it is of course impossible to sum up a whole person by listing some of the things they did or were. However I know there will be tributes to Uncle Peter as a colleague, teacher and mathematician; here I pay loving tribute to my warm, sensitive and jovial uncle, who was always human and humane, and is and will be much missed.' Sushila Dhall

'Peter Neumann was my eldest brother and second-oldest sibling. Ten years my senior, he seemed to me to be capable, unflappable and urbane even in our childhood, and it became clear over time that this was not just an artefact of our age difference. Living in Australia from the age of twelve, I could see him only on my rare visits to Britain or his rare visits to Australia: much less contact than either of us would have liked, and exacerbated by a family tendency to lead very busy lives. Of the many memories, here are some that stand out: Peter's wonderfully convivial Brandenburg parties hosted at Queen's (and one that he hosted at ANU in Canberra, I think for our father's 80th birthday); other more intimate moments of playing chamber music together over the years; the warmth of family Christmas gatherings in Iffley; and introducing him to non-chillfiltered single malt (he liked it very much, but was characteristically critical of the syntax). I still remember clearly a surprise phone call (at a time when we thought of international calls as major events), in which for the first time I heard Peter almost incoherent - with happiness over the birth of his and Sylvia's first grandchild. I will miss him as an affectionate, thoughtful brother.' Danny Neumann, Melbourne

Other Mathematicians and Former Colleagues

‘Peter Neumann was a member of the working party that set up the United Kingdom Mathematics Trust (UKMT) in 1996. He was the first Chairman of its Council, a position that he held until 2004. The early years of the UKMT were not altogether easy, as a group of people with different backgrounds came together to build a new organisation. It was thanks to Peter’s commitment to enhancing the mathematical experience of talented young people, his acute mind, and his great charm and courtesy that the difficulties were overcome, and the foundations were laid for the successful institution that the UKMT is today. A highlight of Peter's chairmanship was the central role of the UKMT in organising the 2002 International Mathematical Olympiad, hosted in Glasgow, at short notice after the original host country had to withdraw. 

‘From the UKMT’s early days until his death, Peter was deeply and actively involved in every area of its different activities: from marking weekends, to residentials, to Mathematical Circles, to team challenges. Of particular interest to him was the poster challenge that made up part of the team challenge national finals: he valued and championed its emphasis on not only the exploration of the mathematical content, but on its effective and clear presentation and communication.

‘He was, and remains, much loved and respected by volunteers and staff across the whole spectrum of UKMT activity.’ Rosie Cretney (Queen’s Old Member: Mathematics, 2007) and Alan Slomson (Leeds University)

‘Peter was generous to all new or inexperienced markers at IMOK (Intermediate Mathematical Olympiad and Kangaroo) and JMO (Junior Mathematical Olympiad) marking weekends, by recalling his experiences from over the years, sharing his insight into how the markers could add to the students’ understanding of the problems by adding insightful words of encouragement to their scripts, and also giving a warm welcome to all new volunteers, whoever they were. He had an uncanny knack of making everyone feel they were a very much wanted and valued member of the United Kingdom Mathematics Trust (UKMT) family. Peter also had a wonderful way with young people – putting them at their ease in Team Maths Challenge and Senior Team Maths Challenge finals with words of encouragement and support, as well as congratulating them at the end for all their endeavours and successes throughout the day. His unfailing courtesy and kindness to everyone meant that the events were a brighter event for all.’ Jenny Ramsden (Department for Education)

'I would like to offer heartfelt condolences to Sylvia and the rest of Peter's family for their loss. I have known Peter since 1959 when he joined the College and I was in my second year. He has always been such a friendly and interesting person. I will mainly remember him for the welcome that he gave me whenever I returned to the College for a function. It is not going to be the same when I next go.' John Reid (Queen's Old Member - 1958, Mathematics)

‘I am immensely grateful to Peter for all he taught me about academic life and work by just being there. Joining him on a committee was inevitably an enjoyable experience thanks to his infinite patience, devotion to the task at hand, respect for colleagues, not to mention his sharp mathematical wit and knowledge. As a junior member of staff, I regarded him as an informal mentor, one who always gave sound advice and made me feel important. He was equally fun to be with outside working hours, and his strong presence will forever make it easy for me to conjure him up to look over my shoulder.’ Simon Salamon (Professor of Geometry at King's College London)

‘Goodbye, dear Peter. It was always such fun to meet and talk with you. You were a mathematician, a teacher, an intellect, a scholar, and a personality. We are so much the poorer without you. In great sorrow, from an old friend.’ Dana Scott (Professor Emeritus, Carnegie Mellon University)

'I am saddened to learn of the death of Peter Neumann.

'During the early 1980s, when Peter was Editor of the Bulletin of the London Mathematical Society and I and my Sheffield colleague John Pym were the Editors of the Journal of the London Mathematical Society, we had many interactions with Peter. He was unfailingly courteous, helpful and constructive, and exhibited drive, energy and enthusiasm for the communication of mathematics with accuracy and clarity both to mathematicians and non-mathematicians. The lessons I learned about mathematical and other writing from working alongside Peter in those years have influenced me greatly, and I often think of Peter when I am putting finger to computer.

'It was a privilege to have known Peter, and I send his family my sincere condolences at this sad time.' Rodney Y. Sharp (Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, University of Sheffield)

Former Students

'I was sad to hear of the death of Peter Neumann. I must have been one of his first students, as I arrived at Queen's in September 1964 to find that there was no maths tutor yet appointed, and I was to be taught by two Junior Research Fellows. I need not have worried, they both proved to be superb. Peter really went out of his way to get the best from all of his students, and it is very much down to him that that I did as well as I did. I kept in touch over the years, and always enjoyed catching up with him at College events. His memory was extraordinary.' Alan Shepherd (Mathematics, 1964)

'I am saddened to learn that Peter Neumann has died. Others have spoken of his kindliness and dedication to his students as well as his exacting standards in the cause of mathematics and mathematical education. I feel greatly privileged to have been one of his early (not quite the first) undergraduate students, when it was already clear he was an accomplished guide for the immature and mathematically naïve – but I hope he may also have learned something about tutoring from his experience of the Queen’s 1966 intake. It was not Peter’s fault that in the end I did not become a professional pure mathematician, but I have felt his influence at sundry times throughout my life since Queen’s – Peter would typically come to mind when (as sometimes happens), faced with a temptation to cut corners, clearly more thinking was needed! As well as the power of pure thought, I also learned from him that mathematics was a pursuit of real people (he once chided me for being a mathematical automaton in a vacation essay I had written) and being tutored by him was a deeply civilising experience. Thank you, ΠMN – may you rest in peace.' Michael Collop (Mathematics, 1966)

‘Peter Neumann’s combination of public-spirited concern, attention to detail, courtesy and correctness, together with his gentle humour and extensive scholarship, were unique.

‘In 1970-71 I was fortunate to be sent to him for tutorials, an unforgettable experience. He set open ended problems for the vacation, handed back work covered in red ink, and castigated us for not consulting the original sources, yet always with a twinkle in his eye. I learned so much from him, and it laid the basis of a lifelong acquaintanceship.

‘Peter worked selflessly and tirelessly for the mathematical community. When later in life our paths from time to time crossed, the meeting always lit up my day. It was a privilege to have known him.’ Caroline Series (Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, University of Warwick)

‘December 2020 marked the 50th anniversary of my first meeting Peter when I attended Queen’s for interview in 1970 during a week of rolling power blackouts. I went on to study at Queen’s under Peter and Martin Edwards for my first degree, and subsequently for my DPhil under Graham Higman, at Peter’s suggestion. Peter was always a most supportive and enthusiastic tutor; he was extremely passionate about his subject and transmitted his passion and knowledge in his teaching with considerable flair and panache. My undergraduate contemporaries included Andrew Wiles with whom I attended Peter’s intercollegiate classes from time to time. I have fond memories of Peter lecturing in his red shirt, his obsession with the number 27, not to mention the sherry at tutorials and the kind invitations to supper at his appropriately named house, ‘Burnside’, where we would play darts. His tutorial assignments regularly included essays on subjects such as Stirling’s formula, thereby promoting excellence in mathematical writing for broader audiences, which was manifestly something very close to Peter’s own heart.

‘After leaving Queen’s I always looked forward to meeting Peter at Old Members’ events. Despite his numerous and wide-ranging major professional commitments, he always had time for everyone and showed a genuine interest and continuing support. More recently, I was honoured to attend The Royal Society for his speech on acceptance of the London Mathematical Society’s David Creighton medal: his book on Galois is a true classic and he brought it and his subject to life vividly that evening.’ Stephen Wilson (Mathematics, 1971)

'When I came up to Queen’s as an undergraduate in 1972, I was bewildered by being assigned an essay on the history of infinity. That was my first glimpse of the Peter Neumann style. Like most maths students, I had never been assigned an essay – shouldn’t we be solving problems and proving theorems? Over the following years (until I left topology for economics) there was no lack of those, but much more importantly I was treated to a supreme intellectual and personal education from Peter. In my own subsequent teaching I have always aspired to really change the brains of a few students. I’ve forgotten almost all the specific maths that Peter taught me, but he permanently changed my brain for the better.

'The brain-changes cluster around what I can only describe as Peter’s fastidious gusto. I remember his special metal chalk-holder, which prevented dust from getting everywhere, but didn’t interfere with his drive to get hands-on with a proof. Sometimes a blackboard exploration would go in circles, and Peter would step back a couple of paces and conclude, appreciatively, “arithmetic is consistent”. Perhaps to celebrate, he might share a glass of sherry with his undergraduates. I’m not sure now whether the sherry was a good one, because after all his students and guests deserved it, or a bad one, because after all one should retain the ability to enjoy a glass of plonk. More substantively I remember how getting a correct proof wasn’t the end of the story: there might be a better proof if you thought about it more and pushed yourself to polish it. Peter trained us not to use a “sledgehammer”, meaning a general theorem that didn’t really help one understand: better to gain (and communicate) more insight on the problem by tracing how the theorem’s logic applied in the case at hand. A good solution, or a fine proof, was to be savoured, the closing line delivered with appreciation and a little bit of awe. Better yet if it had historical associations, or links with a seemingly distant branch of mathematics, or was simply elegant and fun, the kind of thing that you would want to put up on the blackboard without scattering chalk dust, and that, even in a busy day, you would take a few moments to step back and appreciate.' Joseph Farrell (Mathematics, 1972; Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley)

'I am so sad to learn of Peter's passing. I was a Mathematics undergraduate at Queen's in the early 70's, and Peter influenced me enormously. Whenever I try to compose a rigorous argument I still hear his voice insisting on clarity, precision, and elegance of expression. I am so grateful for how he nurtured my love of the mathematical sciences. I send my most heart-felt condolences to the family. Peter was a great man.' Wilfrid Kendall (Mathematics,1972)

'Peter Neumann was the most modest and decent man I have ever met. I will miss him.' Philip Tellwright (Geography, 1977; JCR President 1979-80)

‘It was very sad to hear about Peter Neumann’s death from COVID-19 just a few days before his 80th birthday.

‘When I was working for the DPhil at Oxford, Peter was not only my research supervisor, it turned out that he was also my Moral Tutor at Queen’s College. I must have looked somewhat puzzled when he told me this, so he went on to explain what the function of Moral Tutor entailed, top of the list being to mediate between the student and the supervisor in case of a conflict. (Looking at the College website, I notice that nowadays Moral Tutors of graduate students are called College Advisors.) I realised soon how very lucky I was to have Peter as my ‘Doktorvater’, as he was not only extremely helpful in all mathematical questions but in his very kind way could also help with other problems. He was always open and honest, which could also mean that he would say what he did not like, but he presented this in a way that focussed on looking for ways in which things could be improved.

‘His Kinderseminar was quite legendary: there he created an atmosphere where one could present the current state of one’s work, and questions from the other participants might open up new directions in which the research could be extended. It was usually timed so it could be combined afterwards with a sandwich in the beer cellar and a visit to the lunchtime organ recital in Queen's chapel (the organist at the time pursued the project of going through the complete organ works of J.S. Bach) – because the world does not only consist of mathematics. What I also certainly learned from Peter was that mathematics – whether as a seminar talk or in written form as a paper or book – should always be presented in a way that the intended audience had a reasonable chance to follow it.

‘When I was studying in Oxford, I had not yet done the compulsory military service which at that time still applied in Germany, and the authorities were getting somewhat impatient and in the end made it clear that they would not accept any further deferrals. To a large extent it was thanks to Peter that I managed to finish my thesis in time. He gently encouraged me to regularly produce results, but he probably also helped to smooth the administrative path of both having to apply for late submission and early viva. And in the middle of all this, Peter and Sylvia also managed to attend my wedding in Colchester. Thirty-five years later my daughter got married in Queen’s chapel, and I felt very honoured by both of them attending the event. This turned out to be the last time I would meet Peter. I will always have fond memories of him.’ Gerhard Behrendt (DPhil in Mathematics, 1979)

'I arrived at Queen's in 1979 as a modern languages student. Within a matter of days, I realised that I was completely out of my depth and was totally incapable of delivering my first assignment on the romantic poetry of Alfred de Vigny. As my third A level was in maths, I had the mad notion that I might be able to switch to maths. I asked Dr Neumann if it would be possible. I was amazed that Dr Neumann even agreed to talk to me. He told me that no one had ever made such a change before and I've no idea why Dr Neumann decided to take a punt on me, despite my vastly deficient qualifications. I have always been grateful that he did and that I was able to have three very enjoyable years at Queen's that, but for him, would have passed me by. He went to tremendous lengths to help me catch up on the weeks that I had missed and bring me up to speed with great patience and compassion, when I was struggling, which was often. I genuinely feel that Dr Neumann's kindness and attention changed my life and I'm certain that I am one of many Queen's students that has benefited from a life-changing impact delivered by the wonderful Dr Neumann.' Richard Davis (Mathematics, 1979)

'I am saddened to hear of the death of Dr Neumann. He was my tutor in 1988 and 1989, having I think been on sabbatical for my first year in 1987. Thirty years on, I still have a card that he sent me after my finals (a picture of the College Wassail Horn). I look at it whenever I need to hold myself to a higher standard. Some teachers inspire the highest standard; Dr Neumann was one of them.' Erica Charles (Mathematics, 1987)

‘I was both tutored (for first degree) and supervised (for DPhil) by Dr Neumann. I owe my interest in and understanding of permutation groups and the computational algorithms associated with groups to him (in addition to success in both degrees!). Unlike some in his field, he was a skilled communicator, which he sought to pass on to his students. The lesson that excellence in a specialism is of little value without the ability to communicate has proved valuable time and again over many years of my professional life.

‘Peter (or \Pi MN, as he styled himself), was engaging, inspiring, funny, generous with his time (and his gin!) and will be greatly missed.’ Graham Sharp (Mathematics and Computation, 1992)

'A great loss. He was so dedicated. I was deeply lucky to have him as my tutor at Queen's.

'I look back fondly on coffee-fueled tutorials in his college rooms, enjoying what he considered the best views in Oxford. I continue to be inspired by his example now as I teach - his precision and high standards, his insight and attention, the copious green ink judiciously applied to homework scripts, and of course his sparkle.

'Later, as a graduate student, I attended his "Kinderseminar" and had to get used to him being "Peter" instead of "Dr Neumann". I'm grateful for the research grounding I received there, for his gentle and invaluable advice on how to deliver talks, and for the contagious pleasure he took in mathematical ideas.' Timothy Riley (Mathematics, 1994; Professor of Mathematics, Cornell University​)

'It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Dr Neumann. I was a student of Mathematics at Queen’s, where Dr Neumann was also my moral tutor; the most fitting there could be.

'Dr Neumann sparkled with kindness, patience and gentle humour – in-person and in green ink. He offered the warmest hospitality at the Old Lodgings, with his tray of individually brewed teapots. I will always admire him as a true polymath and precise communicator. At Old Members’ events, I was touched by the sincere interest he took in the lives of alumni. He was delighted to observe lasting friendships forged at Queen’s, particularly (but not limited to) Mathematicians’. We feel a special bond through the privilege of being taught and guided by him.

'My condolences to Dr Neumann’s family at this difficult time. He will be honoured by so many in these tributes and at the memorial he deserves.' Elizabeth M Pilkington (Mathematics, 2000)

‘I was a student of Dr Neumann’s when reading mathematics and computation at Queen’s between 2001 and 2005. Among the tutors I met at Oxford, Dr Neumann was unique not only in his great passion for mathematics in all its forms but also, and just as importantly, in his ability to pass this passion on to his students. I will always remember his tutorials as being both intellectually challenging (often beyond an undergraduate’s analytical capacity) yet very convivial. Dr Neumann would want us to see the art in mathematics. He would also share with us history of the origins of mathematical theorems, thus revealing the real-life stories that lay behind the logical arguments of mathematical proofs.

‘His initials spelled as “Pi” MN on our weekly exercise sheets were entertaining but also illustrated how enthusiastic he was about maths.

‘Dr Neumann had the great ability to approach students in a very human way, taking interest in our academic progress and development. Without any doubt Dr Neumann was the person who influenced me the most at Oxford. He turned my interest in maths into love for maths and it was largely thanks to him that I stayed on to complete a Master’s degree (even if this was not in pure maths!).

‘It is therefore with fond memories and with thanks that I will remember Dr Neumann.’ Ondrej Mates (Mathematics and Computer Science, 2001)

‘I still have the letter Dr Neumann sent my school with feedback on my interview, and he and Dr Edwards saw through my nervousness to offer me a place despite my interview being far from stellar! From the first tutorial, he both challenged and supported us in equal measure. Our problem sheet responses came back covered in his ubiquitous green pen (he told us he was once told red was too intimidating – but the green became just as alarming!) but because he took the time to note what wasn’t correct and why. He placed a lot of value on his students explaining rationale and setting out work clearly – which set me up well for my future career even though it’s only tangentially related to mathematics – and I'll never forget the essays he set us over vacations, because he had a strong belief that mathematicians should be able to write.

‘My main memory of Dr Neumann was how willingly he would give up his time to support his students. A friend and I took pure courses in fourth year, taught outside of college. As soon as he learned we were finding them very challenging, Dr Neumann offered us extra tutorials which made all the difference in us getting our confidence back. He also arranged these directly before dinner so we were offered a glass of sherry at the end! 

‘Dr Neumann was very supportive of our pursuits beyond our studies, encouraging us to participate widely in college life. I was a fellow viola player and Dr Neumann frequently stored my viola in his office between morning tutorials and evening orchestra when I lived in Cardo, to save me the time going back there to fetch it.

‘It’s very hard to believe Dr Neumann won’t be there at the next College event or London drinks. He was always delighted to see his former students and we were very privileged to be taught and influenced by him. I am very sad to hear of his passing.’ Sarah Berman (Mathematics, 2002)

'I was a student of Dr Neumann's from 2003 to 2007, and remember him fondly from my time at Queen's. I was by no means the most talented student he'd encountered (far from it), and my overriding memory of Dr Neumann is his encouragement, and the kindness and joy he took as I was able to navigate towards the bits of maths that suited me, and against all odds, pursue a DPhil. A lovely memory, which shows the care and generosity of spirit he embodied, is when he surprised me by showing up at my DPhil graduation, and having the opportunity to catch up with him over lunch. It was always a delight to bump into him if I was in the College, and it won't seem like the same place without him there anymore. He will be greatly missed by so many.' Sara-Jane Begg (Mathematics, 2003)

'I am shocked and then feel very sad by learning the awful news from the Old Member message sent by the College that \Pi ter has left us forever. I sent \Pi ter a birthday card for cheering his 80th Birthday in the early December of 2020, but now I realise that this will never reach him. \Pi ter was my DPhil supervisor and I am fortunate and proud to be his last research student at Oxford. It was always a memorable and joyful experience for me to work, communicate and interact with him. I am influenced greatly by \Pi ter who enlightened me not only on mathematical research but also in many other aspects, is still a role model I try to emulate nowadays. I shall keep \Pi ter in my mind for his mercy, kindness, encouragement and wisdom forever. R.I.P.' Jia Lun Huang (DPhil in Mathematics, 2004)

'I was saddened to hear of the passing of Peter.

'I was fortunate and privileged to have been one of Peter's undergraduate students from 2005 to 2009. Tutorials with Peter in his beautiful college office are some of my fondest memories of Oxford. He was an inspirational tutor with a genuine love of mathematics. From Peter - and his green ink! - I learned how to formulate precise mathematical arguments, as well as the art of presenting mathematics both on paper and on the board. He set exacting standards but was encouraging and of good humour. To me, Peter is role model as to what a mathematician should be. I was fortunate to begin teaching early in my DPhil, and with the memories of his exceptional tuition still clear in my mind, my teaching style was, and continues to be, heavily influenced, and enhanced by his. As I move into new roles, I always remember back to the lessons I learnt from Peter. The background reading for my first PhD students is perhaps a little unique in that, in addition to technical mathematical prerequisites, it includes Lynne Truss's wonderful book on grammar, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, recommended to me by Peter as background reading for my undergraduate degree.

'I will remember Peter as a gentleman and true character. Seeing him riding his bicycle around Oxford wearing his "bus-frightening high-visibility jacket" was a familiar and comforting sight. I was honoured that he and Sylvia attended my wedding to Ana at Queen's and was pleased that he was able to meet my eldest daughter at his house, 'Burnside', shortly after he suffered his stroke. Even then he showed his usual fine hosting skills and wit, addressing my one-year-old daughter first: "Hello, Emma. I see you've brought your parents along with you." He will be missed by me and my family.' Robert Gaunt (Mathematics, 2005)

'I remember my first meeting with Peter. I think it was spring, and his office in Queen's was full of daffodils. I had written to him asking if he was interested in having me as a DPhil student, and he had asked me to meet with him. Peter was so warm, friendly and encouraging that, after that meeting, I couldn’t imagine being supervised by anyone else. So much so that I made just one doctoral application. Fortunately it was successful.

'Peter was, I think, the perfect doctoral supervisor. It felt at the time like I was free to explore whatever interested me, and that our weekly tutorials (always looked forward to) were just an opportunity for me to tell him excitedly what I had discovered. Looking back, I see that in fact he was gently steering me, with his warm enthusiasm (towards likely productive avenues of thought) or a friendly furrowed brow (away from folly). I now supervise my own doctoral students, and look back on my time with Peter with a sense of awe. With great effort I try to replicate Peter’s supervision style, but it is always just a pale imitation. As his students, we were “encouraged" to speak at his ‘Kinderseminar’ once every term (even though it was optional, it was impossible to say no), and after our talk Peter would take us aside to deliver feedback that on the one hand was (at least in my case) critical, but on the other hand friendly and motivating. I think one of Peter’s great strengths as a teacher and mentor was his ability to deliver honest critical feedback in a friendly, helpful and motivating way.

'After graduating, over the years, Peter and I became colleagues (he and I coauthored a paper together with Cheryl Praeger, another of his students) and friends. When I visited the UK from the USA where I was living at the time, I arranged to stop off in Oxford and meet with Peter for lunch, along with my then new girlfriend (now my wife). My girlfriend was at the time writing about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and I mentioned this to Peter over email about a week before we were due to meet. After our very pleasant lunch in Oxford, Peter revealed that Queen's had a room that had been decorated by several prominent members of the Brotherhood, and he had arranged for us all to be given a tour of the room. This generosity with his time and attention was so typical of Peter.

'Years later, my wife and I married in Chilham in Kent, and we were honoured that Peter and Sylvia could attend. The day after the wedding I had arranged a rather ambitious 7 mile hike for the wedding guests through the Kent countryside. I had with me a detailed written description of the route. Unfortunately, the written description was inadequate and at some point I became lost, leading about 50 of my dearest friends and relatives in circles. Peter quietly asked me if I might like a little assistance, and produced not one but two ordnance survey maps. After that I let Peter lead the way, but he did so in a way that made it look like I was masterminding the route. Again, so typical of Peter. At some point on the walk we found some wild orchids. Several members of the group were avid gardeners, and Peter gave an impromptu mini lecture on British wild orchids that had all 50 of us enthralled.' Simon M Smith (DPhil in Mathematics, 2005)

'Although I was never tutored by Peter Neumann, I remember my Oxford interview with him vividly. He and Jackie Stedall (also sadly missed) asked me a few questions, which I nervously attempted to answer. At one point I was asked to demonstrate something on the blackboard and I went blank on a formula. He asked "Do you remember how Gauss managed to calculate the sum of the first 100 integers?" A poster in my maths classroom came back to me with the derivation of the formula (which Gauss apparently thought of while a schoolboy). I quickly derived it on the blackboard, finished the question and turned back to the tutors to find Dr Neumann beaming at me. I think my knowledge of a bit of the history of mathematics may have clinched my offer.

'Later, as I developed a further interest in the history of maths, I got to know him a little better at the "Research in Progress" conferences he convened for the British Society for the History of Mathematics. He was endlessly generous with his time, interested in any of my news, and enthusiastic about his work. When I happened to work next door to the Mathematical Institute, we would sometimes have lunch together. Although I didn't know him well, it has been lovely to read others' tributes to him; he was the sort of person who made a deep and lasting impression on anyone he met.' Kat Steiner (Mathematics & Philosophy, 2008)

'I am very sad to hear about the death of Peter Neumann. I never came across Peter in an academic setting, but I was privileged to sit next to him at an Eaglet Club dinner. Foolishly, I was a little nervous that what I perceived as a distinguished-looking maths professor and I would not have much to talk about. It turned out he was also from Hull, and we had a delightful evening discussing (amongst other things) our mutual affection for that corner of the world! A "gentleman and a scholar" – he will be much missed, and was recalled very fondly on an Eaglets alumni WhatsApp chat.' Jack Straker (French & Italian, 2010)

'I had the privilege of having Peter as my mentor for the UKMT mentoring scheme while I was in sixth form. This consisted of the UKMT sending out problem sheets every month, me answering what I could, and Peter then giving feedback on my responses and sending me his own (far more complete!) solutions. The problems were interesting, but the most valuable thing I learnt from the scheme was what Peter taught me about writing my solutions. It would be little exaggeration to say that through his guidance – carefully pointing out where I had phrased something in a way that was confusing, or used the wrong piece of terminology, and suggesting a better way to phrase it – he single-handedly taught me to write mathematics. (His teaching has even affected this very paragraph – I was about to write “the most invaluable”, but then thought Peter would have been unimpressed by the use of “most” with an absolute adjective!)

'I first met Peter in person when I was applying to Oxford and he invited me on a tour of Queen’s. I think I’d been picturing some sort of intimidating, busy, perhaps slightly self-important figure. Instead, he turned out to be a friendly, smiling old gentleman who was delighted to meet me and give up his time to show me round the College. (I subsequently took the hint, and applied to Queen’s.) Despite theoretically being retired, Peter still remained as active and enthusiastic as any of my other tutors in Queen’s – in fact, he turned out to be the lecturer for the “Introduction to University Mathematics” course, making him the first lecturer of my whole degree. Throughout my time in Oxford, he ran tutorials and classes for us in an impressive variety of fields, and clearly had a deep understanding of every subject he was teaching, and of its history. In short, Peter had an enormous influence, not just on my knowledge of mathematics, but on my development as a mathematician. I owe him a great deal.' Christopher Turner (Mathematics, 2014)

Other Tributes

Memories of Peter Neumann by Peter Cameron

Memories of Peter Neumann by Tony Mann

Memorial post by Ken Regan