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Obituary - Professor Walter Ledermann

Professor Walter Ledermann, one of the founding members of staff at Sussex, died on 22 May aged 98. 

Walter joined the Mathematics Department when the University first opened in October 1962. He was appointed as a Reader and promoted to Professor in 1965. He received a DSc from Edinburgh University in 1940 and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1944; he also received an Honorary DSc from the Open University in 1993. 

He retired in 1978, being unusually granted two extra years; however, he continued to teach undergraduates and, remarkably, gave revision lectures till May 2000, when he was 89. 

When his promotion to a professorship came before Senate in 1965, the Astronomer Royal objected saying that he was too old. The following year the Astronomer Royal objected to the promotion of John Kingman to a professorship, saying that he was too young! In both cases the objection was overruled. 

As a Jew, he was not safe in Hitler's Germany and won a scholarship from the International Student Service in Geneva to do a PhD at St. Andrews. He obtained the PhD in 1936 and held teaching posts at Dundee, St. Andrews and Manchester universities before coming to Sussex. 

Walter organised the first British Mathematical Colloquium in 1949. At an interview on 5 November 2007, a record of which was played at the 60th BMC, with only the prompting of a few questions, he spoke fluently for an hour and a quarter about his time in Britain from his arrival in 1934 till his retirement from Sussex in 1978. 

He was a distinguished algebraist but also published articles on statistics and number theory. His books for undergraduates and postgraduates in Routledge and Kegan Paul series, of which he was the founding editor, are still used. After retirement he edited and partially wrote the Handbook of Applicable Mathematics, a 6-volume encyclopaedia. 

His charm, care, empathy and total commitment made him extremely popular both with all his colleagues and all the students. No mathematics student ever felt his lectures were other than unsurpassable. 

Conferences were arranged to celebrate is 75th, 80th, and 90th birthdays. 

A memorial meeting in the Meeting House will take place on 8 October at 2.30pm - all are welcome. Details will shortly be available at 
or by contacting Fiona Childs (, 01273 877638) in the Department of Mathematics. 

James Hirschfeld, Tutorial Fellow in Mathematics

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By: James Hakner
Last updated: Tuesday, 2 June 2009