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Chandler Davis in memoriam

The Azat Miftakhov Committee is sad to report that Chandler Davis, a valued member of our committee, passed away on Saturday, September 24, 2022, surrounded by his family. Chandler was an outstanding mathematician and a complete human being. His name is connected with some major results on operators in Hilbert spaces. He wrote science fiction stories which were quite successful, and excellent poetry which is known to the happy few. Chandler also endeavoured to share his many talents to others, both in mathematical research, by directing theses and collaborating, and in mathematical education. He directed the journal Mathematical Intelligencer for over twenty years. But Chandler’s most important contributions came in the area of human rights. During the McCarthy era, he refused to collaborate with the infamous Committee on Un-American Activities. While the vast majority of academics at that time either agreed to denounce their peers or invoked the fifth amendment to remain silent, Chandler Davis did neither and just confronted the committee. For this courageous act he received a six month prison sentence in 1960 (he was 34, and had been married for 12 years). His university, the University of Michigan, summarily fired him, and not a single university in the US offered him a job. After his release from prison, Chandler emigrated to Canada, where he took a professorship at the University of Toronto. 

Chandler embraced many causes: no injustice, no oppression, no cowing of human capabilities by force was indifferent to him.  We are proud that the last cause he fought for was the case of Azat Miftakhov. During the Azat Miftakhov Days conference this July, Chandler was in hospital, but he insisted on participating and spoke from a hospital bed. We include below a statement he delivered on that occasion. Chandler’s words  and his work will stay with us. We send our heartfelt condolences to his wife of 74 years, Natalie Zemon, and their children. 

The Azat Miftakhov Committee.

WELCOMING REMARKS of Chandler Davis for the panel on human rights organized on the occasion of the Azat Miftakhov Days Against the War, on July 6, 2022

It’s a pleasure to welcome you to this panel in support of our young colleague Azat Miftakhov and other political prisoners, in support in particular of Russians courageously speaking out against the war, and more generally in support of freedom of conscience and peace.

It means a lot to me to be opening this session because I have a special bond to Azat Miftakhov. I was a political prisoner myself, years ago, not in Russia but in the USA. I was not much older than he is now; like him I had a wife standing by me outside; and like him I tried to go ahead doing mathematics while in prison. It was hard, but not as hard as Azat’s imprisonment, and it was only half a year.

By the way, I have another bond to this Azat Miftakhov Day. After my prison time, there were many years when I served the American Mathematical Society as Chair of the Committee on Human Rights of Mathematicians, defending victims of repression in many countries. A very satisfying job, and one now being carried on by Ilya Kapovich. It’s good to work with Ilya jointly on this panel today.

WE ARE NOT ALONE. Even though only a minority around the world might share the radical philosophy of Azat —or my own— there are many many people in many countries who would defend our right to hold our views and to advocate them. Many many people are horrified by the invasion of Ukraine and want the war to stop, people in NATO countries and Ukraine, but also in Russia: thousands of Russians take the risk of saying so openly, often being arrested for it, and surely many more wish they felt they could. So you see, when we learn and study today, though we are few, we equip ourselves better to advance the cause of many.

There may already be a world-wide consensus for peace. It is hard to know how to gather the strands. Our objective must be, in the West as well as in Russia, just what the brave young man said in his banner on a Moscow street: NET VOINE. The world must somehow be steered back onto the path of diplomacy.

A terribly daunting challenge. But HEY, WE’RE MATHEMATICIANS, we spend our lives on non-trivial things, on studying questions whose answers we don’t know. We need to reach out to our colleagues in whatever country, in prison or out; we need each other; we all need to draw on the courage and wisdom of Azat Miftakhov and the rest of our fellows.

Chandler Davis, University of Toronto, member of the Azat Miftakhov Committee

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