Ray Redheffer


Read at the Memorial Service on July 17, 2005 at the home built by Ray and Heddy in Brentwood, California


Mike Raugh




I first met Ray in the 1950’s, when I was in the ninth grade. My mother drove me to his home -- she had pressed my jeans to make me presentable. If you had seen me in my jeans at any other time in those days, you’d know what an unusual event this was expected to be.


Ray was tarring the roof, Heddy was on the ground loading buckets of melted tar. Ray called down from the roof to ask whether I thought the partial sums of the harmonic series could be a rational function. I said, No, because the harmonic series was asymptotic to the natural logarithm. That got us off to a good start.


He was the first professional mathematician I had met. I was 15, with book learning, and didn’t know how to pronounce “finite,” “integral” and “Euler.” He introduced me to Titschmarsh and Hardy, and prompted me to publish some theorems I discovered about Bernoulli numbers. As years go by, I see how important Ray’s encouragement was.


Ray and Heddy were always gracious. I was invited to their home for many dinners over the years. Heddy kept an herb garden on the back slope. Ray said Heddy could get a recipe right the first time, then improve and perfect it the second time. They enjoyed hospitality, served good wine and drinks mixed by Ray.


I loved their home. The colors of the cushions in their living room were shades of red to blue to violet, subtle and beautiful. That was a favorite word of Ray’s, subtle. Ray’s great piano was a feature of the living area. He played Bach and Scarlatti. There was a jade carving and graceful wooden figures on the shelves. Then later appeared fine photographs from around the world by their friend and cabinetmaker Ned Westover, master of the Hasselblad. When the original plastic pipes in the slab-floor heating system leaked catastrophically, Ray and Heddy covered the furnishings with cloth and cut through the entire house with a diamond saw to install copper pipes. His verdict was that house building had been a distraction.


Ray liked to quote poetry. He had courted Heddy at MIT while rowing a boat on the Charles where she would read the first line from a Signet edition of English poetry, then he would complete the poem. He told me he won a nickel bet with his roommate in prep school by memorizing Paradise Lost.


Before Ray and Heddy’s first visit to Karlsruhe, he hired a tutor to practice German (Heddy was fluent). He gave his first lecture in German. They spoke warmly about the little boy they were planning to adopt from Germany – the same adult Peter you see standing there by the hallway entrance. He said they could tell from the start that Peter was good all the way through.


Outside the bay window facing the patio at the back of the house were Ray’s weights. He used them regularly. He was taut and strong, like his writing. He could do flags from a vertical bar, one-arm chin-ups, press into a handstand and do a back plange from the edge of his hearth – I saw him perform this last feat in his seventies the same evening I met Irene. I was pretty strong as a teen-ager, but he could beat me at arm-wrestling.


I was his teaching assistant one year. His regular lectures had flare, like concert acts. I can still visualize him finishing one lecture by tossing the chalk into the tray just before the fifty-minute buzzer rang. He loved giving special lectures, and once came to my high school to speak of proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem. So vivid was he that I still remember the proof he gave at a lecture on the transcendentality of e, based on a paper he co-authored with Robert Steinberg. On one hot day, as we were stretched out by a swimming pool, he showed me Niven’s proof of the irrationality of pi.


We stayed in touch after I quit college as a freshman to work on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania. On returning to UCLA, in 1960, he phoned one night to invite me to work with him on the Mathematica Project at the studio of Charles and Ray Eames in nearby Venice. He said I would remember the experience for all my days. And I have, as I have remembered Ray.


I went on to get my PhD in math from Stanford. Over the years, Ray and I enjoyed talking about math and many other subjects. Heddy passed away in 1994. A few years later Ray married Irene, who had been a friend to Ray and Heddy in Karlsruhe. Irene co-authored at least two mathematical papers with Ray. I am grateful that he and Irene found love and companionship together.


One of the last times I saw Ray was at his and Irene’s cozy cottage set behind a garden in Santa Monica. Ray was in his eighties, battling illness with no complaints. In Ray’s math library, Irene and my wife Vicki Johnson stood near while he sat at his Yamaha electric piano and, at my request, played the Italian Concerto he had performed for me so many years ago when he was a young man.