Jan Saxl

This morning brought the news that Jan Saxl died on Saturday.

Jan arrived in Britain in the early autumn of 1968, as did I: a very significant time for Czechoslovakia. (I spent six weeks in Earls Court, in London, before term started in Oxford; the first I knew about events was when I went to see a Soviet exhibition in Holland Park and found the exhibition hall surrounded by demonstrators.)

He is my mathematical brother, a student of Peter Neumann, taking his DPhil just two years after I did. (I have a vague memory that I was nominally his supervisor for a very short time while Peter Neumann was away, but I may be confusing him with David Cooper.) We collaborated on four papers; the best-known is the proof of the Sims conjecture, joint also with Cheryl Praeger and Gary Seitz.

Of course he had many collaborations with other mathematicians, especially Martin Liebeck and Cheryl Praeger, and produced some work of very great significance to the finite group theory community and more widely.

Jan was a good friend. When I directed a six-month programme on Combinatorics and Statistical Mechanics at the Isaac Newton Institute in 2008, he arranged for me to have a visiting fellowship, with a flat in Rose Crescent (up the stairs above the famous Gardenia) and lunches and dinners with the College fellows; the small price I had to pay was to give “three or four lectures” to the maths students in the College, which of course I was delighted to do.

Jan is someone who touched many people deeply. The world seems a greyer place without him. I hardly know what to say.

About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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5 Responses to Jan Saxl

  1. Vladislav Kabanov says:

    So sad!

  2. Pingback: The Man Behind the Counter « Log24

  3. Rick Thomas says:

    That is sad news indeed Peter. I started my DPhil in 1975, after you and Jan had completed yours, but you were both still around in Oxford at that time. It was a great place for me to be a research student with many senior mathematicians around also working in group theory; so there were many great lecture courses to attend and several people to ask for help (which I often needed!). I remember Jan as being a great lecturer (he gave a wonderful course on permutation groups in the michaelmas term of 1975) and he was a very sympathetic listener whenever I asked for advice. In particular, I remember thinking that I had proved a new result about strongly regular graphs. Jan and Derek Holt carefully went through the alleged proof with me and, whilst they discovered there was a fatal mistake, it was so helpful to have others around who would take you seriously and spend their time helping you with your work. People like you and Jan played a big part in setting me off on a mathematical career. I will always remember Jan with great affection, not only as a wonderful mathematician, but also as a very kind and supportive man.

  4. I was very sad to hear the news about Jan who was my mathematical brother. He had already finished his D.Phil. before I arrived in 1974 as a new graduate student of Peter Neumann but he was still around then in Oxford for a few more years (if I remember correctly) as a Junior Research Fellow at Hertford College. Jan was always willing to discuss with me various topics on permutation group theory without any hesitation. He was very polite and unassuming, He also acted as my official supervisor for one term when Peter was away. Both Jan and I belonged to the same College in Oxford, Linacre, and I used to see him there sometimes in social gatherings. The last time I met Jan was in Germany at an Oberwolfach Conference in the 1980s.

  5. Ursula Martin says:

    Eugenia Cheng wrote this lovely tribute to Jan on Twitter https://mobile.twitter.com/DrEugeniaCheng/status/1258814533252120582

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