Sept. 30, 2020

Emeritus professor’s remarkable legacy spans over a century of life and learning

Campus flag lowered Sept. 30 in honour of Richard Guy
Dr. Richard Guy stands and waves as he is honoured at the 2016 UCalgary convocation ceremony for his 100th birthday.
Richard Guy is honoured at the 2016 UCalgary convocation ceremony for his 100th birthday. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Teacher, colleague, philanthropist, mountaineer, and treasured friend: the incomparable Richard Guy wore many hats, and made his mark on the world from the United Kingdom to the summits of the Canadian Rockies.

An emeritus professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Guy passed away March 9, 2020 at the age of 103. He was a world-renowned combinatorist and graph theorist who made profound and important contributions to pure and applied math, and to the early years of computer science.

  • Photo above: Richard Guy is honoured at the 2016 UCalgary convocation ceremony for his 100th birthday. Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Dual passions of mathematics and mountains spark international academic career

Following an international stint as a wartime meteorologist with the Royal Air Force, Guy's early years in academia and as an educator began in his native England in the late 1940s. Later, throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, he taught universities in Singapore and India. While in India, he and his wife, Louise, who shared his love of mountains, trekked the foothills of the Himalaya.

Richard at Rhotang Pass in 1965

Richard Guy at Rhotang Pass in 1965.

Courtesy Chic Scott

It was another mountain range, however, that would bring the Guys to the place where Richard would spend the rest of his teaching career. In 1965, he and Louise received a letter from longtime friends, the Lancasters.

“We told them of the opportunities here — and what fun we had in the mountains, so Richard applied for (and got) a position in Calgary,” says Dr. Peter Lancaster, himself an active emeritus professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

Guy was one of the many intrepid educators who came from around the world to shape the University of Calgary in its early days.

In 1965, the University of Alberta Calgary Branch was preparing for its transition to a new, autonomous university. "I participated in the General Faculties Council at the time when they were discussing the future of the university and deciding on the motto, the tartan, the names of the degrees, and things of that kind, and the name of the university for that matter,” Guy said.

He played a key role in building the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and served as department head for four years.

Richard and Louise cross-country skiing in 1970

Richard and Louise cross-country skiing in 1970

Courtesy Chic Scott

Energetic couple leaves lasting legacy

It was not long after moving to Calgary that the Guys started exploring the mountains that had brought them from across the world. Shortly after arriving in Canada, they began climbing the trails and summits of the Rocky Mountains. They became involved with the Alpine Club of Canada, taking up hiking, cross-country skiing, and various volunteer and philanthropic pursuits. In 2015, the ACC dedicated a two-story lodge in a remote area of Yoho National Park to Richard and Louise.

Throughout Guy's career, he and Louise — to whom he was married for nearly 70 years — dedicated themselves to sharing their zest for life and his love of mathematics with students, colleagues, and the community.

Through his own efforts and some personal funds, he and Louise worked with the Strens family and the Government of Alberta to bring the Eugène Strens Recreational Mathematics Collection to the University of Calgary library. They also made generous financial donations to the university. Another of the couple’s lasting contributions to the University of Calgary is the popular Louise and Richard K. Guy Lecture Series, which was a 90th birthday present from Louise to Richard in recognition of his love of mathematics.

Among many other honours and awards, Guy received an honorary Doctor of Laws from UCalgary in 1991. In 2017, he was presented the Citation of Unique Merit Award at the inaugural Top 7 Over 70 Awards for the City of Calgary as well as the 2017 Immigrants of Distinction Lifetime Achievement Award, given to immigrants to Calgary who demonstrate outstanding achievement and contributions. 

"Richard’s influence on the mathematical community was profound and widespread,” says Dr. Tony Ware, PhD, head of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. “People around the world have been sharing with us how central Richard was to them at key moments in their lives. His generosity of spirit is an enduring example to us all.”

Richard and Louise at UCalgary's honourary doctorate ceremony in 1991.

Richard and Louise Guy pictured when he received his honourary Doctor of Laws from UCalgary in 1991.

Courtesy Chic Scott

Work with students continues long after retirement

Even as his age passed the three-digit mark, Guy often spent five days a week at his office, continuing to work on mathematics problems and serving as a valued mentor to students long past his official retirement in 1982 (although he like to insist that “I didn’t retire. They just stopped paying me”). He supervised graduate students to the age of 86 and undergraduates to the age of 100.

Richard Guy was predeceased by his wife, Louise, in 2010. They are survived by their three children: Elizabeth Anne, Michael, and Peter.

To mark Guy's legacy, the Faculty of Science is hosting a series of online events between Oct. 1 and 4, 2020, and has created a web page remembering the life of Richard Guy, where visitors may leave messages sharing their memories of him.

Richard and Louise at Mount Alexandra Camp in 2007

Richard and Louise Guy at Mount Alexandra Camp in 2007.

Courtesy Chic Scott