$3 million gift from professor emeritus of mathematics one of largest from faculty
By David E. Nathan
To Brandeis professor emeritus of mathematics Gerald W. Schwarz, it all added up: He wanted to pay tribute to his parents, show his gratitude to a department and university that nurtured his career and support mathematics.
The result will be the Ernst L. and Elaine G. Schwarz Chair in Mathematics, given through a bequest by Schwarz and his wife, Margery Kravitz Schwarz.
“I wanted to do something to honor my parents and the math department, which has done a lot for me,” Schwarz said. “Math has been a great career, and my career was spent almost entirely at Brandeis.”
The $3 million endowment represents one of the largest gifts ever made by a Brandeis faculty member to the university.
“We thank Gerry and Margery for this generous gift, which will provide valuable support to the academic enterprise at Brandeis,” said Susan Birren, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “During his nearly 40 years at the university, Gerry contributed greatly to the math department’s well-earned reputation for excellence in both teaching and research.”
Schwarz’ parents fled Nazi Germany in late 1938, but not before his father was imprisoned at the Buchenwald concentration camp following Kristallnacht. They went first to England, where their son Maurice was born, and then to New York City, eventually ending up in Portland, Oregon, in early 1940. The Schwarzes took any job they could to survive, first as caretakers at an estate, later as caregivers in the healthcare industry. Both sons earned doctorates, one in chemistry and the other in mathematics.
“Our studies were very important to my parents,” Schwarz said. “My parents would be quite honored and touched to have a chair in mathematics established in their names.”
Schwarz’s research focuses on uncovering the algebraic and geometric properties of symmetry groups, which are mathematical constructs associated with the symmetry one often sees in nature. The properties of symmetry groups can be used by scientists to explain real world phenomena.
Although retired from Brandeis since 2009, Schwarz continues to work in his areas of invariant theory and transformation groups. Recent papers have been accepted by the Journal of Pure and Applied Algebra, the Journal of the London Mathematical Society and the Journal of Symplectic Geometry.
Schwarz has traveled extensively since retiring. He’s held visiting professorships at the University of Bern, the University of Poitiers, the University of Cologne and the Ruhr-Universität Bochum. Additionally, he spent time in Basel as a visiting researcher and lectured at conferences in Rome, Aarhus, Beijing, Xian and Guangzhou. In March he heads to the University of Rome, where is teaching a course on transformation groups and in the fall travels to Australia, where he will serve as a visiting researcher at the University of Adelaide.
Schwarz, who earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, arrived at Brandeis in 1974 after serving as an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania. He spent the next year at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., where he solved the complex problem of lifting smooth homotopies of orbit spaces of compact groups. This led to a tenured position at Brandeis in 1978. Four years later he was promoted to full professor.
Former doctoral student David Wehlau, MA’84, PhD’89, along with three other mathematicians, organized a five-day conference at the prestigious Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences in Toronto to honor Schwarz’ 60th birthday. Proceedings from the conference are presented in the book “Symmetry and Spaces: In Honor of Gerry Schwarz.”
“It’s gratifying when you produce successful doctoral students,” Schwarz said. “You see them from time to time over the years, renewing old acquaintances while discussing new ideas. You become very close to them.”
Last year Schwarz was part of the inaugural class of fellows of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), which recognized him for his outstanding contributions to the creation, exposition, advancement, communication and utilization of mathematics.
Margery Schwarz worked in mental health services management and health quality for more than 30 years, holding positions with the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health, the Massachusetts Division of Medical Assistance and UMass Medical School before starting her own consulting practice.
The couple will be honored for their gift at the annual luncheon of the Sachar Legacy Society on Sept. 12. The honorary organization recognizes Brandeis alumni and friends who have included Brandeis in their estate plans.