I have created this small corner of my web site to give a small insight into the warm, generous human side of a very great mathematician, Paul Richard Halmos (1916-2006).
On reading Stan Wagon's November 1992 MAA Monthly review of Paul Halmos' Problems for Mathematicians Young and Old, I wrote a short paper entitled A Halmos Problem and a Related Problem ; my paper was published in the Monthly, Vol. 101, No. 10, December 1994.
Before it was accepted for publication I sent a copy of it to Paul Halmos himself, hoping he might find it of passing interest.
To my very great delight he wrote a very generous letter to me, and sent me a signed copy of his reviewed book (something to treasure).
Subsequently, after my inaugural DCU Talented Youth work, I sent PR Halmos a copy of the substantial document that may be found in the Talented Youth corner of my web site; he responded with a most generous letter.
I met Paul Halmos just once, at the January 1995 Winter Meeting of the AMS/MAA in San Francisco. I was in one of the large lecture theatres, where hundreds of people were waiting for a talk to begin, and I was looking around to see if I could spot a friend of mine, Roger Baker. Turning around, I bumped into Paul Halmos, and I blurted out something like: oh, Professor Halmos... Examining my name tag to see who I might be, he said: ah, my Irish correspondent. He pulled out his camera, stepped back, and said: I must have a photo of you.
It was very amusing for me, for I could see that people round about knew who the photographer was, but they wouldn't have had the remotest idea as to who I was. Clearly, though, I must have had something going for me to have Paul Halmos want to take my photo...
The lecture was just about to begin, and we all sat down, and I didn't get to see my friend Roger until after the talk was over. Then, Roger and I were standing outside chatting, and, by chance, Paul Halmos came over to us. Not knowing if they knew each other I introduced them, and Roger said to PRH that he had met him the previous year when he - PRH - had visited Roger's university (BYU) to give a talk. However, as it happened, PRH had no memory whatever of their meeting...
After PRH had drifted away I seized my opportunity to have a bit of fun (which may, perhaps, only be appreciated by people who know that Roger is a very great mathematician indeed, existing at a much higher level of activity that yours truly) at my friend's expense. I said something like this: you know Roger, you think (indeed you are) a very famous guy, but not quite as famous as your old friend, John here. You know, PRH took my photo earlier, but he didn't do the same with you. I am a somebody, while you are a complete nobody.
In the years following, I took to sending PRH email greetings on his birthday, 3rd March. I usually signed myself as the Secretary of his Irish Fan Club, once or twice sending a message like this: ('with apologies to [the irish poet] Patrick Kavanagh') Halmos X years old today, what is there one can say? On the day that he was one, there were apples in the sun, Halmos X years old today, and there's nothing more to say.
He usually responded that it was nice to be remembered...
In 2001 - after I had introduced my Challenging Mathematical Puzzles and Problems course - I wrote to Paul Halmos to tell him of the photo birthday greetings that you may see at the top of the above web corner. Here is his response on that occasion.
Some months ago the MAA wrote to its members asking for those who would like to purchase a brick on the Paul R. Halmos Commemorative Walk, and I was very happy to do so.
Contact details. jbcosgrave at gmail.com