My Life In Five Paragraphs

Born 6th October 1959, I grew up in the English county of Shropshire, in a small village with a long name (in full, Ruyton-of-the-Eleven-Towns ). It is farming country, but my family trade seems to be teaching. I was fascinated by mathematics for as long as I can remember. I have a vivid memory of startling an elementary-school teacher by using logarithms (which my father had explained to me) to solve the multiplication homework that she had set.

When I was twelve I started attending Rugby School , and later went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Cambridge, and a doctorate from Oxford. It was at Rugby that I had one of the big surprises of my life: I became a Christian. If you are interested there is a later part of this page which will tell you more about my faith perspective. My enduring memories of Cambridge are of playing with a Christian rock band, proud owners of a shabby truck which regularly attracted the attention of the police; but I think I did quite a bit of math too. I was fortunate enough to work with Michael Atiyah at Oxford, one of the great mathematicians of the postwar era, and I wrote a thesis on some generalizations of a famous result he and Iz Singer had proved in the 1960s. Atiyah encouraged me to spend time at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, CA, after my doctorate, so of course I went. I was very ignorant about the USA; I remember knowing that California was on one coast or the other, but not being quite sure which one.

It was in Berkeley that I met the second big surprise of my life. Her name was Liane Stevens, and after a whirlwind courtship we married at First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley on 27th December, 1986. I love her. After a honeymoon spent in Marin County, Yosemite, Disneyland, Guernsey, Sark, and about three times in LAX, we returned to wintry Oxford, where I was pure mathematics tutor at Jesus College for the next twelve years. Our kids were born in 1991 and 1994 respectively and totally restructured our lives as children do. In 1997 we took a big decision: we decided to move to a new life in State College, Pennsylvania, where we arrived in 1998.

My research work at Penn State has centered around coarse geometry and index theory, and I’ve also taught courses from Calculus I to graduate level.  In 2006 I became head of Penn State’s mathematics department, a job I left in 2012.  Outside of my professional life I am an enthusiastic but messy cook, a keen rock-climber, a guitarist, and a blogger on topics relating faith, mathematics and the environment.

Everything above was written before 2013 or so.  The six years from 2012-2018 have upended our lives in many ways.  Our youngest child came out to us as gay, then as transgender. In 2013 Nathan, our oldest, began work at Riot Games in Los Angeles, a “dream job” for him. In early 2014 I  learned that I had cancer, and spent much of that summer at Johns Hopkins Hospital having extensive surgery followed by chemoradiation treatment.  We celebrated my apparent recovery by a long-dreamed-of trip to New Zealand over the Christmas-New Year break of 2014-15. Meanwhile, our Eli continued to struggle with depression and other mental health issues and these finally overwhelmed him just after his birthday, in January 2016.  We had hardly begun to pick ourselves up from the pain of his loss before we learned that my cancer had returned and was now incurable.  The last eighteen months have been a long process for Liane, Nathan and me – a process of learning to let go, a process which now seems to be approaching the end of my life.  John and Liane are deeply grateful for the welcoming and supportive community we have found at State College Presbyterian Church; a community which also followed the example of Christ by welcoming and embracing Eli. If you pray, we deeply value your prayers at this time and hereafter.

John Roe, February 2018       johnxroe (AT)