Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Tribute to a quiet wonderwoman

Anne Bennett died on 6 September 2012. She was not old and not young (she left two teenage children -- she was my sort of age), and her name probably doesn't mean much to many mathematicians. It should, and it does to those who worked with her.

Anne was part of the secretariat of the London Mathematical Society; she was also seconded to the Council of Mathematical Sciences, which is how I knew her. During the past year the profile of mathematics within Parliament has increased enormously. We have had several articles on mathematics in the magazine of the Parliamentary and Science Committee (PSC), the first seminar on mathematics in the Houses of Parliament that anyone can remember, and mathematicians were invited to the 60-year celebration of science in the UK (jubilee related) seminar and dinner of the PSC.

This unprecedented coverage of mathematics was orchestrated, quietly and effectively, by Anne. It was Anne who knew who to talk to, Anne who knew when to press home an advantage (and when not!) and Anne who knew what was possible.

After her death, two emails (alarmingly alive) came to mind. The first arrived just after the first parliamentary seminar on maths, when I had tried to follow up the success of the occasion by encouraging my co-chair,  Andrew Miller (MP and Chair of the PSC), to  move forward on some of the ideas we had discussed about  the engagement of the mathematics community with Parliament. Anne wrote (and I should say that she also sent me a word of congratulations on my performance, but later!)

Sorry Paul but this is what I did not want you to do right now.
The inside information I have received is NOT to do this.  I need to talk further with my internal contacts first.

The second, on the day before she died, was a simple word of thanks:

Thank you to Paul and Ken for your considerable efforts in producing the copy for the Science in Parliament magazine and to everyone for their comments.
Best wishes, Anne

These two emails sum up her contribution perfectly: she understood what we were trying to do and was not afraid to tell us what was needed if she felt that we could do with a bit of direction; but she also recognised when people had put effort into projects she valued, and had the grace and confidence to tell people when she thought they they had done something well.

Isn't that what leadership is about?

You can find a more complete obituary on the LMS web pages.

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