Eulogy: Four Things that I Learned from Colin

June 2024
by Marc Mangel

This eulogy was presented at the Celebration of Life for Colin

Good afternoon. I'm truly honored to be standing here.

My eulogy consists of four things that I learned from Colin and how they apply to all of us.

Colin and I met in August of 1974. Susan, my wife, and I arrived in BC on the Sunday of the very first BC day weekend. Later that week or the week after, I went to talk with Colin about a course he was teaching on calculus of variations and optimal control theory in the fall semester. I asked if he thought that would be a good course for somebody interested in applied mathematics, he said it would be  I will tell you more about that course later.

I then was 23; he was 43. Thus, we interacted for more than two thirds of my life and more than half of his. If you expect more precision from an applied mathematician: 67.8 % of mine and 53.5% of his. We thus interacted when I was a graduate student in his class, when he was a member of my PhD thesis committee, when I was a research assistant with him (which I will explain later), a junior colleague at UC Davis, a senior colleague at UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz, and co-author of many papers and two books.

I was also a companion on his last journey. Because Susan and I now live in Tacoma, we had the honor of making five visits to Vancouver between July 2023 and March this year to see Colin and Janet. I will use specific stories to illustrate each of the things that I learned from different times in our interactions.

The course that Colin taught in fall 1974  was originally assigned to Frank Clarke, who was another member of the math department and received a prestigious fellowship in the summer of 1974 from McGill, I believe. Franke went to McGill that year, so Colin was assigned the course on very short notice. He had never taught the material before. Colin decided that since the students were advanced undergraduates and graduates, all of us would give lectures.He met individually with each student to help them prepare for their lecture. Any of you who have taught know how much more work and dedication that takes than just giving all the lectures by oneself. To help us relax about this, Colin invited us to walk to the classroom, about 20 minutes from the Math building, with him. One day he asked us “In 1932, the year John von Neumann published the Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics he also published 10 papers. What does that mean?

None of us had an answer. Colin said “Never compare yourself to anyone else”.

The first thing that I learned from Colin was to be sure to be working at the limit of your own abilities, rather than comparing yourself with other people.

 In 1976-77, I worked for Colin as a research assistant on a grant from the US National Marine Fisheries Service to model the tuna-porpoise fishery (more details of the grant to come). Young people may not know that in in those days, there were fisheries for tuna that targeted schools of dolphin on the surface because tuna were  found under the dolphin school. The fishing vessel then encircled both dolphin and tuna. In the capturing of tuna, many dolphins were killed. Now if you go to the grocery store, you'll see cans of tuna that are labeled Dolphin Free. Our job was to make a model of this fishery to understand what we could infer about the abundance of tuna. This was the first time Colin had ever done a de novo model. Until then as a more pure mathematician working on partial differential equations, an applied mathematician working on economic models, Colin had analyzed models developed by others but never created new ones of his own. He said that we would work individually and meet weekly to discuss our progress. In the first five or six months it went like this:  we would meet in his office, he would ask me, “what have you come up?” with I'd say, not really anything.  I would ask him “well, show me what you've done.”  He would say “I don't have anything to show you either”. At one point during this process, I was walking up the north end of the Math department building to the second floor. He was walking up the south end of the Math department building to the second floor where his office was. We saw each other on the top of the stairs, turned around independently, and both walked down because we did not want to encounter each other and have another conversation of “no, no news”. Ultimately, we came up with a very nice model, which led to a good paper that is still cited today and is inspiring other people.

After I finished my, PhD, I went to work for the US Navy doing operations analysis, and there I did a lot of work on search theory, which connected to the tuna fishery, because we had learned in our tuna-porpoise work that tuna vessels spend a lot time looking for schools. That work on search in fisheries led us to behavioral ecology; we started about 1982 and continued until 2015. In fall 1986, Colin was Regents Professor UC Davis. We would meet at my home in the morning. I was the math department chair, so I was busy most of the day but we would meet again on campus in the afternoon, during which time he would show me what he had done. One morning we were sitting at my kitchen table, so excited about what we were doing, we almost said simultaneously “you know, we should write a book about this”. Susan overheard us, and she came up to us and said “Write a book. What do you guys know about this topic?” We had to admit, not a lot, but that it was enough that we could start writing the book. And we kept learning, and in the end we wrote two books together.

A famous rabbi said, “Anyone who looks at what needs to be done is young. Whoever only looks back at what he did prior will always be old”.

Colin was always young.  

The second thing that I learned from Colin is that not knowing a subject should never prevent you from working on it. This notion puts him on par with Richard Feynman.

As I mentioned, Colin hired me as a research assistant in 1976-77. Doing so, he saved my family from food insecurity and me from debt. Don Ludwig, my PhD supervisor, had a lot of research money from NSERC, but could not use it support me because I was not a Canadian citizen. Don told me about the grant that Colin was getting from the fisheries service and I went and asked him if he would hire me. He did. He also wrote a letter to the dean, allowing me to both teach and work for him as a research assistant - that's basically working full time in addition to thesis research. Because I was working with him, Susan and I were invited to the 1977 Strawberry Festival, where Colin and Janet showed us how to be a gracious faculty couple. After I left the Navy job and went to UC Davis in 1980, and Colin invited me to come to Vancouver that summer to work with him, and our summer project was on search and information and fisheries. This was Colin’s first experience with stochastic models. And he was very enthusiastic about them. And also generous. His book Bioeconomic Modelling and Fisheries Management published, in 1985,  includes Colin’s first treatment stochastic effects in fishery models. The acknowledgments begin “My first debt is to my students Bill Reed, Marc Mangel and Tony Charles, who taught me much of what I now know, while themselves learning a bit of what I once knew.”

Finally, during that summer of 1981, we invited Colin and Janet to come to the place where we were staying for a Sunday dinner. I was then 30, Colin was 50. I don't remember much about the dinner except the elation I felt after they left that I was moving from being  in a student-professor relationship or supervisor-research assistant relationship to being colleagues and friends.

And this is the third thing that I learned from Colin, how to encourage and mentor young people.

Colin was thrilled with the honorary degree from the University of Victoria and being elected to membership in the Royal Society of London. But I emphasize, he did not pursue them, he did not pursue getting those honors. On the other hand, Colin was always ready to write letters to support promotion and honors of younger colleagues with no payoff to himself. At the Grammys in February, a recipient said “I would love to tell you that this is the best moment of my life, but I feel this happy when I finish a song or when I crack the code to a bridge that I love. For me the reward is the work”. That is Taylor Swift, on getting her record breaking fourth Grammy for Album of the year. Now, you probably cannot imagine Colin as a Swiftie, but I expect he’d agree with this sentiment.

And this is the fourth thing that I learned from Colin: to recognize that the reward is in the work, and the work is the reward, not to chase honors, but to appreciate them, and to help others get them.

Although Colin’s entire career was spent in academia, his lessons apply to all of us.

Each of us can strive to maximize the talents we naturally have.

Each of us can be lifelong learners, approaching new subjects with enthusiasm.

Each of us can find ways to encourage and mentor young people. (And the older we get, the more young people there are).

And each of us can do this without expecting recognition or accolades because the reward is the work.

I will continue to pass these lessons from Colin on to younger people. On Friday morning, before we left for Vancouver, I had a call with our older daughter, Jennifer, and she asked me for my eulogy for Colin. I said, that I only have bullet points, but I will read the end of it to you. So I read these four lessons that apply to each of us.

Jennifer said, “Wow, I thought I learned those from you and mom, and I'm teaching them to my kids. So you're telling me. Colin, is reaching across generations to my children.” I said yes.

Colin’s effect on the world will continue for a very long time.