William S. Mahavier


Recollections of Bill Mahavier
Co-author and friend


Tom Ingram

“I don’t understand.” Those of us who worked with him on joint publications, and, I am confident, those who were students in his classes, heard these words quite often from Bill Mahavier. Most soon learned that this was a euphemistic expression, a nice way to say that something is wrong here either in what you wrote or what you said. Another common phrase that served the same purpose was, “I may be missing something but …”. Bill co-authored a handful of journal articles and one monograph in his career, but I think it is safe to say that he wrote more with me than anyone else. Our collaboration was a synergistic effort. We remarked to each other on several occasions that, although any of the things we co-authored either one of us could have written alone, everything we wrote was probably better because we worked together on it.

The first paper we wrote together was the article, “Interesting dynamics and inverse limits in a family of one-dimensional maps,” in the American Mathematical Monthly, 111 (2004), 198—215. We undertook that paper to provide an introduction to a research tool that we both had used over the years, inverse limits. A few years before we wrote the Monthly article, we had agreed in principle to collaborate on a monograph on the subject of inverse limits, but, although we had quite similar interests, we had never so much as co-authored a paper. The decision to take on writing an article for the Monthly was based, in part, on testing how well we could work together. We both had a stubborn streak and we realized it was folly to take on a major book-writing project without first finding out how well we could work with each other. Part of the process of writing that first paper led me to understand what he meant when he said, “I don’t understand.” I am confident that he observed similar behavior on my part although he never mentioned it to me.

After our Monthly article was finished, we more or less fell into writing our Houston Journal paper, “Inverse limits of upper semi-continuous set valued functions,” 32 (2006), 119—130. I was reading a preprint of his paper, “Inverse limits with subsets of [0,1]x[0,1],” that subsequently appeared in Topology and Its Applications 141 (2004), 225—231, when I found something that “I did not understand.” I wrote him about it and later, after I sent him my answer to one of his questions from that paper, he invited me to join him in writing the paper that became the Houston Journal article.

After our Monthly and Houston Journal papers were finished, we began work in earnest on the book and most of the writing was complete at the time of his death. Although his health had been precarious for a number of years (two battles with lung cancer, one affecting the writing of the book, and, in the late stages of the writing of the book, his bout with a drug-resistant infection), he was making a concerted effort to proofread every word of the book. Unfortunately, he did not get to finish this part of the project.

In addition to my fond memories of our professional collaboration, I have equally fond personal recollections of Bill. My wife and I often visited Bill and Jean at their house on Galveston Bay in San Leon, Texas. We remember well cruising to Redfish Island in Galveston Bay and trawling for shrimp in the Mahaviers’ motorboat. But most of all, we recall just “visiting” on the porch of their bay house. We recall the marvelous stories Bill told and Jean’s reading of some of her poetry (Jean is an accomplished and published poet). Bill loved a good story and we always knew we were in for a treat when a smile broke out on Bill’s face and he would say, “Have I ever told you about . . .?” Even if he had told us before, we always would enjoy hearing it again!

Return to Mahavier Remembrances Page

Latest revision: 29 April 2011