Stellenbosch University
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Passing of a remarkable South African mathematician
Author: Media & Communication, Faculty of Science
Published: 13/08/2019

It is with sadness that the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stellenbosch University (SU) takes note of the passing of Professor Dirk Laurie (1946-2019). He passed away on Saturday morning 10 August 2019 at the age of 73 in his house in Franskraal after struggling with ill health for a few months.

Professor Laurie retired in 2007 after a career of 38 years in mathematical research, first at the CSIR's National Research Institute for Mathematical Sciences (15 years), followed by research chairs at Northwest University (17 years) and Stellenbosch University (6 years).  He obtained his PhD in mathematics under Professor Ron Mitchell at the University of Dundee, Scotland in 1977.

In an obituary for NA Digest, fellow mathematician Prof André Weideman writes that Laurie made significant contributions to a number of areas in numerical analysis, including quadrature and linear algebra.  He was the author or co-author of over 40 peer-reviewed articles – a list can be seen here, Mathematical Reviews.  In 2002 he was one of five solo winners on the international SIAM 100-digit Challenge, a competition set by Professor Nick Trefethen of Oxford University involving ten challenging numerical analysis problems.  He was also co-author of the related best-selling book, described as a future “classic of modern computational science".

In 2006 he was awarded the Havenga Prize for Mathematical Sciences from the SA Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns.

One of his passions was the South African Mathematics Olympiad, and for about 30 years he was involved in setting the final-round paper for the South African Mathematical Olympiad. On six occasions he accompanied the South African team to the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO).

He held numerous interests outside of mathematics, including chess (he was a South African schools chess champion), music (choir singing, playing the recorder, and aficionado in general), cryptic crosswords (both their compilation and their physical outlay by the LaTeX package he created), and puzzle solving in general.

In his younger days he was a familiar face on South African television, where he participated in general knowledge quiz shows (such as Flinkdink) and also served as a pundit during elections.  Up to his death Prof Laurie was natural sciences editor (and founding member) of the first online journal for scientific research papers published in Afrikaans, a language he was passionate about.

Professor Ingrid Rewitzky, head of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at SU, says they all share fond memories of this remarkable mathematician and their sympathies go out to his family and friends.

Prof Dirk Laurie is survived by his wife, Trienke, and five sons: Henri, Diederik, Dirk Pieter, Van Reenen en Kestell.

On the group photo above, left: Prof Dirk Laurie earlier this year during the award of an Honorary Doctorate to Prof Nicholas Trefethen. From left to right, Prof Ben Herbst, Prof André Weideman, Prof Nicholas Trefethen and dr Nick Hale.