Person: Howie, John Mackintosh
John Howie was a Scottish mathematician who was Regius Professor of Mathematics at the University of St Andrews for more than 40 years. He was a specialist in semigroup theory.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- The Rev David Howie was a Church of Scotland minister at the Parish Church in Chryston at the time John was born.
- After graduating from the University of Aberdeen, Howie spent the academic year 1958-59 teaching as an Assistant in Mathematics at the University of Aberdeen.
- Higman was on leave for part of the time and John was supervised instead by Gordon Preston, who had recently returned to live in Oxford after a two-year stint with A H Clifford in New Orleans.
- In view of this, it was not surprising that John found himself steered into semigroup theory and he wrote his D.Phil.
- Howie was awarded his D.Phil.
- John and Dorothy had met while both were undergraduates in Aberdeen through both being squash players.
- From the University of Oxford, Howie returned to Scotland where he was appointed as an Assistant in Mathematics at the University of Glasgow.
- After two years in this temporary position, Howie was appointed to a permanent Lectureship in Mathematics at the University of Glasgow in 1963.
- The University of Stirling was a new university which opened in 1967 and Howie, as a founder member of the university staff, made a significant contribution to the early years.
- John Howie was appointed and, after appointing John O'Connor as a lecturer, took up his duties in October 1970.
- Also in 1970, Howie was awarded a D.Sc. by the University of Aberdeen for his thesis Contributions to the algebraic theory of semigroups.
- Howie, as Head of Pure Mathematics, had a tricky role to play particularly as the number of lecturers in pure mathematics slowly reduced.
- Amongst his early papers, we might single out two interesting examples which do not fall under the main headings above: his work on idempotent-separating congruences on inverse semigroups and that on epimorphisms and dominions (with John Isbell).
- Perhaps Howie's most significant contribution to semigroup theory was the outstanding book "An introduction to semigroup theory" (1976).
- It had attempted to provide a comprehensive account of the subject and, although immaculately written, might have been somewhat daunting to a newcomer! John's book was less ambitious in its coverage: moreover, it included recent topics and had a clearly-defined theme (regular semigroups).
- Perhaps this is the time to look at the other monographs Howie wrote.
- At a Thanksgiving Service for the Life of John Howie, in Hope Park and Martyr's Parish Church, St Andrews on 5 January 2012, Nik gave an address where he gave a moving account of his weekly sessions in John Howie's office.
- See Howie Thanksgiving Service.
- John Howie was an outstanding lecturer and taught a wide variety of courses while at St Andrews.
- He was a member of the Dunning Committee (1975-77) which carried out a review of school examinations, and chaired the Howie Committee (1990-92) set up to review Fifth and Sixth Years in Scottish secondary schools.
- The Howie Committee's report Upper Secondary Education in Scotland, published on 5 March 1992, proposed radical changes to the Scottish school curriculum which (very sadly in my opinion) were largely ignored.
- See Howie Committee - proposals and reactions.
- John was an active member of the London Mathematical Society serving as a member of the Council (1982-88 and 1989-92), Chairman of the Education Committee (1985-89), Chairman of the Public Affairs Committee (1990-92) and Vice-president of the Society for two terms, first in 1986-88 and again in 1990-92.
- The Royal Society of Edinburgh awarded Howie their Keith Prize for the papers he published in their Proceedings during the period 1979-81.
- John Howie also served the mathematical community world-wide with the editorial duties he performed.
- Howie had another passion that we have not yet mentioned, namely his love of music.
- In 1997 John Howie took early retirement - his contract as Regius Professor would have allowed him to continue in post until he was 70 years old so he could have continued in post for almost ten more years.
- All three show John Howie's outstanding skills in writing and explaining mathematical ideas.
Born 23 May 1936, Chryston, Lanarkshire, Scotland. Died 26 December 2011, St Andrews, Scotland.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive