Cuba’s Academy of Sciences honours York’s Lee Lorch

Lee Lorch has led a life that amazes. Born in the US, the professor emeritus in York’s Department of Mathematics & Statistics has fought for civil rights in his country of birth and beyond, stood steadfast against the House Committee on Un-American Activities and fought for the human rights of mathematicians around the world – all while leading an illustrious career as a first-rate scholar.

Lee Lorch receives honour from Cuba's Academy of SciencesFor his accomplishments, Lorch was honoured by the Cuban Academy of Sciences at a reception hosted by York’s Office of the Associate Vice-President International at the Chancellors Room at The Underground on York’s Keele campus Dec. 5.

Left: Lorch smiles after receiving the honour from Cuba’s Academy of Sciences (photo by Zohar Berlyand)

Ernesto Senti Darias, Cuba’s ambassador to Canada, accompanied by Laureano Cardoso, consul general of Cuba in Toronto, announced that Lorch had been named a corresponding member of the academy, one of only 17 non-Cubans worldwide – and the first Canadian – to receive the honour. After listening to comments by Ricardo Grinspun, economics professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, outlining Lorch’s life of activism, Senti Darias said “we are very proud and privileged to be part of his life.”

Senti Darias also spoke of Lorch’s valuable contributions in establishing links between mathematicians in the old socialist nations and their colleagues in the capitalist societies, as well as his success in organizing visits by prominent Soviet mathematicians to Canada.

“On this occasion,” said Senti Darias, “we are paying tribute to science, friendship among peoples, to understanding [and] to solidarity in the widest sense possible. In other words, we are paying tribute to our best values as human beings.”

Right: Ernesto Senti Darias (left) and Laureano Cardoso at the ceremony in the Chancellors Room at The Underground

“Lee Lorch is a remarkable teacher of mathematics, of that there is no doubt,” said Mamdouh Shoukri, York president & vice-chancellor. “He is an inspiration to his students. But more than this, he is a man who embodies the values and principles that are York’s foundation: a commitment to social justice, diversity, accessibility and equity. He is a man not afraid to put his conscience before his career, a man who, in his fight for civil rights, put the well-being of others before his own.”

In his acceptance remarks, Lorch immediately shared the spotlight with his daughter Alice, who has been involved in civil rights since she was 13, when she took part in the protest over school segregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the 1960s. “Alice was always a source of support for us in the struggles in which we were engaged – not an easy thing to do,” said Lorch.

Right: York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri (left) chats with Lorch and guest Dr. Nancy Olivieri

Lorch further shifted attention away from himself and towards Canadian-Cuban relations, when he spoke about the US administration’s hope for a regime change in Cuba. “If (US President George W.) Bush and company are able to carry out the regime change they seek, it would be a blow as much at our Caribbean Commonwealth partners as at Cuba,” Lorch said, referring to the importance of Cuba’s medical training programs in providing a large number of the doctors for the region.

Man Wah Wong and Ricardo Grinspun“We have, in Canada, a very serious obligation to make, vigorously, improvements and expansion of relations with Cuba for our own sake, for the sake of our own dignity, for the sake of our sovereignty and for the sake of our Commonwealth partners,” Lorch said.

Left: Man Wah Wong (far left) and Ricardo Grinspun

In his remarks, Man Wah Wong, Chair of York’s Department of Mathematics & Statistics in the Faculty of Science & Engineering, emphasized Lorch’s mathematical achievements in real analysis as well as his contributions to the fields of special functions, ordinary differential equations, and his work on Fourier’s theory on approximations and analysis. Grinspun spoke at length about Lorch’s career as an activist and detailed his participation in the civil rights movement, which ultimately cost him his career in the US and brought him to York. (For more on Lorch’s life and accomplishments, see the Jan. 8, 2007 issue of YFile.)