In Memory of Chat Yin Ho

Chat Yin Ho was born on the 27th of September, 1946. Throughout his life, Chat was the definition of vitality, touching all who met him with his peculiar brand of humor and his passion for life. A singularly gifted teacher and mentor, Chat inspired his students with boundless enthusiasm, pushing his students to their utmost by his own resolve. After he obtained his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Chicago in 1972 under the guidance of Professor John Thompson, he joined the Mathematics Department at the University of Florida in 1985.

Of the various awards Chat acquired, he was probably proudest of his Alexander von Humbolt fellowship and his Senior Men’s Table Tennis Championship. He was relentlessly optimistic, and could find good and humor in almost any situation. Chat deeply loved his wife and children; he was always very proud of them. He passed away last Wednesday the 21st of September, 2005, just a week short of his 59th birthday.

o o o Profossor Ho’s passing away is a great loss to our department. To Professor Ho goes the credit of building up our algebra group as a world class group. It was he who brought to our attention that Professor John Thompson was available, and he worked closely with two previous Chairs Professors Al Bednarek and David Drake to help us recruit Professor Thompson. Subsequently he served on our Search Committee several times and played a key role in recruiting our algebra faculty – Professors Voelklein, Sin, Turull, and Tiep, in chronological order. He was an excellent mathematician, who regularly published in the Journal of Algebra, the premier journal in this field. Even while he was sick, he was constantly thinking of mathematics and happenings in the mathematical world. When my wife Mathura and I saw him at Shands Hospital a few days after his surgery, he was reading an issue of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society in which there was a memorial article on the great algebraist Walter Feit of Yale and in that article, a contribution from Professor Thompson.

I was especially close to him for several reasons, one of which was that we joined the University of Florida at the same time.

His children are highly accomplished and have inherited their brilliance from Professor Ho and his wife Virginia.

We always knew of Professor Ho’s presence in the department because we could hear his unique laughter when he talked in the corridors. He was a lovable individual whose presence will be sorely missed.

 

Krishnaswami Alladi
Chairman

o o o Many wonderful things have been said about our colleague Chat Ho. His achievements as a mathematician are outstanding, and let those who know them better than I give him his due on that score. I will remember him most and with much fondness for his personal grace.

I will remember him the longest for the spirit, always positive through the grimmest of his prolonged medical woes, always able to take the ironic view of his own misfortunes, and, seemingly, thereby to triumph over them. I will smile for many years to come, remembering his mirth over the silliest expressions of self-importance that we his fellows were too often unable to repress, and the kind roll of the eyes with which he forgave us for them — and, oh, how he could roll his eyes at our follies!

And for some bizarre reason I think I will remember him most vividly, standing in his rose garden, under the sparkling, blinding Florida sun of a late-spring afternoon, grinning in that winning, contagious way of his, while he gave this astonished visitor the triumphal tour!

 

Jorge Martinez

 

o o o When I came to UF in 1989 the algebra group consisted of Chat, Helmut Voelklein and myself. We did not start a formal seminar for several months but instead the three of us would meet in our offices or for lunch at the Holiday Inn (in the room which is now Denny’s). I was a complete beginner at All-U-Can-Eat, but I had two of the best teachers. It was later a favorite joke of Chat’s that Helmut single-handedly ate the buffet out of business, but in my opinion he had an accomplice. At that time Chat was quite excited by his discovery of a maximal subgroup of the Monster group which was not among those listed in the Atlas of Finite Groups. This discovery may have sparked his more recent interest in studying closely the proof of the classification of simple finite groups. Chat is probably best known among finite group theorists (or finite groupists as he liked to say) for his work on quadratic pairs . By the time I met him he had switched his attention to projective planes. He wanted to know what could be deduced about a projective plane from information about its automorphism group. Thus, he investigated Singer planes, which are those with a regular group of automorphims and, at the other extreme, planes with totally irregular group actions, which means that no point stabilizer is trivial. In recent years he was fascinated by a long-standing problem on translation planes. A translation plane is most easily described as an even dimensional vector space together with a collection of subspaces of half the dimension, called a spread, such that each nonzero vector lies in exactly one member of the spread. A simple example of a spread is the set of one-dimensional subspaces in a two dimensional vector space. Which simple groups can act on a finite translation plane? In all known examples, the vector space is in characteristic two and it is conjectured that a simple group cannot act on a translation plane of odd order. Chat was working enthusiastically on this right up to his hospital admission. He had been able to make some progress by combining his knowledge of simple groups with his geometric insight.

Chat was an enthusiastic and dedicated teacher. Over the past week many undergraduates and graduates he taught have paid tribute to him, including his PhD students Eric Moorhouse, Kristine Griffin and Sonja Radas.

Apart from his academic activities Chat is known as a keen and expert gardener, but he loved to tell a story to show that this was not always the case. When he was in Toronto, there was an attractive small tree in the yard which he decided to nurture, watering it regularly and protecting it against the cold weather. However, after a long period of diligent care the tree still did not seem to grow. He looked more closely at the leaves to find out why. It was an plastic tree!

 

Peter Sin

 

o o o Chi-Yin was remembered as a pleasant, intelligent and friendly classmate to all of us beginning Junior High till High School graduation.

Our prayers and condolences go out to his immediate family and relatives. May he rest in eternal peace in heaven with God.

 

Tak Ming High School, Hong Kong, Class of 1962
Yeun Wen Shing, Hin Mo Li, Wak-Tak Chan, Norman Chi, Cory Chan, Allen Kwan, and Taiwoo Chiu

 

o o o Just to add a few memories to the postings of the algebraists, I especially enjoyed the enthusiasm that Chat Ho brought to his service on the Search and Screen Committees when we both served on several of these committees together during my early years at UF in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Jorge Martinez has commented on Ho’s mirth over follies of self-importance– one such opportunity expressed itself when we were recruiting in Algebra at the Senior Level, and after Candidate A had a fine visit, then Candidate B interviewed. Ho reported to me gleefully that he learned that Candidate B had told the Chair that if he received the appointment, he needed to be paid some thousands more than the salary level suggested in discussions between the Chair and Candidate A. In later years, I always enjoyed Ho’s gleeful tales of how the Brazilians had coped with hyperinflation, which Chat observed during his time at the University of Brasilia. Equally enjoyable were Ho’s tales of how tough the grading had been in Taiwan when he was a college student there.

One of the decisions we confronted as a department, was deciding whether or not to leave Walker Hall and unify with the pioneers already in Little Hall (like myself) or possibly be spread out over campus in several different buildings. After the decision was made to unify in Little Hall, Sharon Easter requested the faculty in Walker Hall to draw up a room plan for how the moving crew should place the furniture in the new office location. Sometime after this move was completed, Ho ruefully told me with his signature laugh that since his room in Little was somewhat smaller than his room in Walker, that the floor plan he had devised was totally worthless — there was too much furniture from his room in Walker to possibly fit into his new room in Little, floor plan or no floor plan. Some of the furniture was even left out in the hallway by the movers!

 

Paul Ehrlich