Robert Vermes



Dr. Robert Vermes (1930-2023)



It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you of the peaceful passing of Professor Robert Vermes at his home on May 11, 2023, in the presence of his daughter Daphna and surrounded by the books which he loved. He had joined McGill in 1963 and remained close to the Department of Mathematics and Statistics until his death, at the age of 93.

Robert was born on February 16, 1930, to Hungarian Jews living in Budapest. The family was persecuted during World War II. After surviving the Holocaust and finishing high school, Robert immigrated alone to Israel, where he studied mathematics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He published his first paper in Hebrew in 1956 and completed his MSc in 1959, under the supervision of the famous Hungarian-Israeli mathematician Mihály Fekete (1886-1957).

In April 1954, Robert married Chayah Rosenberg, a student of English literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Between 1948 and 1950, Chayah had served in the Haganah, which became the core formation of Israel’s Defense Forces in 1948. After Robert completed his own military service, the family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where he undertook doctoral studies. His advisor was Morris Marden (1905-1991), generally considered to be responsible for developing a research culture and orientation in his department. Robert’s PhD thesis, defended in 1963, was entitled “On the Location of the Zeros of Certain Combinations of Polynomials.”

Upon graduation, Robert joined McGill, first as a Lecturer (1963-64), then as an Assistant Professor (1964-68), and finally as an Associate Professor until his retirement in 1997, after 34 years of service. His first sabbatical year was spent at CERN, in Geneva (1971-72); the other two were at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1980-81, 1995-96). As most McGill professors from his generation, he published sparingly over the course of his career, producing five solo papers on properties of polynomials, according to MathSciNet. In addition to teaching, he supervised three MSc students, served as an Associate Editor for the Canadian Mathematical Bulletin (1968-70), and helped to organize two winter meetings of the Canadian Mathematical Society (1983, 1994).

However, Robert’s most important professional contribution was undoubtedly his stewardship of the departmental library, from its humble beginnings as a collection of books purchased by the professors to its relocation on the 11th floor of Burnside Hall after the building’s inauguration in 1971, to the library’s dedication in honor of the late Professor and Chairman Edward Rosenthall in 1987, and beyond. In December 2005, Robert’s many years of devotion to this work of love were marked by the unveiling of his portrait in the library by Department Chair David Wolfson.

Robert will be remembered as an excellent mentor and a true gentleman who was welcoming, wise, and equipped with a great sense of humor. He was, however, deeply saddened when the Rosenthall Library was dismantled to make room for a new Student Study Space. His love and respect for books, which endured unabated, was shared by his wife Chayah, who worked for 30 years as a librarian for the French CBC, Radio-Canada. They spoke several languages and loved to crisscross the globe in constant search of new things to learn and see. She predeceased him in 2022, after 69 years of marriage. They left in mourning their daughter Daphna Vermes, DDS, her husband Peter Kemeny, as well as three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

All department members, past and present, join me in expressing our distress and heartfelt sympathy to Robert’s family and friends.








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