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Ben West
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A group of admiring colleagues led by Paul Sally and V. S. Varadarajan decided to organize a conference to mark Harish-Chandra’s sixtieth birthday. Armand Borel, Harish’s longtime colleague, was also turning 60, and conferences were organized for both. Since Borel was the elder by six months, his conference was scheduled first, October 13-15, which was in fact the week of Harish’s birthday.

At Borel’s conference I was delighted to find Harish, handsome in his pepper-and-salt beard, sparkling and sociable. He and Lily had planned a party for Borel on Sunday. After the last lecture on Saturday, we lingered on the terrace outside the lecture hall. We discussed recent developments in representation theory, Harish’s intuitions about harmonic analysis, his early days, the institute then and now, mathematicians past and present, a rich blend of mathematical shoptalk. A circle of young mathematicians gathered in the slanting afternoon sun, listening to Harish reminisce, asking questions to draw out more detail. The shadows lengthened and the air grew cool. The crowd thinned, until just Harish, Paul Sally, and I were left. We went into Fuld Hall. As the conversation wound down, Paul and I were astonished to hear Harish-Chandra doubting the value of his work, wondering if it would last. We stumbled over each other to remind him of his many fundamental results. Without seeming very convinced he stopped protesting and took his leave. Fuld Hall suddenly seemed chilly to me. I stood and shivered, to think that even Harish-Chandra, who had carved a broad path deep into a forest where many famous mathematicians had gotten tangled in thickets at the borders, whose results supplied the toolkits of some of the best mathematicians of a new generation, could so doubt his achievements. The poignancy of his doubt remains fresh—a reminder of the fragility of all our efforts.

Harish-Chandra died the next day. After the party for Borel, a large one at which Harish was a gracious and animated host, he went out for his daily walk, and collapsed under a final [heart] attack. His ashes were scattered in Princeton and in the Ganges at Allahabad.

Excerpted from Roger Howe's Biographical Memoir of Harish-Chandra.

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