Tributes to Jim Liu

Jim Liu, University of Lethbridge
Jim (Ji Ping) Liu died in January 2006 as a result of injuries sustained in a tragic car accident near Nanton. He is survived by his wife Barong Wendy Sun and his daughter Lily and son David.

Jim was born in 1957 in China. After grade school, he was a high school teacher for two years, before he had a chance at higher education. He was among the first group of people allowed into universities based on merit after the Cultural Revolution. In 1982 he graduated with a BSc in Math and later a MSc, both from Shandong University. He also taught there for several years until 1987.

He met his wife in China and the family moved to Canada in 1987 when Jim started a Ph.D. at Simon Fraser University under the supervision of Brian Alspach, one of the top graph theorists in Canada. Jim graduated in 1992.

Subsequently he did Postdoctoral work at SFU and Georgia State University before coming to Lethbridge in 1995 as Assistant Professor of Math. He obtained tenure and Associate Professor status in 2001, and he was being considered this year for promotion to Professor. Through the years he taught numerous courses both large and small, mainly in mathematics but also statistics and computer science, and he always received high praise from his students.

Jim was an industrious and accomplished academic, who has left us a legacy of publications that is amazing for the relatively short period in which it was done.

His research area is in graph theory. He published more than 30 papers in some top quality journals in his area, as well as more than a dozen conference proceedings. In addition he has about 20 more papers in various stages of preparation, some of which are quite refined. He made major contributions to his field, such as the complete solution of the switch-box problem, which unusually for theoretical math, has immediate commercial application.

Jim held substantial research grants including NSERC grants in mathematics and in computer science.

In short Dr. Liu was an excellent teacher and outstanding mathematician and his loss is a big one for the university.

On a personal level he was a very kind and generous person, a real gentleman. He was always ready to help when called upon --- NO was not a word in his vocabulary.

Jim was also a loving father and spent a lot of time taking care of the education of his children. His daughter Lily is now at U. Pennsylvania. David too is doing very well in grade 10 and has even sat in on university calculus classes.

It's tragic that Jim's full potential can't be reached. There is some solace, nevertheless, in that Jim's work will be a lasting legacy in which the University take great pride and which earned him much respect in the mathematical community.

Jim Liu touched many lives and made them better!


Contributed Tributes

From: Prof. Eddy Campbell, President, Canadian Mathematical Society
To: Hadi Kharaghani

Please accept my condolences, offered on behalf of the CMS, to you and your colleagues, on this tragic loss.

H E A (Eddy) Campbell
Vice-President (Academic), Pro Vice-Chancellor
Memorial University

From: Hadi Kharaghani
University of Lethbridge

Jim Liu

Jim, good friend, great colleague, generous, kind, dependable, great teacher and a top researcher.

Jim’s scholarship: Jim was a hard-core graph theorist. Most branches of mathematics are built on massive solid theories. Hard-core graph theory is built on almost no foundations. It is the intelligence and the creativity of the researcher that matters. While there are many mathematicians working in hard-core graph theory, only a few are recognized as creative leaders in the field. Jim was undoubtedly a leading figure in the field. Just to give you a first hand observation, three years ago I received a letter in the mail from one of the greatest contemporary group theorist. There was a copy of a hand written problem that was obviously sent to many people. He added a name with formal greetings and asked for help with the solution of the problem. The problem was a hard-core graph theory and I gave it to Jim. It took him almost half an hour to come back to my office with his usual friendly smile to tell me that he could solve it. Next day he gave me his short and beautiful solution to the problem. I have seen remarks made by leading figures in the field on some of his works. They describe his works as “solid”; just about the best possible praise in hard-core graph theory. Jim quietly has been working single handedly on some fundamental papers in the last 11 years yet to be published.

Jim was a great colleague: Jim was a great colleague and sometimes I wondered if he was aware of the existence of the word “no” in English! I never saw him saying “no” to anyone. Being aware of this weakness, I have to confess that I had asked him for many favors in the short decade we were colleagues. He was a great guy to work with. Often I used to tell my friends “you know how Jim is” referring to his generosity and his willingness to help. Dependable, trustworthy, knowledgeable and extremely humble, what a great combination!

Jim was a family man: Jim was a family man in the most genuine way. All his joys and prides were his family. His life was his wife and his two prodigy children and those who knew the family well know how blessed he was with having a perfect family. Despite of his humbleness, in some sense Jim lived like Royalty though! Wendy was the bookkeeper and did the entire shopping etc. He hardly carried any cash with him. I used to tease him and tell him “Shah of Iran also didn’t carry much cash with him”.

A piece of Rumi’s poetry for Jim: At the time of distress and tragedy, I often get refuge in Rumi’s words of wisdom. I found two pieces of translations of Rumi’s poetry that are somehow expressive of Jim’s sudden loss:

At the twilight, a moon appeared in the sky;
then it landed on earth to look at me.
Like a hawk stealing a bird at the time of prey;
that moon stole me and rushed back into the sky.
I looked at myself; I did not see me anymore;
for in that moon, my body turned as fine as soul.
The nine spheres disappeared in that moon;
the ship of my existence drowned in that sea.

Now you've departed and gone to the Unseen-
On what strange ways you've gone from our world!
You shook your feathers and you broke the cage;
You flew away, far, to the soul's own world.
You were a hawk, encaged by this World.
You heard the drum and flew to Where-no-place.
Rumi's Divan Shams Tabrizi

From: Paul Irvine

From an undergrad perspective Jim was a cut above the rest when it came to teaching Mathematics. His didactics methods made math seems so easy. Jim always commented that math was "easy, not hard". As well he always mentioned the beauty of mathematics, which exemplified his passion for the field. He was true ambassador for mathematics.

Jim's generosity was very evident. In fact I would sometimes approach Jim for help on solution to problems from other math courses that I was taking. He never declined and always came up with a solution for me. Well, I did stump him on a question from topology one time, but it was kind of a trick question, but besides that his solution were bang on and very simple. My Brother and I often joked around and we had a nickname for Jim. We called him grandpa Jim because he seemed to make his classes so easy. The true reason why his classes were so easy is that he was an excellent teacher and was able to convey mathematical concepts very effectively. Also when I went to ask Jim for help he would ask me questions and was genuinely interested in his students, he often gave me advice about careers. Jim was very wise in his advice.

Jim was also a true family man and an absolute gentleman. He frequently spoke of his family during his lectures and conveyed how proud of them he was. He definitely had his priorities straight, family first, then math second.

I have many fond memories of Jim and Jim will be missed most definitely. I could write so much about Jim but it could never do him justice. His actions spoke much louder than words and trying to find words to describe his demeanour is difficult. All that I know is that he definitely made it to heaven.