I’m still shocked and upset as I type this. My friend and collaborator Andrew Chamblin died on Monday. I’ve no details to pass on about the circumstances, but I have learned that he was ill in recent times.
Andrew was simply one of the most delightful people I’ve met while working in this field. His enthusiasm and generosity were extraordinary, and this extended beyond physics into all aspects of his life. He brought so much into a room full of people when he walked into it. People would always brighten when he would show up. He had so many wonderful stories and anecdotes, and was full of really original ideas. As I sit here remembering the times we spent together socially, or in a working context (the two were always nicely mixed together actually) I can’t picture anything but a broad smile on his face, and he always put some of that smile on the faces of those he came into contact with.
His training began in mathematics, for which he had considerable skill, and he started his graduate work with Roger Penrose at Oxford (he knew a huge amount about twistors and the geometry associated to those contructions), before moving to Cambridge to work with Gary Gibbons and Stephen Hawking, which brought out a lot of his physics talent. So working with him was a delight, since his different background -and his knack for living life on full beam- made things so interesting and enjoyable. He was really sharp, and brought a new pespective to every physics conversation we had, due in part to his “non-traditional” background: Our collaborations with Roberto Emparan and Rob Myers (who also have unusual trajectories into string theory) were among the richest and most enjoyable – both for physics and socially – I’ve ever had. The highlight was when Rob, Roberto and Andrew showed up to visit me when I was at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, and we just had a blast for few days and turned out a wonderful detailed paper in an incredibly short time. It is still one of my all time favourite papers (on which I’ve been an author, I mean), not just because of the excellent physics, but because of the tremendous fun we had calculating together and writing it.
I’ll miss Andrew so much. The sad thing is that I’d been missing him already, (I had not seen him since he moved to a faculty position in Louisville, Kentucky) and just this weekend while I was on a hike, I was wondering how he was doing.
Oh, hiking! Andrew loved the outdoors, and was very keen on keeping physically fit. The last time I spent a good amount of time with him was at a physics workshop in Aspen in the Summer of 2002, and my most vivid memory of him that time was rather typical Andrew: spontaneous, and living life to the full. Let me tell you the story:
Four of us (Malcolm Perry, Anna Zytkow, Samantha Butler, and myself) set off very early one morning (September 2nd) to hike up to Cathedral Lake and the Electric Pass beyond. Samantha and I were not going up to Electric, and so lingered at the the old Ashcroft ghost town for a while, the others setting off up the mountain eariiler, the idea being that we would meet up at Cathedral Lake (2/3 way up) when they were on their way down. We were having lunch on the shores of Cathedral Lake after a long slow toil up the mountain to get to it, (we were a bit worse for wear after a late night dinner with lots of wine with Malcolm and Anna), shod in heavy boots and with extra gear in our backpacks in case it rained, lots of water, food, etc.
After a while, we heard the sounds of someone approaching and thought that it was the rest of our party. We turned around and there was Andrew in sneakers, a sweatshirt and sports shorts, carrying a little water bottle! (See the photo that Samantha took.) He said that he’d heard that we were up at the lake, went out for a run, and “just thought he’d pop up and say `Hi’ “! So he ran all the way up, sat with us for a while and no doubt told us one or two of his always wonderful stories, and then ran all the way down. That, in a nutshell, was one of the many wonderful aspects of Andrew.
The field has lost a really great guy, and a true original, who definitely walked a different path. He was just so warm and generous. I’m going to miss him terribly.
Goodbye Andrew, dear friend and colleague. Thanks so much for everything.
P.S. The funeral is at 11:00am this Friday in Amarillo. If interested in attending let me know by email and I can try to put you in contact with people who know the detailed arrangements.
Update (1): See comment stream (#7) for more information about the arrangements.
Update (2): An obituary appeared in the Amarillo Globe-News on Thursday.
Update (3): See comment #25 for information about the arrangements for the memorial service in Cambridge.