100 years young. A most-perfect mathematician

Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw was born on October 1st 1912 and, coming up to her 100th birthday, she is still working. Her mathematical speciality is most-perfect pandiagonal magic squares (I’m no mathematician, so don’t expect me to explain it beyond this: each row, column and diagonal of numbers adds to the same number as does each 2×2 square  and this applies to opposite partial diagonals, so pretty cool, yes?) She has also been active in politics in her city of Manchester, achieving the post of Lord Mayor in 1975, and received her award of the DBE (for non-Brits, this is why she has the title of ‘Dame’ – the female equivalent of ‘Sir’).

I met Dame Kathleen in 1999, when I photographed her on publication of her first book (when she was ‘only’ 86!). We seemed to hit it off and made each other laugh a lot in that photo session She was quite happy to go along with my idea of photographing her painting one of her magic squares on a sheet of glass (that’s why the numbers are reversed). We have kept in touch ever since and during these past few years her remarkable energies have kept her working constantly on her mathematics papers, on her astronomy (when travelling the world with her big motorised telescope to catch transits of Venus, solar eclipses, etc became too much for her she donated her telescope to a local university) and on her music (she was a founder of the Royal Northern College of Music). In between all that, she found time to write her autobiography.

I feel privileged to have known her and wish her a Very Happy 100th Birthday for the 1st October.

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