NEW YORK — Harold Mortimer Edwards, 84, died of colon cancer on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020, at his home in New York City.
Harold was born Aug. 6, 1936, in Champaign to Harold M. and Marian Scarlett Edwards. His father was Director of Purchasing at the University of Illinois. Harold was the youngest of three sons, and was predeceased by his brothers, Robert W. (Gwendolyn) of Champaign and Bloomington and James (Veronica) of New York City, as well as his parents. The family lived on North Prospect Avenue in Champaign just north of the Prospect and Church Street intersection.
Harold attended Dr. Howard Elementary School, then Champaign Junior High, and Champaign High School through his sophomore year, when he received a Ford Foundation Scholarship and began studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, graduating in 1956 with a BA in Mathematics. He received his MA in Mathematics at Columbia University in 1957, and Ph.D. in Mathematics from Harvard in 1961 under the supervision of Raoul Bott.
Edwards (who as an adult was known by his family in Illinois as Hal and by his large circle of friends as Ed) was a mathematician working in number theory, algebra, and the history and philosophy of mathematics. He was co-founding editor, with Bruce Chandler, of The Mathematical Intelligencer. He authored expository books on the Riemann zeta function, on the Galois theory, and on Fermat's Last Theorem. He wrote a book on Leopold Kronecker's work on divisor theory, providing a systematic exposition of that work, a task that Kronecker never completed.
Edwards wrote textbooks on linear algebra, calculus and number theory in addition to a book of essays on constructive mathematics. Before his death, Edwards was working on a mathematical paper, "The Triad," which colleagues will attempt to publish.
Professor Edwards was invited to speak on mathematics and the history of mathematics all over the world, and notably delivered lectures in French and German. He picked up foreign languages with ease and impeccable accuracy. He taught at Harvard and Columbia University and joined the faculty of New York University in 1966, where he was professor emeritus since 2002.
In 1980, Professor Edwards won the Leroy P. Steele Prize for Mathematical Exposition of the American Mathematical Society. For his contribution in the field of the history of mathematics, in 2005, he was awarded the Albert Leon Whiteman Memorial Prize by the American Mathematical Society. In 2012, he became a fellow of the American Mathematical Society.
Dr. Edwards was brilliant, charming, a prince among men, and a devoted husband to the love of his life, Betty Rollin, a former NBC news correspondent and author. In "Last Wish," Betty wrote about her mother's terminal cancer and their involvement in her suicide. Betty and Ed went on to became active in the movement to legalize physician-assisted dying. As of now, there is no law in New York that would have allowed Dr. Edwards to die with assistance as he wanted to do.
In addition to mathematics, Ed loved history, philosophy and long talks with his many friends. He was a master chronicler of his and other's lives. Ed loved a good anecdote, a good book, fine music and Scrabble, at which he was a master.
He is survived by his wife, Betty Rollin of New York; a nephew, Michael Edwards (Renata) of New York; a niece, Nina Edwards Anker (Peder) of New York; a nephew, Philip Edwards (Ali) of New York; a nephew, Mark Edwards of Bloomington; a niece, Laura Edwards (Giovanni) of Bloomington; his sister-in-law, Gwen Tyner Edwards of Bloomington; and many great-nieces and -nephews.