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In Memory of Kiiti Morita

In Memory of Kiiti Morita

John Ewing

August 4, 1998


We are here today to honor a respected and eminent mathematician, Kiiti Morita, who passed away exactly three years ago, on August 4, 1995.

 I'd like to welcome our guests today, Professor Morita's widow, Tomiko; his son, Yasuhiro; his wife, Hiroko; and their son, Shiego.

 They flew here, some 6,740 miles (that's 10,871 kilometers!) to be with us today as we honor Professor Morita and dedicate our front garden area in his name.

 It is a strange feeling for me to be here today, saying these words. Before coming to the AMS, my field as a mathematician was Algebraic Topology. Professor Morita was a world class mathematician, who combined profound work in topology with brilliant insights into algebra. I grew up as a mathematician learning the phrase "Morita equivalence", a term that is everywhere in algebraic topology; I learned the concept long before I ever associated it to a person, the man who invented the idea in 1958. I learned of his other work in topology in a series of lectures while I was still a graduate student, but I never knew anything about the man behind those ideas. And having read more about the man, I wish I had known him, and not just his ideas.

 Looking at his long and distinguished career in mathematics, I am reminded of Shakespeare's famous quote:

 "Some men are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them."

Professor Morita achieved it through a lifetime of dedicated work; he achieved greatness on his own.

Kiiti Morita was born on February 11, 1915. By coincidence, another famous scientist, Thomas Edison, was born on February 11. And in his own way, Professor Morita showed the kind of imagination and invention in mathematics that Edison showed in technology. Largely self-taught in topology, he left a legacy of mathematical ideas that affected not just algebra and topology, but indirectly many other areas as well; category theory, C*- algebras, even areas of applied mathematics. And he left a legacy for Japanese mathematicians, in particular, where it is estimated that more than half of the Japanese topologists today are directly or indirectly students of Professor Morita.

It is particularly fitting that the American Mathematical Society recognize Professor Morita and his accomplishments. Our recent Chairman of the Board, Hy Bass, was the one who made Morita equivalence and the related ideas famous in the 1960's. He circulated notes from a series of lectures he gave afterwards, circulating in the United States, in Europe, and eventually in Japan as well. I know that if Hy were able to be here today, he would very much enjoy the opportunity to meet the Morita family, and thank them on behalf of the entire mathematics community.

In his memory, the family of Professor Morita has made a gift to the American Mathematical Society. The Board of Trustees has passed the following resolution in recognition of that gift:

The Board of Trustees of the American Mathematical Society gratefully accepts the very special gift of the family of Kiiti Morita establishing the Kiiti Morita Fund. The Trustees thank the Morita family for their thoughtful generosity and welcome this unique memorial tribute as a gift in perpetuity to support mathematical research and scholarship.

(Signed, Donald McClure, Chair of the Board and Andy Magid, Secretary of the Board).

In recognition of a lifetime of mathematical accomplishments, and a lasting legacy to mathematics and to the American Mathematical Society, we are today naming our front gardens after Professor Kiiti Morita.

There is a Japanese proverb that goes something like this:

"Some people like to make of life a garden and to walk only within its paths."

In his own way, Kiiti Morita made a wonderful mathematical garden for all of us. He didn't walk only in its paths, but he made it possible for some of us to walk there. And in years to come, the gardens that grow here in front of our headquarters will remind us of that legacy.