(June 9, 1906 – June 4, 2000) was a British mathematician. He received two Ph.D.s in mathematics: from the University of London in 1932, and from Oxford in 1936.
He was the first professor of mathematics at the London School of Economics.
Cyril Albert Offord
This technique studies the typical behaviour of a mathematical expression such as a polynomial – the sum of a series of terms, each of which is the product of a constant and a variable squared, cubed, etc. By varying its components, it may be possible to show that almost all objects of a certain class have typical properties (even if one cannot construct a particular one that does). Offord showed later that when the basis for choosing the expression is changed, the typical behaviour can alter radically.
The son of a master printer at the publisher Eyre and Spottiswoode, Cyril was brought up in London. With his two brothers, he attended Hackney Downs grammar school; they joined the medical profession, while he studied mathematics, first at University College, London, and then at St John’s College, Cambridge, of which he was a fellow from 1937-40.
He then became a lecturer at the University College of North Wales, Bangor, before moving on in 1942 to what was then King’s College, Newcastle, where he became professor in 1945. In 1948, he joined Birkbeck College, London, and 18 years later moved to the London School of Economics. On retirement, he became a senior research fellow at Imperial College, before going to live in Oxford in 1980.
Cyril had an eye for quality in his own work, and that of others. In Newcastle, he appointed WW Rogosinski, who succeeded him as professor, and myself. We formed a small but enthusiastic seminar and were all fellows of the Royal Society within 10 years. At Birkbeck, he helped appoint Roger (now Sir Roger) Penrose as professor of applied mathematics, and David (now Sir David) Cox as professor of statistics.
Cyril always had a strong sense of social justice. In the 1930s, he belonged to Science For Peace and was in at the early stages of the Academic Assistance Council, now the Council for the Aid of Refugee Academics (Cara), as well as the Chinese Friendship Society. He visited China, and enabled others to do so at a time when few westerners could. Global problems of the world, such as famine and peace, were always close to his heart.
In Newcastle, he had met Marguerite Yvonne Pickard, a specialist in English literature and an editor of the Oxford dictionaries; they married in 1945. He loved gardening, and his clematis and roses were a joy to see. He was keen on classical music, and particularly chamber music, such as Haydn’s string quartets.
Cyril was soft spoken and gentle, and his criticisms, while insightful and constructive, were never hurtful. He gave up his father’s religion, the Plymouth Brethren, early in life, but was received into the church of England by the Bishop of Oxford shortly before his death. He kept up his interest in mathematics and attended meetings until a year or so before he died.
Marguerite died in 1998. Their daughter, Margaret, is also a literary editor.