In Memoriam Richard Bruck

From BICA (6) 1992

Memorial Resolution of the Faculty of the
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Faculty Document 944 *
On the Death of Emeritus Professor Richard H. Bruck
Richard Hubert Bruck, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, died in Madison, Wisconsin, on December 18, 1991, just eight days short of his seventy-eighth birthday. He is survived by his wife Helen.

Dick was born on December 26, 1914, in Pembroke, Ontario, Canada. He earned a B.A. in 1937, M.A. in 1938, and Ph.D. in 1940, all at the University of Toronto. His Ph.D. dissertation was supervised by the famed algebraist Richard Brauer. After teaching two years at the University of Alabama, Bruck moved in 1942 to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he spent the rest
of his-career. From 1967 until his retirement in 1985, he held a Distinguished Research Professorship.

Dick was a versatile scholar and a person of great intellectual depth. He was a giant in the field of projective geometry, as well as the leading world authority on loops and quasigroups. His 1949 paper (with HJ.Ryser) established a numerical restriction (since known as the Bruck-Ryser condition) on the possible existence of finite projective planes which to this day remains essentially the only known restriction. This paper and others, including the one for which he received the Chauvenet prize of the Mathematical Association of America for expository writing, helped focus research on the subject of finite planes, and attracted distinguished students to his geometry courses and seminars in Madison. He had 29 Ph.D. students, several of whom are now leading research mathematicians.

In the middle of his career, before returning to geometry in later years, he also made significant contributions to the theory of groups, especially to the so-called Burnside problem. The most prominent of his later students made, and continue to make, important contributions to the massive effort, recently completed, to catalogue all finite simple groups (the building blocks of group theory). The modern understanding of these groups is based on their relation with suitable geometric structures; it was this interplay between groups and geometry which particularly fascinated Dick Bruck.

Dick was a gifted and hard-working teacher who was revered by those fortunate to work with him. His influence on his Ph.D. students was profound, and they still describe in glowing terms the consequences of their intense contact with him as they wrote their dissertations. To some extent his many research students substituted for the children he and Helen never had, and all remember with great pleasure the good food and conversation at the Bruck home .

Dick was an invaluable colleague and mentor for young faculty in Algebra and Geometry. He was witty and knowledgeable, and always eager to share his insight and to help lead young scholars through the perils of academe. He was a longtime member of the Faculty Senate where his dry wit (sometimes sharp) and blunt directness made his thoughtful presentation stand out. Everyone soon
knew where Dick stood on an issue, and one respected his position and often learned from him even when disagreeing with his point of view. This was emphasized during the Vietnam war, which Dick supported. When some of his students were on strike, he made arrangements to tutor them in his office so that they would not get behind in their studies, thereby supporting their actions even
though he disagreed with their cause.

Other honors awarded to him include Guggenheim research grants in 1946, 1959, and 1963 for lecturing in Fankfurt, Germany; in Oxford, England; and at the University of North Carolina. He also received a Fulbright grant for lecturing in Canberra, Australia, in 1963. He was a research lecturer for the Canadian Mathematical Congress, and a member of the honorary science section of the lnstitut Grand Duche de Luxembourg. He was also made a Decorated Officer of L'Ordre du Merite du Grande Duche de Luxembourg.

In honor of Dick's mathematical achievements, a conference was held at the time of his retirement, and was attended by more than 70 mathematicians from all over the world. A two-volume issue of the journal Algebras. Groups. and Geometries for 1985 is dedicated to Professor Bruck and to publishing the proceedings of this conference.

Dick and Helen Bruck were enthusiastic supporters of American Players Theatre, and they developed a special relationship with the founders of APT. Dick was a charter member of Friends of the Arboretum, and he and Helen were enthusiastic supporters of opera and other musical and artistic activities in Madison.
Memorial Committee
Steven Bauman, Donald W. Crowe
Mary Ellen Rudin, J. Marshall Osborn, Chair


* Professor Donald Crowe has kindly sent us this copy of the University of
Wisconsin-Madison Faculty Document 944 of May 4, 1992.

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