Topic #3 ------------ OP-SF NET 15.3 ----------- May 15, 2008

From: Wolfram Koepf koepf@mathematik.uni-kassel.de

Subject: Peter Lesky 1926-2008Prof. Dr. phil. Peter Albin Lesky died in Innsbruck, Austria on February 12, 2008, at the age of 81, having had a fulfilled life.

Peter Lesky was born in Graz, Austria, in December 1926, in a teachers’ family. After a humanistic education and military service in former Yugoslavia he studied Mathematics and Physics in Graz and Innsbruck. He was lucky to have such high-ranking colleagues as Wolfgang Gröbner (who taught applied mathematics and orthogonal polynomials), Johann Radon (who taught calculus of variations) and Leopold Vietoris (who taught set theory and topology) as teachers. One imagines Gröbner bases, Radon measures and Vietoris homology.

After his 1950 PhD in Innsbruck his PhD advisor Wolfgang Gröbner sent him to the INAC (Instituto Nazionale per le Applicazioni del Calcolo) in Rome led by Mauro Picone where he wrote his first mathematical articles. Then a period of 13 years (1952-1965) followed where he worked as a high school teacher in Innsbruck. Along the way he wrote his habilitation thesis (1959) and later worked as teaching assistant at the University of Innsbruck (1962-1965). Eventually in 1965 he accepted a professorship at the University of Stuttgart (Germany) where he would remain until retirement. He co-authored 13 textbooks and monographs and published 80 mathematical articles during his academic career, most of them connected with orthogonal polynomials and hypergeometric functions. Also 14 of his 17 PhD students (see http://www.genealogy.ams.org/id.php?id=51662 ) wrote dissertations about orthogonal polynomials. However, his work is not as well-recognized internationally as it could be since most of the articles were in German, as were his students’ dissertations.

In particular, I would like to mention that in 1962 he published several papers in which he gave a classification for both the classical OP systems (“Die Charakterisierung der klassischen orthogonalen Polynome durch Sturm-Liouvillesche Differentialgleichungen”, following Bochner 1929) as well as for the now-called classical discrete OP systems (“Über Polynomsysteme, die Sturm-Liouvilleschen Differenzengleichungen genügen” and “Orthogonale Polynomsysteme als Lösungen Sturm-Liouvillescher Differenzengleichungen”). Furthermore his 2005 monograph “Eine Charakterisierung der klassischen kontinuierlichen, diskreten und q-Orthogonalpolynome” (again in German) completed his classification for the complete Askey-Wilson scheme of orthogonal polynomials.

Besides his research, Lesky was very interested in music and he participated as a choir member in 13 operatic performances in the Innsbruck theatre. Mountain climbing and skiing were further hobbies. He told me: “To get one of the assistant positions at the university my students needed three skills: mathematics, mountain climbing and skiing. The latter two could be acquired later.” As former high school teacher he was also very much interested in pedagogical issues. I had the opportunity to attend one of his lectures on mathematical structures in Stuttgart in 1974, and I remember very well his balanced lecturing style.

We have lost a very active member of the orthogonal polynomials community and a friend.

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