Dr John Dougherty (1935-2015) & Professor Michael Powell FRS (1936-2015)

by Sally March

The College is sad to announce the death of two retired Fellows in Mathematics, John Dougherty (1961) and Michael Powell (1978).

Dr John P Dougherty (1935-2015)

John Dougherty
A Scholar at Sidney Sussex College, matriculating in 1953, John Dougherty gained there a First in the Mathematical Tripos and then a PhD. His field was Plasma Physics, the study of gases of charged particles which involves both Fluid Dynamics and Electromagnetics. On this he wrote many papers, coauthored a classic book, and lectured around the world. He was the Founding editor of the Journal of Plasma Physics.

In 1961 as a University Assistant Lecturer he came to Pembroke and became Director of Studies in Mathematics. For very many years, across the full range of Applied Mathematics, he supervised the College’s mathematicians many of whom will remember as well those supper parties he gave at his family home in Bottisham. As a University Lecturer, John gave lectures at all levels of the Mathematical Tripos, was frequently an examiner and became Secretary, then Chairman, of the Faculty Board. The University rewarded him with the title of Stokes Lecturer, promoting him to Senior Lecturer in 2001 when that post was invented. He became interested in the University’s politics, he revelled in ‘discussions’ in the Regent House and was elected a member of the Council of the Senate. That led to his being appointed to an arduous committee controllng the University Centre for graduates in Granta Place.

Music played a central part in John’s life: a most talented pianist, he performed at many a concert in the College and was happy just reading music if no instrument were available. As a faithful Catholic he assisted in the administration of the Chaplaincy at Fisher House. On retiring and becoming a Life Fellow, John became Editor of the College Annual Gazette (2002-2009); he found himself composing, from sparse information, obituaries of people he had never met. His earlier Gazette article on Pembroke Mathematicians can be read here.


Professor Michael J D Powell FRS (1936-2015)

Mike Powell
Michael Powell graduated from Peterhouse in 1959 having read for Part II of the Mathematical Tripos followed by the Diploma in Computer Sciences. He then worked for seventeen years at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell. It was there that he developed a library of numerical algorithms and co-invented the, now famous, Davidon-Fletcher-Powell method for numerical approximations. In 1978 he was elected a Professorial Fellow at Pembroke after being elected to the John Humphrey Plummer chair of Applied Numerical Analysis at Cambridge. He became world leader in this field of finding approximate numerical solutions by means of computer operated algorithms. He investigated powerful algorithms for non-linear optimization and the theoretical evaluation of their convergence properties. This led to his election as Fellow of the Royal Society in 1983. He was the author of numerous scientific papers and of several books, most notably his Approximation Theory and Methods (1981), and he was a founding Managing Editor of the Journal for Numerical Analysis. He continued with his research long after his retirement in 2001 writing, traveling and participating in conferences.

In his younger days Mike was a keen hockey player and later occasionally served as umpire at student hockey matches. However it was golf that became the main sport of his life. He was at one time captain of the Gog Magog Golf Club and was also President of the Cambridge University Golfing Society. Furthermore, as an Emeritus Fellow he was regularly in College keeping a standing post-luncheon bowls appointment, usually with Colin Wilcockson and often in dreadful weather.

[Thank you to Professor Raymond Lickorish for contributions to this article.]