Queen's Encyclopedia

Queen's Encyclopedia
Queen's Encyclopedia

Jeffery, Ralph L. (1889-1975)

[photo of Ralph Jeffery]

Ralph L. Jeffery was born in Overton, Nova Scotia on October 3, 1889. When he left school in the middle of the eighth grade to become a fisherman like his father, no one could have suspected that he would end his days as one of the most respected mathematical scholars in Canada.

When he was 21, Jeffery upgraded his academic qualifications and before long he became the Principal of Port Maitland High School. He married a local woman, Nellie Churchill, who encouraged him to go to university. Mr. Jeffery was persuaded and attended Acadia University, from which he graduated with a BA in Economics in 1921.

Although he had taken only two math courses at Acadia, he next went to New York to do graduate work in mathematics at Cornell and followed that with a year at Harvard. In 1924, Mr. Jeffery took up the position as Head of Mathematics at Acadia, and except for a few interruptions, including a term spent as the Acting Head of Mathematics at the University of Saskatchewan in 1938, he continued in this position until 1942.

In 1942, Mr. Jeffery was invited to Queen's to become the head of the Mathematics Department. He built up the research efforts of the department and expanded the graduate program in his role as Chair of the Board of Graduate Studies, a position which he held for many years.

Mr. Jeffery was known for his deliberative lecture style and there are a few tales of his mishaps as an "absent minded professor." But his list of accomplishments is an impressive one: he wrote several mathematical texts, served as the President of the Canadian Mathematical Society from 1957 to 1961, founded the Summer Research Institute of the Canadian Mathematical Congress, and was its Director for 15 years. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1937 and received honorary degrees from Acadia, Queen's, Dalhousie, St. Mary's, Memorial, McMaster, and Windsor.

He retired from Queen's in 1960, having been Department Head for 18 years, and returned to teaching at Acadia until his death in 1975.

Jeffery Hall is named in his honour.