Mathematician leaves £1m to help sick patients in Inverness

A BRILLIANT mathematician left more than £1 million in his will to help care for sick patients in his adopted city of Inverness.

Klaus Roth won the Fields Medal after being told at school to drop maths Picture: Wiki Commons
Klaus Roth won the Fields Medal after being told at school to drop maths Picture: Wiki Commons

Klaus Roth was the first British winner of the Fields Medal, the mathematical equivalent of the Nobel Prize and his discoveries in number theory led to him being considered one of the greatest mathematicians of the second half of the 20th century.

He had fled Germany with his family as a child as Nazi persecution took hold and came to Britain aged eight in 1933.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Roth died last year aged 90 at his home in Inverness, where he had retired to more than 20 years ago.

And it has now emerged he had built up a £1,319,376 million fortune by the time of his death.

He instructed the bulk of his estate should be split between health charities Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland and MacMillan Cancer Support.

Roth stipulated his bequests should be used to help elderly and infirm people living in the city of Inverness.

He also left his academic awards, including his Fields Medal, and a £100,000 gift to Peterhouse College at Cambridge University, where he had studied mathematics as a young man, to support research.

Roth was born to Jewish parents on October 29, 1925, in Breslau. Faced with increasing Nazi persecution, the family moved to England in 1933.

They settled in London and Roth enrolled at St Paul’s School before going to Cambridge.

Although Roth quickly gained a reputation as a prodigious mathematical talent his time at Peterhouse was blighted by his crippling anxiety during examinations.

He graduated with a Third and his tutor advised him to drop further mathematical study in favour of finding “some commercial job with a statistical bias”.

Instead Roth took a teaching position at Gordonstoun, and after a year was accepted on to a master’s course at University College, London. Having completed his master’s, he became a lecturer there in 1950.

He met his wife, Melek Khairy, after she sat in the front row of his lectures. For Roth it was love at first sight, and by the end of the year he delegated marking her papers to a colleague as he could no longer trust his impartiality.

They married in 1955 and had a happy union until her death in 2002 but there were no children from the marriage.

In 1960 Roth was elected to the Royal Society and was promoted to professor the following year.

His best-known work was in the field of Diophantine approximation, a branch of pure mathematics that deals with the approximation of real numbers by rational numbers.

He was only 30 when he made a significant contribution to the Thue-Siegel theorem by proving that any irrational algebraic number has an approximation exponent equal to two.

In 1958 he was awarded the Fields Medal on the strength of this breakthrough.

On presenting Roth with his Fields Medal, the then president of the London Mathematical Society, Harold Davenport, said: “The Duchess, in Alice in Wonderland, said that there is a moral in everything if only you can find it. It is not difficult to find the moral in Dr Roth’s work.

“It is that the great unsolved problems of mathematics may still yield to direct attack however difficult and forbidding they appear to be, and however much effort has already been spent on them.”

Roth took a year’s sabbatical at MIT in 1965, after which Imperial College persuaded him to join their Mathematics department, where he remained until his retirement in 1988.

He was elected Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1993, Fellow of University College, London, in 1979, and of Imperial College, London, in 1999, and an Honorary Fellow of Peterhouse in 1989.

A Macmillan spokeswoman said: “We rely almost entirely on donations from the public to fund our services and are extremely grateful to have been left such a generous and kind gift.

“This money will help us be there for people with cancer and their families when they need us.”