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Michael John Westwater (1942-2017)

John Westwater
John Westwater in Eastbourne, East Sussex

Professor Michael John Westwater passed away on May 14, 2017, at his home in Seattle.  He was born in 1942 in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England.  After the war his family lived in Nassau, Bahamas, where his father—a meteorological officer—was stationed from 1947 to 1951.  On their return to the UK, the family settled in Cheltenham.  John attended Pate’s Grammar School (now Cheltenham Grammar School) until he was awarded a scholarship to Trinity College Cambridge at the age of 16.

John earned a first-class degree in Mathematics in 1962 and began to work towards his Ph.D. in the mathematics of theoretical physics.  He was awarded a Jane Eliza Procter Visiting Fellowship to the graduate school of Princeton University for 1963–1964.  He extended his stay by becoming an instructor for the subsequent year.  During the second year, he met his future bride, Jan Justice of Lubbock, Texas, who was in graduate school at Columbia University.

The laws governing immigrant academics required John to spend at least two years away from the United States before he could seek a permanent job.  He and Jan moved to Switzerland, where they both taught at the Leysin American School while John finished his doctoral thesis, On the Renormalization of Feynman Integrals.  From 1966 to 1968 John held a NATO post-doctoral fellowship at the Eidgenössiche Technische Hochschule in Zürich.  In the spring of 1968, John and Jan became parents to twins William and Heather.

At the end of that summer, the family moved to Princeton, where John was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study.  During his two years there, he collaborated with Tullio Reggie, Giorgio Ponzano, and Gene Speer studying the monodromy rings of certain Feynman graphs.

In the fall of 1970, John accepted an assistant professorship in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Washington.  In 1971, they had a third child, Elliot.

John continued at "the U" until his retirement in 2005.  He described his mathematical interests as "statistical mechanics and probability theory with a special orientation which comes from quantum field theory."  He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1974 and returned to the Institute for Advanced Study for a sabbatical year to continue the collaboration with Regge and Speer.  Over the next few years, he was invited to speak at conferences in Kyoto, Vancouver, San Francisco, and Lausanne.  In 1980, he was promoted to Professor.  The following year he spent a sabbatical at Bedford College in London and at the Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung in Bielefeld, Germany.  He was notorious for sharing stories of famous mathematicians with his family right up to the morning of his death, evidence of his continued interest in all things math.

Besides math, John loved travel and the active outdoor life—he enjoyed swimming (especially in open water), cycling, and hiking and long-distance walking holidays.  He and Jan were inveterate travellers and since his retirement they had made almost-annual trips to Europe to explore regions of France, Germany, Italy, and Spain and to visit relatives in England.  He was a proud and caring grandfather of eight grandchildren and made a point of taking each grandchild, except his youngest, born just 10 weeks before he died, on a special trip to Europe to share his love of travel with them.

A celebration of his life was held at the Woodland Park Lawn Bowling Club, of which John was the board member for the croquet section—a sport which he took up quite late in life but to which he applied himself with his habitual passionate enthusiasm and no small degree of success.  It was attended by all his immediate family, including Jan, his sister, Rosalind, and her husband from England, William, Heather, and Elliot and their spouses and children, and many friends and colleagues.

Contributions in John's honor can be made to the Institute for Advanced Study at