Meeting Ron Graham

Recent changes
Table of contents
Links to this page


My latest posts can be found here:
Previous blog posts:
Additionally, some earlier writings:

2017/10/01 - How I Met Ron Graham

I was a lowly PhD student when I first met Ron Graham. It was at a conference, and there was something I wanted to show him. In my mind it was pretty much guaranteed that he would be interested, but he was (and still is!) extremely well known, extremely eminent, and extremely popular. As a result he is extremely busy, and somewhat besieged with people wanting a piece of his time. How could I possibly attract and hold his attention long enough to get him interested?

So I hatched a plan.

Clearly it worked, because I did meet him and he was interested, but exactly how well the plan had worked wasn't clear until we met again many years later. At that time I was visiting a friend who lived quite close to Murray Hill, so we "dropped in" on the off-chance he was there. Not only was he there, and not only did we get to spend some time with Ron, he recounted to my friend the story of how we had met! He remembered in detail the ploy I had used, and told the tale with some glee.

And has done so several times since - each time he introduces me to someone he tells the tale of how I had caught his attention, so not only did it work, it left a lasting impression. And now I'll tell it to you.

As I say, I was a lowly PhD student, and Ron was the opening plenary speaker at the conference. It was a pretty major conference, well attended, and the plenary was full. I knew that, unless steps were taken, when he finished Ron would be surrounded by people wanting to talk to him. One of the problems with being well-known in your field is that everyone wants to get you interested in their problem, and, of course, I would be just one among the throng.

My plan? I figured that the organisers would try to pre-empt this unseemly scrum by scheduling the conference announcements to follow immediately after Ron's talk. That would give him time to escape while the delegates were pinned in place to listen to the important information.

So, I thought, Ron would exit left, and escape. I laid my trap.

A few minutes before he finished I quietly slipped out the back and lay in wait in the foyer. There was really only one way out, and that was from the side door, across the foyer, and out the main doors. I waited, hope against hope that the plan would work. There was applause in the auditorium, but no one came out through the main doors.

And then suddenly there was Ron, right on time, striding across the foyer. I matched him step-for-step (not easy - he's quite tall and was in a hurry) and delivered the crucial opening line.

"Professor Graham" (briefest nod of acknowledgement) "I have something I think that will interest you, but you have no way of knowing that I'm not a crank. So give me just 2 minutes - if in those 2 minutes I haven't said something interesting, just walk away and I promise I won't follow you."

He stopped dead, looked at me, and said - "OK, go on."

So I did a three ball cascade and said "Call this type of throw a '3'", did a four ball fountain and said "Call this type of throw a '4', etc." and then defined a "1" as a "zip" - then said: "We can do 5551" and demonstrated.

Ron said: "Let's get a coffee," and we were off.

You can also read the
Sci Am Profile Of Ron Graham
So that's how I met Ron Graham. Subsequently we've met and spoken many times, and we collaborated with Joe Buhler and Dave Eisenbud on the paper about juggling that gave me me Erdos Number (of the first type) of 2. And that's the story that Ron tells whenever he introduces me to someone.

With Ron in August, 2015
Which I'm unreasonably proud of.

Later ...

I wrote the above in October 2017. It's now July 2020 and I've just heard that Ron passed away yesterday. We only met occasionally, we exchanged emails here and there, but I'm sad that I won't get to see him again.

I hate selfies. I really, really hate selfies, but this is (as far as I can tell) the best photo I have with the two of us. It's a great memory for me, but it hardly does him justice.

<<<< Prev <<<<
Napkin Ring Versus Spherical Cap
>>>> Next >>>>
Four Points Two Distances Proof ... You can follow me on Mathstodon.

Of course, you can also
follow me on twitter:


Send us a comment ...

You can send us a message here. It doesn't get published, it just sends us an email, and is an easy way to ask any questions, or make any comments, without having to send a separate email. So just fill in the boxes and then

Your name :
Email :
Message :



Links on this page

Site hosted by Colin and Rachel Wright:
  • Maths, Design, Juggling, Computing,
  • Embroidery, Proof-reading,
  • and other clever stuff.

Suggest a change ( <-- What does this mean?) / Send me email
Front Page / All pages by date / Site overview / Top of page

Universally Browser Friendly     Quotation from
Tim Berners-Lee
    Valid HTML 3.2!