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Community remembers Raymond Ayoub

by Arthur Goldschmidt

Centre region lost an esteemed friend of working people and of the peace movement early last month. Raymond G. Ayoub, whose ninetieth birthday was celebrated by friends and family three days before his death, was a world-renowned mathematician, one of Penn State’s master teachers, a devoted student of Quaker history and a founder of Foxdale Village Retirement Community in State College.
Ayoub was always interested in opening doors for people who were disadvantaged. Even in his last days he expressed concern about whether the nursing and wait staff in Foxdale were adequately paid for their services.
He never forgot the poverty of his family when he was young. His parents, both immigrants to Montreal from Syria, had twelve children, of whom only four lived to maturity. His father opened a succession of marginal shops in various locations, with little success. Raymond wrote a touching article for the spring 2011 issue of “Miscellany,” Foxdale’s literary magazine, about his mother’s peddling sewing supplies to women in Quebec Province when the only language she could speak was Arabic.
Even though Raymond Ayoub graduated from high school as the number one student in all Quebec, McGill University refused to award him a scholarship because he was the son of foreign parents. His older sister paid his first semester tuition, and he became an honors student in mathematics and editor of the McGill’s daily newspaper. He later earned his mathematics Ph.D. from Illinois.
His concern for young people held back by poverty or prejudice was also evident in his service on the Diversity Committee of the American Mathematical Society and in his own department, where he secured assistantships and some teaching positions for talented African Americans and other minorities.
Ayoub became a convinced Quaker because of an influential McGill professor, the father of his future wife, Christine. The Ayoubs became active in the State College Friends Meeting when they moved to State College after both were invited to join Penn State’s Mathematics Department in 1952. Although never a participant in protest demonstrations, he spoke quietly and firmly for peace between nations and objected to belligerent attitudes and policies, in accordance with Quaker principles.
As a part of his effort to promote international understanding, he spent his sabbatical leaves from Penn State teaching abroad: the University of Frankfurt, Germany; the Institut des Hautes Etudes in Bures-sur-Yvette, France; and the University of Warwick. After taking early retirement in 1984, he taught in King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Bethlehem University in the Israel-administered West Bank; Aleppo, Syria; and Jordan. Without becoming political, he often spoke out in support of Arab culture.
Ayoub was the man who gave the name to Foxdale, honoring George Fox, who founded the Quaker movement, and the Dale family who had once owned and farmed the land on which the retirement community came to be built. Working with Barton and Jane Jenks, Elton and Alice Atwater, and Ral