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 Ralph and Kamilla Way (who provided the land), Raymond and Christine Ayoub overcame all obstacles and brought Foxdale Village Retirement Community to completion in 1991.
According to Christine, Raymond visited the Quadrangle, a retirement community in Haverford, and persuaded its management to let him read its Certificate of Need as he drafted the comparable document for Foxdale. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requires any group founding a retirement home to certify that there is a need in the community for additional beds.
Jane Jenks Small described Ayoub as “exceedingly kind and generous.” She recalled an incident many years ago, in the days before credit cards, when she was shopping in downtown State College and saw a dress that she wanted to buy but discovered she hadn’t brought enough money in her purse to pay for it. Upon stepping outside the store, she encountered Raymond Ayoub, who sensed her chagrin and, upon hearing her predicament, immediately offered to lend her the extra cash needed to buy the dress.
He was unfailingly polite, “a true gentleman” in the words of another friend, Howard Palmer. Ayoub’s sense of humor, his fondness for quoting poetry and his quiet dignity were qualities that made him liked and respected by all Foxdale residents.
Ayoub wrote a book on the philosophy of mathematics called “Musings of the Masters,” drawing on the writings of mathematicians from many countries. He also wrote commentaries on the quoted passages, many of which he translated from French, German or Italian.
Ayoub proposed to give a lecture about the history of mathematical thought to be sponsored by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The lecture had been scheduled in mid-January, after the date of his death.
The memorial service for Raymond Ayoub will be held in the auditorium of Foxdale Village, 500 East Marylyn Ave., State College, on Saturday, Feb. 9, at 2 p.m.