John Charles Fields

John Charles Fields was born in Hamilton, Ontario, then Upper Canada, in 1863. Fields graduated from the University of Toronto in 1884, and then left to study at Johns Hopkins University. Fields was awarded a Ph.D. in 1887. His thesis was entitled Symbolic Finite Solutions and Solutions by Definite Integrals of the Equation dny/dxn = xmy. After teaching at Johns Hopkins for two years, he joined the faculty of Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh. Fields was understandably dissatisfied with the state of mathematics in North America at that time, and in 1891 he left for Europe to spend the next 10 years there, combining a modest inheritance from his parents with economical living habits. Fields returned to Canada in 1902 as a special lecturer at the University of Toronto. He remained at the University of Toronto for the rest of his life.
Fields is of course best known for establishing what is now known as the “Fields Medal” –the premier award in Mathematics, often called the “Nobel Prize in Mathematics”. After completing the proceedings of the 1928 Congress, he proceeded with the planning of the award of the first medals, but fell ill in May of 1932 and died in August.
Just before his death, with his friend and colleague J.L.Synge at his bedside, he made his will.It included an amount of $47,000 to be added to the funds for the medal. Fields is buried in the Hamilton Cemetery overlooking the western end of Lake Ontario (“Cootes Paradise”, where McMaster University is also located). His gravestone could not be more modest short of not being there at all. It is set into the ground flat, is about 22 inches by 16 inches and simply says "J.C.Fields, born May 14, 1863, died August 9, 1932 ".

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