A L (Larry) Blakers was an undergraduate student at the University of Western Australia and their very first student to do honours in mathematics. After serving in the war, he did his postgraduate studies at Princeton. His research from this time led to the important Blakers-Massey Theorem in homotopy theory.
In 1952 he returned to UWA as Professor and Head of the Department of Mathematics where he remained until his retirement in 1982. When he started the department it had only 4 staff members and when he retired it had grown to over three dozen.
He was instrumental in setting up three professional associations: the Australian Mathematical Society, the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers and the Mathematical Association of Western Australia (MAWA). In 1969 Larry became the founder and first Director of the National Mathematics Summer School. He remained Director until 1992.
The value of Larry’s work was recognized by election to a Fellowship of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science (ANZAAS), award of Membership of the Order of Australia, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal, and an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) from the ANU.
Here is an excerpt of a foreword that Larry wrote in 1986 for the Australian Maths Olympiad Committee:
The first International Mathematical Olympiad was held in 1959. In that year I participated (in the USA) in my first residential summer school for mathematically talented High School students. Stimulated by the experience I returned to Australia to found both state and national mathematics summer schools, with the broad object of recognising and fostering mathematical talent in the upper secondary level.
Other Australian mathematicians and educators have picked up the olympiad concept and have developed it into a vigorous and dedicated Australian program, leading to participation in the IMO. The general objectives of this program are distinctly similar to those of the National Mathematics Summer School.
In view of these common objectives, it is not surprising that IMO and NMSS frequently have common students, and it is becoming increasingly clear that the two activities are complementary, each in some way supports the other. There is also common ground in the difficulty that both programs have experienced in securing long-term financial sponsorship!
A few years ago there was a naive view abroad that the increasing sophistication and availability of computers would progressively diminish the need for a strong and universal education in mathematics. In fact precisely the opposite is happening, with more and more aspects of our society becoming amenable to mathematical modelling and analysis. It is now clear that there is a need for a stronger mathematical education at all levels. In addition to the need for programs such as the Mathematical Olympiads for students at all levels across the ability spectrum. Too many of our present school leavers have had unsatisfactory mathematics experiences which leave them with negligible skills and understanding, and with an unhealthy dislike and fear of mathematics.