The Generosity of Paul Erdos'
The Generosity of Paul Erdos' is legendary. This quote was taken from Paul
Hoffman's 1998 book entitled: "The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: the
story of Paul Erdos and the search for mathematical truth," NY:Hyperion,
What little money Erdos received in stipends or lecture fees he gave
away to relatives, colleagues, students, and strangers. He could not pass
a homeless person without giving him money. "In the early 1960s, when
I was a student at University College London," recalled D. G. Larman,
"Erdos came to visit us for a year. After collecting his first month's
salary he was accosted by a beggar on Euston station, asking for the price
of a cup of tea. Erdos removed a small amount from the pay packet to cover
his own frugal needs and gave the remainder to the beggar." In 1984
he won the prestigious Wolf Prize, the most lucrative award in mathematics.
He contributed most of the $50,000 he received to a scholarship in Israel
he established in the name of his parents. "I kept only seven hundred
and twenty dollars," Erdos said, "and I remember someone commenting
that for me even that was a lot of money to keep." Whenever Erdos learned
of a good cause-a struggling classical music station, a fledgling Native
American movement, a camp for wayward boys-he promptly made a small donation.
"He's been gone a year," said Graham, "and I'm still getting
mail from organizations he gave donations to. Today I got a postcard from
an Israeli girls' home."
In the late 1980s Erdos heard of a promising high school student named Glen
Whitney who wanted to study mathematics at Harvard but was a little short
of the tuition. Erdos arranged to see him and, convinced of the young man's
talent, lent him $1000. He asked Whitney to pay him back only when it would
not cause financial strain. A decade later Graham heard from Whitney, who
as last had the money to repay Erdos. "Did Erdos expect me to pay interest?"
Whitney wondered. "What should I do?" he asked Graham. Graham
talked to Erdos. "Tell him," Erdos said, "to do with the
thousand dollars what I did."
Last updated 23 April 1999
1999 by Duen
Hsi Yen, All rights reserved.
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