In memoriam: Martial Agueh

Wednesday September 14, 2016, was a very sad day for the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. We lost a faculty member, a great faculty member. That morning, the news came that Professor Martial Agueh has passed away after a short illness.

Professor Agueh was born and grew up in Benin, Martial AguehWest Africa, and did his bachelors in mathematics and a postgraduate diploma (DEA) in mathematical physics there. He then went to the Netherlands for a short period before joining Georgia Tech for a PhD in applied mathematics.  He came to UVic in 2005 after completing two post docs, one at UBC and one at Carnegie Mellon University.

Martial leaves behind a wife and two young children. His death is a big loss to his family and friends. He was always cheerful, rain or shine, and everybody loved to be around him and work with him. Martial’s death is also a big loss to his colleagues, the department and to UVic. His students simply loved him. He was a strong mathematician who was cut down in the midst of his ascent. 

Martial’s area of research was in partial differential equations, a branch of applied mathematics sometimes known as mathematical physics. His main expertise is in the theory of optimal transport, put forward many years ago but revived during the last two decades or so because of renewed interest from a few French mathematicians including the Fields medalist Cedric Villani. Martial’s contributions came in the form of very clever applications of this theory in many different areas of applied mathematics, most of which are original and unique.

His lectures were always very clear. He spoke loudly, wrote clearly, and his enthusiasm and love for his research were contagious. It was hard not to engage with him when you heard him lecture. He had the ability to make seemingly dull things interesting and enjoyable and made the very complex seem simple. Many internationally renowned mathematicians were impressed when they heard his lectures. At the time he was hired at UVic he had mainly touched on the topics of geometric inequalities and gradient flows. By his generosity, charisma, and collegiality, he attracted several colleagues to collaborate with him and expanded his research toward kinetic theory, math biology, and fluid mechanics.

The originality of his research made him very popular in his field and he was regularly invited to workshops and conferences worldwide. He spent substantial time in France, Spain, South Korea, Australia, Italy, and Africa among other places (not mentioning many Canadian and US cities) and he has made many friends and collaborators all around the world.

Martial’s popularity and generosity grew beyond the workplace and the circle of family and friends. He was involved in many charitable organizations and initiatives, including his devotion to his church where he spent a lot of time helping those in need, as well as independent organizations such as Operation Trackshoes, which organizes sporting and entertainment activities for people with disabilities, and the Knights of Columbus, who run soccer and basketball tournaments for young kids.

Prayer and visitation service will be on Thursday, October 6, 2016 at 7-8pm. Funeral service will be on Friday, October 7, 2016 at 12:10pm. Everyone welcome. Both services will be at the St. Patrick's Church, 2060 Haultain St. Victoria, BC (in Oak Bay between Foul Bay and Cadboro Bay Roads). Burial will take place at Hatley Memorial Gardens near Royal Roads University.

A fund is being set up to assist the family with the financial hardships that arise from Martial's untimely death. Contributions may be made by cheque, cash or internet transfer until November 30th, 2016. B. Khouider and R. Illner have set up a bank account for this purpose:

Account No.: 5529891
Account Holders: Boualem Khouider and Reinhard Illner
Bank: CIBC,  Transit No. 04930
Branch Address: 3970 Shelbourne Street, Victoria BC V8N 3E2
Swift Code: CIBCCATT
IBAN# cc0010 (04930)
Routing# 026009092

Cheques can also be sent to the department:

Attn.  B. Khouider
Mathematics and Statistics
University of Victoria
PO Box 1700
Victoria BC V8W 2Y2

Nassif Ghoussoub, post-doc mentor and close collaborator, Professor at UBC (Prof. Ghoussoub has a UVic honorary doctorate among many other prestigious national and international honors and awards):

First of all, Martial was an excellent mathematician. I was his postdoctoral supervisor at UBC, yet I learned more from him than the other way around. Martial was not born in privilege, yet he always looked like the happiest person in the crowd. Martial earned everything he got in life, often the hard way, yet he was the most generous of friends. Martial illustrated every hope he and many of us had for a modern, developed and prosperous Africa. He went back to Benin often with his thesis supervisor Wilfrid Gangbo, to teach and mentor the new generation of African Mathematicians. What a great loss to his country and his continent, not to mention his young family, the University of Victoria, and Canadian Mathematics. The unfairness of his passing at such a young age, at the height of his mathematical powers, and leaving such a young family has been devastating to his friends and colleagues around the world.

Louis-Philip Saumiers, former graduate student, currently an Assistant Professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University:

Martial was my M.Sc. and PhD supervisor, but he was much more than that. He was someone I could always go to for anything. He was always looking out for me, professionally and personally. His energy and positive attitude were contagious. I was always looking forward to our meetings, where we could try to solve difficult problems for hours, but where he would always remain upbeat and positive. His guidance over the years has truly been invaluable to me. He helped me become who I am now, and I am forever grateful to him. Martial was someone who cared. He cared about his family, about his friends, about his students, about his colleagues, about his community. He will always be with us.

Guillaume Carlier, long-time collaborator, Professor at the University of Paris:

The  death of our dear friend Martial Agueh is a huge shock. Martial fought his disease with an immense courage. Martial even gave a great talk in Montreal last July, most researchers in the audience were unaware of Martial’s health problems and his talk was so brilliant and generous that nobody could have guessed….

I remember very well when I met Martial for the first time, it was at an optimal transport conference organized by Robert McCann in Toronto in 2001, I was immediately impressed by Martial’s unique style and enthusiasm, his natural authority and his passion for mathematics. We became friends a few years after, when Martial was in Vancouver and we really started working together after a meeting in Banff in 2008. Well, the word «working» is maybe not the most appropriate one, indeed doing math with Martial was so much fun! Martial was always optimistic and had a great taste for a variety of challenging problems and was extremely generous in exchanging ideas. I  had the great opportunity to spend one year at the math and stats department at UVic to work with Martial in 2014-2015, this was an extremely happy (and actually quite productive) period. Thanks to Martial, I quickly felt at home at UVic where Martial had so many excellent friends (the «happy crowd», quoting Reinhard Illner’s own words). 

Martial’s incredible smile, his powerful and hearty laughter will remain in our minds and hearts forever. My thoughts are with his wonderful family, Kade, Jean Marc and Annie, and with all friends at UVic in this tragic moment.