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Mountaineer, mathematician Richard Guy dies at 103

“Richard was a strong independent person always willing to fend for himself and wanting little help from others. He loved a good joke and his laughter was infectious."

Richard Guy often said he was the luckiest man in the world.

“I was married to the best wife in the world for 70 years and I was paid for doing what I like doing,” Guy told his close friend and biographer, Chic Scott.

Among Guy’s great loves were mathematics and the mountains, which he explored with his true love, Louise.

Richard Guy died on March 9 at the age of 103. Louise died in 2010 at the age of 92.

Scott’s friendship with Richard and Louise began in the early 1980s when they joined outings with the Calgary Mountain Club (CMC).

“Since then we have shared many adventures together,” Scott said.

“We skied across the giant glaciers below Mount Logan, an Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) camp on Mount Waddington and a ski trip to the Shangri La cabin near Jasper. Our last big outing was in 2007, when Richard and Louise and I skied the 11 kilometres to Lake O'Hara Lodge. Louise was 89 and Richard was 91 at the time.”

Among the favourite stories Scott likes to share describes how, when Guy reached 95 years of age, Scott, nearly 30 years younger, said he looked forward to helping him celebrate his 100th birthday.

“Richard replied, ‘Well Chic, you're in pretty good shape. You'll probably make it,’ ” Scott said.

Known and admired for his sharp sense of humour, no matter his attire, Guy usually sported a custom-made button that declared, “Peace is a Disarming Concept."

“Richard and Louise and I shared a love of the mountains, but we also shared a love of all things beautiful and wise – good literature, good music and enlightened conversation,” Scott said.

“Richard and I played chess in his later years, but I could never beat him. They became like a second set of parents for me. They supported me in all my projects. When I was hungry, they fed me and cheered me up. When I was working on the Hans Gmoser film project, Richard donated $10,000.”

A native of Britain, Guy was a mathematics prodigy who graduated from Cambridge University in 1938. He met Louise in 1937 and their romance blossomed – both liked to dance, and they shared a love for mountains. After Richard’s teaching career had them living in Singapore and Delhi for many years while their children, Elizabeth, Michael and Peter attended boarding school back in Britain, at nearly 50 and with their children grown, the couple embarked on a new life in Canada.

In the mid-1960s, Guy took a position teaching mathematics at the University of Calgary and was soon made head of the program. Even though he formally retired in 1982 having authored a dozen books and more than 300 academic articles, he continued to go to his office five days a week and worked with researchers and grad students. His last trip to his office was just two weeks before his death.

“Richard always had pencil and paper with him, in the mountains or anywhere else,” said Cochrane resident Jane Lancaster, whose father, also a mathematician and mountaineer, taught with Guy at the University of Malaya in Singapore.

Both families emigrated to Alberta and remained close ever since.

“He would be absorbed in some thought, happy to be with people, but completely focused on mathematics," Lancaster said. 

"Louise and the mountains gave his life a balance that served him well.”

Guy and Louise were admired among fellow mountain lovers and members of the CMC and the ACC not only for their impressive stamina, but also for their good company. Louise attended 31 of the ACC’s annual General Mountaineering Camps, Richard 29.

For many years they celebrated his birthday at Assiniboine backcountry lodge, where for his 90th birthday he climbed to the 2,996-metre summit of the Towers. He returned for his 100th birthday and hiked six kilometres to Wonder Pass, then the next day, hiked to the top of the Niblet. In 2012, he made the steep hike up Ha Ling with close friends and Louise’s ashes.

“The descent was incredibly difficult for Richard and he had to dig deep to get down safely. But he never lost his sense of humour,” Scott wrote in his biographical booklet, Young at Heart: The Inspirational Lives of Richard and Louise Guy.

“Both Louise and Richard lived life fully and were not constrained by expectations of age,” Lancaster said. “They were very frugal when it came to material possessions, but very generous to others and the causes they believed in.”

Testimony to their devotion to the mountains, the Guys donated generously. The ACC’s Louise and Richard Guy Hut was built thanks in large part to its namesakes. The couple also gained many admirers for their dedication to the Alberta Wilderness Association’s annual fundraising climb of the Calgary Tower. After Louise’s death, Richard climbed the stairs wearing a photo of Louise around his neck.

“Richard and Louise had a greatness of spirit,” Scott said. “They were kind, generous and giving people. They had many friends, young people in particular.”

Among their most admired attributes was the example they set of cultivating friendships with all ages of companions, said close friends Chuck and Lesley Young.

“Richard and Louise reminded us to live life to its fullest,” Lesley said. “To keep on going and to always welcome and get to know those who are younger than us. They were a special pair.”

With their friendship dating back to the 1980s, Chuck Young said Richard made a large impact and his and his wife, Lesley’s lives.

“Richard was a strong independent person always willing to fend for himself and wanting little help from others,” Chuck said.

“He loved a good joke and his laughter was infectious. They both impacted our lives by showing us how to keep active and interact with the young and old. Keep doing the things you love.”