Jay Lepreau died five years ago today; I wanted to share a few thoughts about him.
In spring 2000 I had a year of school left. Sarah had graduated and gotten several job offers; Utah was one of them. This seemed like a bit of an odd choice for us except that Jay flew me out and subsequently offered me a postdoc position once I finished up — the chance to work with Jay and his group was one of the main deciding factors for us to move to Utah.
My friend Alastair, who worked for Jay at the same time I did, talked about “the spotlight.” If the spotlight was shining on you, then you had Jay’s full attention; if not, then you might not be able to get his attention at all. Jay was very intense and spent many nights in the office, where he kept a ratty sleeping bag. Routine tasks such as ordering office furniture were put off literally for years, but on the other hand when papers and grant proposals went out, they had a sense of purpose and vision that I’ve spent an awful lot of time trying to recreate on my own.
The best memories I have of working with Jay are of a handful of times where a two or three hour meeting with him resulted in some substantial change in the direction in my work. In particular, I remember one time we met at a cafe near campus, probably in 2002. I showed up in sort of a confused and frustrated state about some piece of work (I don’t even remember what it was) and we just sat out in the sun on this warm day and talked things out for most of the afternoon. Afterward somehow I was no longer frustrated and confused.
Unfortunately I never managed to go on a desert trip with Jay; this short piece, written by a long-time friend of his, gives a sense of what that would have been like. The last time I saw Jay outside of the hospital was in Spring 2008; he and Caroline came over to my house for dinner, I remember it being a really nice evening.