Alan Turing's obituaries

David Stutz has posted a small collection of obituaries for Alan Turing after he was hounded to suicide as a punishment for being gay. Here's my favorite:

“For those who knew him here [at Sherborne] the memory is of an even-tempered, lovable character with an impish sense of humour and a modesty proof against all achievement. You would not take him for a Wrangler, the youngest Fellow of King’s and the youngest F.R.S. [Fellow of the Royal Society], or as a Marathon runner, or that behind a negligé appearance he was intensely practical. Rather you recollected him as one who buttered his porridge, brewed scientific concoctions in his study, suspended a weighted string from the staircase wall and set it swinging before Chapel to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth by its change of direcction by noon, produced proofs of the postulates of Euclid, or brought bottles of imprisoned flies to study their “decadence” by inbreeding. On holidays in Cornwall or Sark he was a lively companion even to the extent of mixed bathing at midnight. During the war he was engaged in breaking down enemy codes, and had under him a regiment of girls, supervised to his amusement by a dragon of a female. His work was hush-hush, not to be divulged even to his mother. For it he was awarded the O.B.E. He also adopted a young Jewish refugee and saw him through his education. Besides long distance running, his hobbies were gardening and chess; and occasionally realistic water-colour painting.

In all his preoccupation with logic, mathematics, and science he never lost the common touch; in a short life he accomplished much, and to the roll of great names in the history of his particular studies added his own.” — The Sherbornian, Summer Term 1954

obituary quotations


  1. The losses to Mathematics and technology because of his premature death is insurmountable.

  2. I get a little weepy whenever I think of Alan Turing.  His contributions to math and computer science can not be underestimated.  On top of those great achievements, he is probably responsible for more saved lives than any other single human during World War II.  The months or years he shaved off the war with his code breaking efforts saved countless lives on all sides. For those things along, he is more than deserving of our highest esteem and praise.

    What makes me ill is how this great man was treated.  A man he was having relations with committed a crime and Turing dutifully turned him in.  In the course of the investigation Turing explained his relation and was promptly charged for having gay sex, which was a crime at the time.  The government offered up probation and chemical castration or jail.  He took castration.  Not much long after he killed himself.

    A guy who made epic contributions to science and saved millions got castrated by the government he worked to protect when attempting to do the right thing and turn in a criminal.  Why?  Because he was gay.

    If that isn’t tragic and disgusting, I don’t know what is.  Every time I hear that douche bag Santorum and his worthless ilk spew their hateful bullshit, I think of Alan Turing.

  3. The losses to Mathematics and technology because of his premature death is insurmountable.

  4. FYI A Wrangler is someone who gets a First in their final and penultimate years of their Maths degree at Cambridge University. I know this because a friend of mine is a Wrangler and he takes great delight in implying he used to round up horses in the Wild West.  

  5. Mr Alan Turing helped save countless lives through his efforts in the Enigma Project. For this achievement alone, Mr Turing must from now on be referred to as Sir Alan.

    Because Her Majesty feels She MUST be bound by a value system BEFORE the existence of the machine gun, the submarine, the bomb dropped from the air and the rocket, Mr Turing should NOT be, from now on, referred to as Sir Alan.

    Any questions?

    1. Yeah I know I’m crossing the chronological wires for emotional purpose, but what’s right is right.

      BTW, kudos to Jaron Lanier, who’s championed the Turing cause forever. It was during a train ride from Zurich to Munich in 1995 when I first read about Turing in a magazine, the article was by Mr Lanier.

  6. I didn’t know he had adopted a Jewish refugee fleeing the Nazis. I wonder what happened to them in later life?

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