I was born on March 29, 1955 in Whangarei, New Zealand (basic facts about New Zealand can be found here). I have two sisters, Madeline, born August 18, 1956, and Vanessa, born December 13, 1957. My mother, Sylvia, was born on October 28, 1919, and my father, Sholto, was born on April 25, 1927. My full name is Sholto Paul Smith. Sholto is an unusual name. There is a bad guy in Sherlock Holmes's ``The Sign of Four called John Sholto.
From ages 5 to 10 I lived in Whau Valley Road, Whangarei, and attended Whau Valley Primary School. This was a pretty nice school, typical of small-town New Zealand. It was about half-a-mile from my house, and I walked there each day, usually in bare feet. I remember trying to get there early in the morning so I would have plenty of time to play with my friends before school began. We would usually have a game of rugby or cricket before school began. Another favorite game was bull-rush. Whau Valley Primary celebrates its 75th anniversary in 1999. At that time Whangarei had a population of around twenty thousand. I finished primary school at age 10, in 1965, and spent the next six years as a boarder at King's School and King's College, both in Auckland. These schools are modelled on English public (meaning private!?) schools. As a child my dream was to play Rugby for the All Blacks, New Zealand's national team. In the 1960's rugby was the central feature of New Zealand life. It's importance today can be deduced from the fact that there is even a national wheelchair rugby competition.
I was a student at the University of Auckland for two years, and finished my B.Sc. at Canterbury University two years later in 1975. I promptly left New Zealand and went to France. I quickly discovered that France and New Zealand have a reciprocal relationship based on mutual distrust; it is illegal for a New Zealander to work in France, and illegal for a French citizen to work in New Zealand. Consequently, my worldly possessions of $500 quickly disappeared, forcing me to seek success in England. Since my father's parents were born in England I was able to work there. However, with hair down to my shoulders, and a beard, most potential employers were reluctant to take me on. I had a job for two weeks packing televisions and radios in boxes, and a job for two hours cleaning toilets. Feeling like Samson, I cut my hair, and shaved, got a loan for one hundred pounds from Barclay's Bank, bought myself a suit, and briefcase, and soon found a job as a computer programmer at Datastream in London. I worked there for some two years, mostly as a systems programmer designing systems to provide computerized financial services to investment institutions. Most days in the business section of the New York Times you will find a graph from Datastream, some of which must use some code I wrote.
While at Datastream, I did an M.Sc. at Birkbeck College, which is part of the University of London. I attended a marvellous course on non-commutative rings given by Steve Ginn, which inspired me to do a Ph.D. With Steve's encouragement I applied to the University of Leeds, and they were foolish enough to offer me a scholarship. So in 1978 I returned to a life of poverty as a student. I finished my Ph.D. in 1981. I spent the next two years as an Assistant Professor at USC in Los Angeles. I enjoyed living in LA. I was lucky enough to be offered a research fellowship at the University of Warwick. It was, and is, a wonderful place to do mathematics. First, the architecture of the Mathematics Institute seems to encourage people to emerge from their offices and interact with others; further encouragement is provided by the ritual of morning coffee and afternoon tea in the lounge. What ever the cause, there is an atmosphere of friendly interaction and mutual enjoyment of mathematics that I have never found in any other place. I bought a house in Leamington Spa, a small and pretty spa town with lovely public gardens, some eight miles from the University. Sadly, after three years my fellowship ended. I had to make a big decision about where I wished to live, and settle down. For the past fifteen years I had moved every two or three years, and felt the need to stay in one place and put down some roots.
I applied to many places in the States, including UW. I was lucky enough to get a position here, so came in 1986.
I am the father of Sam, who was born on February 28, 1992.
Most of my time is spent doing mathematics, being with Sam. I like to cook, eat, read, hike, run......sleep.