Simon Norton Obituary

Simon Norton, a renowned mathematician, passed away at the age of 66 due to a heart attack. Despite his immense talent, Norton was sometimes mistaken for a homeless man. During the late 1960s, Norton represented Great Britain thrice at the International Mathematical Olympiads. Each time, he achieved the highest score, once even receiving a perfect score of 100%. Norton’s unique talent resided in his ability to explain complex theories in simplistic terms elegantly. His expertise lay in abstracts, imaginary numbers, infinity, and prime distribution.

Norton acquired his first degree in Mathematics at Imperial College, London, while he was still in school. However, upon joining Cambridge University, he wasn’t allowed to pursue a Ph.D. immediately. Instead, the mathematics department ordered Norton to repeat his final degree year, causing him to falter for the first time in his academic journey. Norton got only 13 out of 52 alphas in his finals, a far cry from his previous successes. Famous lore narrates that Norton, despite his struggles, was still nowhere near the top of his class. He almost failed his Part III Mathematics which was crucial for anyone interested in research.

Thankfully, Norton’s career trajectory changed positively when he began working with John Conway, a playful and brilliant mathematician, on the Atlas of Finite Groups. The Atlas aimed to catalogue all the fundamental symmetry types, each of which could have different ‘orders.’ Norton became particularly interested in a classification termed ‘the Monster’. He uncovered a uniquely unearthly aspect of group theory – Monstrous Moonshine. When asked to explain this concept, Norton famously quipped, "It is the voice of God."

Apart from his talents in mathematics, Norton was also fond of forming anagrams and playing backgammon. He generated many casual anagrams and solved a tricky one with almost no delay. Norton was remembered for his modesty, with a preference for solving puzzles over defeating people.

During the 15 years it took to write the Atlas, Simon gave an answer that was incorrect for the first time when working with Conway, which the latter noticed immediately. This was the beginning of the end of Simon’s success story. His slide was neither due to a loss of talent nor focus, but it was impossible to determine the cause. Norton’s appearance became increasingly dishevelled over time, with his love for public transport evident from the greasy holdall that he always carried.

Norton’s father ran a family jewellery business but was a distant figure. Norton’s mother, Elaine, identified his mathematical prowess when he was less than two years old. As opposed to throwing toys around, he would stack and organise them. He scored 178 on his IQ test, aged three.

In conclusion, Simon Norton was a rare mathematician who tackled his subject with playful exuberance. Norton’s unique abilities lay in elucidating complex mathematics concepts using simple language. Despite his unconventional appearance, Norton’s exceptional talent will be missed but not forgotten.

In his later years, he possessed a residence in the city of Cambridge and was renowned for his benevolence. He was the sole landlord to reduce his rental charges when the poll tax was introduced by Margaret Thatcher. There were occasions where prospective tenants were presented with a mathematical conundrum, such as deciphering the numerical values that correspond to each letter in the multiplication problem ‘SIMON x P = NORTON’ (there exist two potential solutions). Upon my tenancy in 1995, I encountered him for the first time, and I later documented his biography under the title ‘Simon, The Genius in My Basement’ in 2011.

Simon harboured a deep fondness for public transport, which began in his youth as he would frequently embark upon bus and train rides throughout the country. As he matured, he became an influential advocate against automobiles and authored a witty and regular newsletter for the Campaign for Better Transport. He also made an annual contribution of £10,000 to finance a reward for transport activism, in which he displayed immense satisfaction when one of his recipients glued himself to Gordon Brown. Despite his descent into mathematical inscrutability, Simon became a triumphant and inspiring figure, unfettered by resentment, envy or the sentiment of failure.

He is survived by his siblings, Michael and Francis.


  • tenleylancaster

    Tenley Lancaster is a 34-year-old educational blogger and student. She enjoys writing about topics related to education, including but not limited to student motivation, learning styles, and effective study techniques. Tenley has also written for various websites and magazines, and is currently working on her first book. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, and traveling.