In Memory


Loren Olson

Loren D. Olson died unexpectedly 22. June in Tromsoe.A pioneer in mathematics- and science at the University of Tromsoe, a good friend a beloved colleague, has passed away. Olson was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota in 1942, where he grew up in an environment with strong Norwegian roots.

He completed his bachelor’s degree at Harvard University in 1964, and received his Ph.D. in mathematics at Columbia University in 1968. He then was instructor at the University of California at Berkeley, until he found his way to Norway in 1970. He lived and worked here for the rest of his life.

From childhood Loren had learned a Norwegian based on the dialects in Hallingdal and Valdres in the 18-hundreds. When he came to Norway, he quickly learned official current Norwegian, over which he soon obtained near perfect control.

During the years 1970 to 1975 Olson was employed by the universities of Oslo and Bergen, and in 1975 he became professor of pure mathematics at the University of Tromsoe. He was here until 2013 when he retired and became professor emeritus same place.

With his work in the late sixties and in the seventies Olson established himself as a capacity in number theory and elliptical curves. These are fields that have been decisive for secure communication on the Internet. With his extensive contact network he gave mathematics at Tromsoe significant impulses. Here he guided several doctor students and many master students.

Loren Olson was a highly valued coworker and colleague, and he will be deeply missed. He dedicated most of his professional life to building and running the professional field of mathematics at the University of Tromsoe.



Institute for mathematics and statistics, University of Tromsoe.

Dear Gay And Joy,

   It is time for me to bring the sad news about Loren’s death to you. I tried to call you earlier, but my voice failed me. Now, I have found your e-mail-address, which makes things easier. It is also easier to talk about things now.

   Loren got a severe stroke on June 22, and he died just a few hours later.

   This was so unexpected. We had recently come home from The US, where Loren celebrated at Harvard, the 50th reunion. We rested a few days at our cabin when we came back, and then returned to Tromsø.

   Loren had retired and was professor emeritus, but enjoyed doing small jobs at the University Library.2-3 hours a day. He didn’t feel too good when we came home, but nothing alarming. Just fatigue from all the travelling. And then he got a stroke on Sunday. The ambulance came immediately, but there was nothing they could do. I did not get contact with him again.

   There was a funeral service for Loren in Tromsø, but there will also be a memorial for him in Oslo where he will have his grave.

    Loren’s friend from Harvard, Dave Jackson, sent me some words which I read in church, and which I would like to pass on to friends. So I attach them so that you can read too.

   I will also forward a good picture of Loren, which reflects Loren’s personality. That will be forwarded in a separate e-mail, I am not so good at handling pictures online.

   Could you please send a message to Loren’s classmates in Grand Forks? We enjoyed seeing people the  last time we were there, and had planned to go back to the next reunion.

   I have good support in our son Lars and his wife Alina. We have spent much time together this summer and that has been comforting for all of us. But I feel the loss every day, Loren was such a great man.

   This was the message I wanted to share with you. I know this is late, but I had to be ready before I started writing. I hope that all is well with you.


Kind regards,



Goril Hesstvedt

Baatsmannsvegen 17

9014 Haapet




Cell phone: +47 47373384

Remarks by David Jackson, friend and classmate of Loren’s at Harvard

I first got to know Loren in the fall of 1960 when we were both assigned to nearly adjacent rooms in the same first-year student dormitory at Harvard. In addition, Loren’s roommate and I had gone to high school together, so it was easy to get to know Loren early on. 

Loren was not a typical Harvard student at that time.  He was from Grand Forks, North Dakota, a prairie state of great open plains that had been settled by many people of Norwegian heritage.  He was one of only two students from his high school admitted to Harvard that year, and the two of them were the only ones from the entire state of North Dakota.  About half the students at Harvard at that time were from private schools and generally had better preparation for college than those of us from public high schools, requiring those of us from public high schools to work particularly hard that first year. 

Loren knew right from the start that he wanted to get his degree in mathematics.  He was the one who explained to me, who was struggling with calculus at the time, that real mathematicians didn’t use numbers, just symbols.  I’m not sure that either of us knew enough at that time to be consciously planning on careers as academics, but the kinds of interests we had in our subject matter was certainly pointing in that direction. 

Loren had a very down-to-earth personality that was leavened by a dry, self-deprecating sense of humor.  He was not one to pontificate about anything and most people rarely saw him express great enthusiasms.  However, as we got to know each other better, he would talk very enthusiastically about certain of his math courses and certain of the professors.  Even 50 years later, I remember his enthusiasm for a very young and very gifted Harvard professor named Schlomo Sternberg, one of whose special areas of interest was Lie groups.  I still have no real understanding of what a Lie group is, but not for want of trying on Loren’s part.  Loren was also quite interested in the thinking of the theologians Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, who were then at Harvard.   He attended some of their lectures, read several of their books, and enjoyed discussing their ideas.  And I remember a lot of enthusiasm from him when the Harvard Band played the Valdres March at Harvard’s Commencement Exercises.  Even though I had been rehearsing it and playing it with the band for weeks, I had not known it was Norwegian in origin.

As time went on, we got to be even closer friends.  Loren visited my family’s home with me on several school holidays.  On one of these occasions, he and I took our family’s canoe about 300 km north from where my family lived on the Connecticut River, with the intention of canoeing all the way home.  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate.  After two nights of sleeping under the canoe through a series of thunderstorms, getting drenched the whole of the third day by continuous rain, and receiving a forecast of more rain and thunderstorms for the next three days, we decided to cut our trip short and called up my parents to come rescue us. 

After we graduated from college in 1964, Loren went to Columbia to get a Ph. D. in mathematics and I headed out to Stanford in California to get my Ph. D. in molecular biology.  We kept in touch, however, and on one of my periodic trips across the country to see my parents and my girlfriend, I stopped in Grand Forks for several days to visit with him and meet his parents.  I still remember how welcoming they were and how amazed his mother was at the amount of fresh sweet corn Loren and I could eat. Two years after Loren and I graduated from college, Loren was the best man at my wife’s and my wedding.  In 1968 or early 1969, Loren also moved to California to take a position as an instructor in the mathematics department at the University of California at Berkeley, about 80 km from where I was at Stanford.  It was great to once again have Loren relatively nearby instead of on the other side of the country, as we were able to see each other frequently.

The time Loren was at Berkeley was one of great unrest in American universities because of America’s participation in the Viet Nam war and because of a number of profound social changes that were occurring in American society at that time.  Berkeley was the epicenter of much of the unrest that occurred.  Massive student demonstrations occurred several times a week, and students rebelled against any and all authority figures, whether they were university administrators or representatives of local, state and national government and the police powers that those in authority deployed in order to suppress the demonstrations.  Most faculty members, including Loren, were still trying to teach their courses while all this was going on.  On one occasion Loren and his students had to abandon his math class in the middle of his lecture because police helicopters flying over the campus made so much noise that the students could not hear him talking.  Another time his class was interrupted when a brick smashed through one of the windows of the classroom.  He and his students once again had to abandon the classroom when the amount of tear gas coming through the broken window was more than they could tolerate.  There was a period of six months or so when Loren used to say that if he had not smelled tear gas at some point during the day, he would think it had been a pretty boring day.

Loren had also been at Columbia University as a graduate student when one of the great student protests there took place.  At one point, students took over one of the main buildings at Columbia, one in which many of the student administrative records were stored.  One evening during the takeover, he recalled standing in the plaza outside the building watching what he described as a blizzard of paper—hundreds of thousands of pages of student and other administrative records—being thrown out of the upper floors of the building and being scattered by the wind over a large expanse of the Columbia campus.  Many of those records were irretrievably lost. 

Fortunately, not everything in those days was demonstrations and violence.  It was at Berkeley that Loren developed his enthusiasm for hiking, rock climbing, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  I remember how one evening he came to our house for dinner and showed up covered with scratches and bruises.  When I asked him what in the world had happened, he explained that he had been in the mountains with his climbing friends the previous weekend and that they had been practicing falling.  The way they did this was to go up to the top of a cliff, get roped up the way they would be on an actual climb, and then jump off the cliff backwards.  Their friends would haul them back up and they would do it again.  Presumably, they learned something from all this and got fewer scratches and bruises on the last jump than they did on the first one.

Loren and I and other friends also went on several memorable backpacking trips in Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  On one of these, the place we had planned to hike was at about 3,300 meters.  We got there and it was snowing hard and did not look like it was going to stop anytime soon.  Loren and I both decided that discretion was very much the better part of valor in this situation.  We backtracked to Yosemite Valley (about 1300 meters) and hiked up into the mountains from there, never getting much above 2500 meters.  It rained off and on the whole weekend, but we nonetheless had a great time.  Several other groups, who had hiked into the area where we had first planned to go, had to be rescued because of the large amount of snow that had fallen there. 

After Berkeley, Loren left for Norway and we gradually lost touch with one another.  However, we did have two wonderful reunions at our Harvard class’s 25th and very recent 50th reunions.  I will always feel grateful that Loren and I and a number of our friends from college got to spend a very happy four days together at Harvard last month.  It did not seem like 54 years had passed since we had first gotten to know one another.  Loren’s sudden death has been a great shock and has caused great sadness.  He was a wonderful person.  I will miss him deeply.


Click here to see Loren's last Profile entry.