Expert was a linguist

Dr Jim Cross, an internationally recognized mathematics scholar having a remarkable proficiency for languages, also has been passionate about mathematics history and mathematics teaching. He deplored the condition of mathematics teaching in the majority of Australian schools.

James Joseph Cross, known for Jim, was created on March 24, 1937 at Melbourne, the oldest of three sons of railway worker Frederick James Cross and his wife Monica (nee Maloney).  

Dr Jim Cross, maths teacher and historian.
Dr Jim Cross, maths educator and historian.   Photo: Supplied

Born at home at Cecil Street, Yarraville, it was natural that Jim would grow to be a  supporter of the Footscray Football Club. He had been proud to have observed the first Grand Final triumph with his beloved group and 62 decades afterwards in 2016, the second.  

He loved to recall his dad taught him to his mother taught him just two of his cherished pastimes, and he devoured science crime and fantasy fiction. To the end, he forgot his western suburbs origin or lost his not often exhibited, cheeky sense of humor.  

Jim was educated in St Augustine’s Primary School in Yarraville and Christian Brothers College, North Melbourne, prior to spending five years at the novitiate and the analysis of doctrine and biblical languages at a Catholic religious order, the Franciscans.  

Impressed by Jim’s brilliance in mathematics and logic, his superiors counselled him to pursue his passion of mathematics instead of taking vows to enter the Franciscan order. This life-changing decision shaped his academic profession.  

Jim began his research in the University of Melbourne in 1959, completing a Bachelor of Arts  in 1962 along with a Bachelor of Science  in 1966. While    he somehow found time to teach secondary faculty in 1963 in St Augustine’s, and from 1964 to 1966 to lecture in mathematics in the Melbourne Secondary Teachers College.  

His experience with seeing American mathematician Dr Clifford Truesdell, a powerful and charismatic figure at the then rapidly growing field of rational mechanisms, led to an chance to pursue additional studies. He spent 6 months studying at a conference at Delft, Holland, then the United States beckoned, initially at Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore, Maryland, in which he finished a Master of Science in Engineering degree in 1969.

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On December 23, 1969, Jim married Emilia Filisone, “Lia”, whom he had met in the University of Melbourne in 1966. The bride-to-be shot her first overseas flight with two suitcases in tow, one containing her wedding gown. The nuptials took place on a freezing day in Baltimore.

Jim’s driveway for additional education led him to follow his thesis supervisor, Dr C.C. Wang (“Freddie”), to Rice University at Houston, Texas, where he finished his PhD research in 1971. He subsequently published two joint papers on elastic shells and membranes with Dr Wang at 1977.

Throughout his time in America, Jim became acquainted with all the leading lights in the field but instead of taking up postdoctoral work abroad (he fell a position in Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Jim, by feeling homesick, returned to Australia after his PhD research to take a short-term lecturing position in mathematics in the University of Melbourne. He also completed a Graduate Diploma in Education along the way.  

Jim gained an ongoing standing in 1977 and has been promoted to senior lecturer at 1987.

Jim needed the educational profile of some wide scholar, rather than a narrow expert.

But he continued his contacts overseas, especially the American Mathematical Society, and has been famous for his job with an award against the Applied Mechanics Review (AMR), “in admiration for over 10 decades of dedicated and distinguished contribution as a reviewer”.  

He reviewed novels in Russian especially but also in German, French Italian and other languages. Additionally, he translated many things for the benefit of less gifted monolingual Language readers and has been also for some time a part of the Royal Society.

Jim retired in 2000 on his 65th birthday nonetheless remained an active scholar and also tutored privately and educated at a private college, North Shore Coaching College. He had been headhunted by a single of his ex-students working and shortly students were competing to get into his classes. Additionally, he led to the development of teaching and curriculum materials, completely revamping the mathematics syllabus.  

In addition, he continued his affiliation with the then Department of Mathematics and Statistics as a senior fellow till December 2004.

Throughout his research in the united states, Jim became proficient in modern areas of pure mathematics such as algebraic topology and differential geometry, and   has been influential in bringing these subjects in the Melbourne curriculum.

University of Melbourne mathematicians Professor Barry Hughes and Professor Hyam Rubinstein pay tribute to the way Jim expended tremendous energy in his instruction. His devotion to his students was legendary. “Jim wrote notes that are wonderful giving his students a taste for the historical evolution of important mathematical ideas, representing his deep interest in the history of mathematics.”

Most of his scholarly work after his return to Melbourne was associated with the history of mathematics in the UK and Europe in the first half of the 19th century. Professor Hughes notes Jim had the academic profile of some wide scholar, rather than a narrow expert. “He wrote a number of excellent reviews of scholarly books and also contributed significantly to scientific biographies. His other published output was small and under-represented both his intellectual depth and also his contribution to science and mathematics.”  

His research in background proved frequently assisted by his amazing ability to acquire a great working knowledge of additional languages, which at the time of his death embraced Latin, Greek, German, French, Dutch, Hebrew and Italian.  

Professor Hughes said that this came at a price tag. “The time spent in creating this degree of expertise, along with his extensive involvement with various colleagues at consulting job on the programs of national and state sport contests, for example for 17 years that the Australian Football League, delayed progress on his own planned magnum opus in the lifestyles of the mathematician Johann Peter Gustav Dirichlet along with his wife Rebecka, sister of the composer Felix Mendelssohn.”

Jim spent a lengthy period in Germany at 2016 amassing what he expected would be the final info, but his job was incomplete after he suffered a heart attack on Christmas Eve at 2016 after returning home from observing his 47th wedding anniversary. He did not recover and died on January 6.

Jim and Lia decided to have no kids, but Jim is survived by Lia, both younger brothers Gerard and Michael and lots of nephews and nieces.  

* Compiled by Lia Cross, Professor Barry Hughes and Professor Hyam Rubinstein with help from John Stinson and Michael Cross.