Canadian math phenom’s life cut short by tragedy

Robert Barrington Leigh’s teammates say they were looking forward to another year with him on the University of Toronto programming team.

But Sean Henderson, who will be going into his fourth year of computer science at U of T, and Henry Wong, who will be starting his masters in computer engineering at UBC this fall, won’t get to compete with Barrington Leigh this year. The body of the third-year mathematics student was found in a downtown Edmonton creek on Tuesday, over a week after he was first reported missing.

“The death of Robert Barrington Leigh is a tragic loss for his family and friends, and for the mathematics community,” said Edward Bierstone, a mathematics professor at U of T, in an e-mail, adding he was extremely concerned when he learned of his disappearance. “It was highly uncharacteristic of his behaviour to be out of contact with his family, teachers and friends for even a short period of time.”

Barrington Leigh, 20, began his studies at U of T three years ago. Bierstone met him when he enrolled in his third-year complex analysis course as a first-year student.

“He was by far the best student in the class,” said Bierstone, adding that Barrington Leigh was already taking graduate courses by the time he was in his second year. spoke with Barrington Leigh at this spring’s IBM ACM or Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) World Finals in San Antonio, Texas. The U of T team tied for 19th place with 20 other teams at this year’s World Finals.

Henderson, one of Leigh’s teammates, met Barrington Leigh in early 2004 after the ACM contests that year. In an e-mail, Henderson recalled one of the first times he practiced with him: “I remember discussing one problem which Robert had solved,” he said. “I also remember at the time having no idea how he solved it. Eventually he managed to explain it to me, and that only made me more impressed.”

Barrington Leigh’s other teammate, Wong, said in an e-mail, while he was known for his mathematical abilities, he excelled in other subjects, such as physics.

“He had a curiosity in pretty much anything,” said Wong. “I remember discussing IPv6, a normally boring topic, over pizza during one of our ACM practices.”

A Web site has been set up in Barrington Leigh’s honour where friends and people who knew him can record a memory. Igor Naverniouk, who met Barrington Leigh at one of the ACM practices, said he was one of the smartest and kindest people he has ever met.

“Everyone who knew Robert had the greatest respect for him,” said Naverniouk in an e-mail. “Everyone on the team knew what a great person he was, and I doubt I will ever meet anyone like him.”

Barrington Leigh would have graduated this year.

“I expected him to go on to graduate studies at one of the world’s top universities and to have a brilliant career,” said Bierstone.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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