No one is indispensable, we are told. One exception might be Don Albers in his role as acquisitions editor for the various book series of the MAA. The question arose recently when Don informed Executive Director Tina Straley that he will be serving out his current term as Associate Executive Director and Director of Publications but will not be available for another. Needless to say this prompted some quick thinking on the part of Officers and the Executive Director.
Friends of Don and his wife, Geri, have long known that Don and Geri were awaiting the day when they could move back to their California home. Both having been raised in the Minnesota-North Dakota area, perhaps more than some they have an appreciation for the Northern California climate. Combining this with a shared love of hiking and camping in the Western mountains made the decision inevitable. It was only a question of when and some of us were surprised the decision had not come before now.
Fortunately the current plan is to replace Don as Director of Publications with someone who could take on overseeing the publications program in the Washington headquarters, and to convince him to continue as Acquisitions Editor from his new base in California, something that should be easily possible in this age of electronic communication. Don has built the publications program to the point where having an Acquisitions Editor working with the Director of Publications is essential.
It is difficult to imagine our finding someone to replace him in this latter role who would have his experience, his track record, his knowledge of the wide mathematical community, and his extraordinary ability to wheedle manuscripts out of potential authors who otherwise might not have thought about writing a book. Never content to wait for manuscripts to come in through the mail, Don gets an idea for a book and goes out and finds a suitable person to produce it. Under Don's stewardship, MAA book sales have quadrupled since 1991, bringing in $1.6 million last year. Instead of the occasional Carus Monograph that some of us remember as the MAA's book program, roughly twenty new books now appear every year.
As hard as it is to believe at this point, Don did not start out life as an editor and administrator. Born, raised and educated in those cold states in the Northern tier of the country, he came to California in 1968 and joined the faculty of Menlo College, where he served as department chair for 21 years. Don and I met at that time through our having a mutual friend, George Pólya. While at Menlo Don built a superb department of teachers and scholars, a group now sadly dispersed as the result of a decision by the administration there to take the College in a different direction. While at Menlo, though, Don became involved with the MAA as a member of various committees, Chair and later Section Governor of the Northern California Section, Second Vice President, and Editor of the (then) Two-Year College Mathematics Journal. When Don became editor, he changed and broadened the publication so much that by the end of his term as editor in 1984 the words "Two-Year" were dropped from the title. He imaginatively introduced all sorts of new features to the Journal--in his first issue, an interview with Pólya, a column called "The Lighter Side", a section on "Mathematical Gems" by Ross A. Honsberger, "Classics Revisited," "The Signpost: News & Commentary", as well as some unusually lively and witty covers. These were precursors of things to come - and the MAA publications would never be quite the same.
Don not only acquires good material for the MAA publications program, he has published widely himself. He had the idea for the interviews that were a staple in the CMJ for years and became the core of two volumes of the Mathematical People series, an idea now emulated in various publications including the Notices of the AMS. He continues to do interviews, the most recent that with Tina Straley in the September 2005 issue of FOCUS.
Don arrived at the MAA headquarters in 1991 with the title Director of Publications and Programs, overseeing journal publications in addition to the book series, electronic publishing, book production, sales and marketing of publications. His Programs responsibilities included the Placement Tests Program, Student Chapters, Career Information, and MAA Reps. Two years later as technology changed so did his title to Director of Publications and Electronic Services. In that new role he supervised development of MAA Online. Over the years he also has served as the principal investigator on grants related to electronic services and acting as liaison with the Dolciani-Halloran Foundation in their support for Project NExT, with the Educational Advancement Foundation on the American Archives of Mathematics, and with JSTOR. During periods of transition in the Washington office he has taken on additional tasks. He also introduced four new book series (Spectrum, Classroom Resource Materials, Outlooks, and the MAA Problem Books) and was the founding editor of Math Horizons for students. Forming such a student magazine was Don's idea and the magazine has been highly successful.
Probably what he enjoys most, though, is finding good manuscripts. And he knows a good one when he sees one--he seemingly reads everything he can get his hands on. He's always well ahead of most of us in keeping up on what has appeared from just about any English language publisher and many that are in other languages as well. Not satisfied with staying abreast of what's happening in mathematics, he regularly returns to his longtime interest in astronomy, and other sciences as well. And then there are the nonscientific fields. I would not like to be paying the bill for shipping his vast collection of books in Washington when they have to be sent to join his library still in California. Perhaps we should think of his move as a consolidation of libraries.
The MAA is lucky indeed that arrangements have been worked out to keep this man of letters at the MAA to continue his role as Acquisitions Editor. We can look forward to many new and worthwhile books that will be appearing in the MAA catalogue in the years ahead.