Enn Nurk

October 13, 1935 - February 3, 1999

Remembering a Friend and Colleague

By Aksel Telgmaa

"Still alive and kicking!" With this, Enn Nurk concluded the last Christmas card he sent to my family. Recovering from treatment for recently discovered diabetes, Enn was evidently feeling well enough to make this claim in late 1998. Who could have guessed that he would be "still alive" for less than two more months?

My collaboration with Enn began more than ten years ago. By then, Enn had already been a well-known educator and acclaimed mathematics teacher for some time. But Enn was more than just a teacher. He was also the consummate researcher, someone whose main interest lay in how different students learn, especially within groups. Besides his strenuous teaching job at Vändra Gymnasium in Pärnumaa, he assisted in the solving of problems in this field through numerous papers and presentations at mathematics conferences.

Enn was an educator with excellent pedagogical intuition, someone whose classes were visited regularly by students of the Tallinn Teacher Training Institute. He served as an example to them with his various pedagogical methodologies. It was only natural, therefore, that I propose to Enn that we collaborate on the writing of middle-school mathematics textbooks and workbooks. Due to his modest nature, he expressed doubt at first, but still promised to give it a try.

This try served as the basis for a sustained partnership out of which our 5th - 8th Grade textbooks were born, as well as an entire series of accompanying workbooks authored single-handedly by Enn. In 1987, we won the Soviet Union's national competition for 5th- and 6th-Grade mathematics textbooks. Twelve years later, these same books were still being published when our partnership was cut short by Enn's untimely passing. If our work has proved beneficial to Estonian schools, then I must say that none of it would have been possible without Enn's cooperation.

On February 3, 1999, a completed manuscript from Enn arrived on my desk with a short accompanying note. Naturally, I could not have known that by the time I opened the package and read the letter, their sender would no longer be with us… and that I had no one to whom I could respond. In his note, Enn had written, "I am sending you one copy. I am not very happy with it." This last sentence was so much like Enn! He always insisted on carefully finishing his work in order that the editor might have less to do and so that the reader (both teacher and student) would be satisfied. And he inevitably succeeded in this endeavor.

Enn continued, "The structure and [an earlier] choice of tasks should have been changed more, but this go around everything was determined by the time factor." Enn most likely had some calendar date in mind here, but within the context of his passing the sentence takes on startling significance.

The admirable and fruitful life of Enn Nurk has been cut short, but his work lives on. The memory of him remains.

-Translated from the Estonian by Piibi-Kai Kivik