Leone Burton refused to be seduced by celebrity. Driving her to deliver a keynote lecture, a colleague was surprised to notice that she was wearing socks showing pictures of cartoon characters. Leone’s response to a nervous enquiry about this attire was: “Today many people will be listening to me, and wearing ridiculous socks reminds me not to take myself too seriously!”
Although Leone was born in Sydney, Australia, it was in England that, from her early twenties, she made her career as a scholar. In the 1970s and 1980s, Leone taught in London, first at the Polytechnic of the South Bank (now London South Bank University), then at Avery Hill College (now part of Greenwich University), where she became Head of the Mathematics Department and established a reputation for being strong and forceful yet considerate and fair. In 1992, Leone was appointed Professor of Science and Mathematics Education at the University of Birmingham, where she supervised a large number of doctoral students, many of whom have paid tribute to her expertise, thoroughness, encouragement and inspiration. Upon her ‘retirement’ from Birmingham, Leone returned to London and an honorary Chair at King’s College, University of London. In 2004, she moved to Cam- bridge, and to a Visiting Fellowship in the University Faculty of Education, where she taught both undergraduate and graduate students, and was a stimulating presence in the life of the Mathematics Education Group.
For a period in the early 1980s, Leone worked at the Open University, helping to develop a novel, multimedia in-service mathematics course for teachers, Developing Mathematical Thinking. The influential book, Thinking Mathematically (Mason, Burton and Stacey, 1982), was one outcome of this collaboration. Leone also worked on developing mathematical problem-solving in primary and middle schools with colleagues from teacher education colleges, resulting in her rigorous but accessible 1984 book, Thinking Things Through. Thereafter Leone’s research agenda was visibly driven by her pioneering concern for social justice, notably with improving opportunities for girls to participate and achieve in mathematics. Her activist scholarship is illustrated by edited collections such as Girls Into Maths Can Go, published in 1986 to accompany an Open University in-service training course for teachers ; Gender and Mathematics: An International Perspective, published in 1990 to disseminate the work of the Women and Mathematics group at ICME-6; and Learning Mathematics: From Hierarchies to Networks, published in 1999 following an international conference aimed at challenging many of the central orthodoxies of mainstream mathematics education. Her last major project was an enquiry into the practices and beliefs of professional research mathematicians, both women and men. This is reported in her 2004 book Mathematicians as Enquirers, widely regarded as a ground-breaking fusion of passion and rigour.
Leone also made valuable contributions to the wider educational research community. Notable amongst these was her role, from 2001, as founding Editor of the innovative series of ‘professional user reviews’ published by the British Educational Research Association to inform practitioners and policy makers about current, reliable research in a particular educational domain in ways intended to stimulate them to make use of this research in their work.
In her final year, Leone endured a struggle with cancer and a severe stroke with her characteristic fortitude. She died on 1st December 2007, and is buried at Barton Glebe, a woodland burial ground close to Cambridge.
Leone Minna Burton (née Gold), born Sydney, Australia, 14th September 1936, died Cambridge, England, 1st December 2007.