I was born in Orange (NJ) to a father who was a chemical engineerturned vocational high school teacher and a mother who was a secretary....he gave me a calculus text at age 12.
My mother was my educational advocate, helping me get a scholarship into a private school that led to my early entrance into Harvard...rumor has it that she wrote my entrance essays since I was not a good writer.
Working under Raoul Bott, I completed my Ph.D. thesis on systems of linear partial differential equations.... but the biggest thing Bott taught me was that "one did not have to be quick to be an outstanding mathematician."
Each day, though again not a gifted writer, I updated a written record of my mathematical thoughts for the day....as an organizer and evidence of progress.
The great Alexander Grothendieck had a great influence on me in the area of homotopical algebra, as he shared his "mystical conviction that a mathematical problem will solve itself when, by sufficient humble attentiveness, one has found exactly its right context and formulation."
Music was my love second to mathematics, especially Bach...plus, I met my wife while playing the triangle in the Harvard orchestra.
My colleague and friend, Graeme Segal, once wrote about me: "He solved a number of famous and important problems, but his most valuable contribution came less from that than from finding new ways of looking at central questions of mathematics and opening paths into previously inaccessible terrain."
Unfortunately, for the last ten years of my life, I suffered from Alzheimer's, with the first sign being my inability to understand mathematics...and this was pure agony on my part!
Answer:
Daniel Quillen (1940  2011)
