February 20, 2013
He was unassumingly regal in bearing and he was a small man, humble and self effacing.
He was icon to many, unique in countless ways and despite his protestations was thrust into the limelight. He was at the same time an every man, happiest in the back of the room or lost in a crowd. If you didn’t know him, he was almost invisible. If you were fortunate enough to be in his sphere, his very presence was the silent thunder of greatness and dignity.
There are the legions of students- those who spent years with him and will tell you they were better for it. There are others, more unfortunate souls who knew him only in passing.
He was a man who appreciated the discoveries and wonders of science but more than that, he was a man who celebrated and whose life revolved around the morality of real human connection and the human condition.
He was a deeply religious man but he never wore his religion on his sleeve. Imposing his beliefs on others was an idea that was abhorrent to him. Like all moral men, his intimate relationships remained private.
He would tolerate no hate or bigotry and at the same time he demanded equal morality and ethical behavior from all.
He served his community in ways seen and unseen with never failing devotion and conviction.
He never spoke ill of others (save the times a goal wasn’t scored despite a missed golden opportunity or in the case of an obviously blind umpire) and would not stay in the presence of those who freely maligned others or engaged in gossip.
He was a good- no, a great- father, though he never thought so. He believed his work, commitments and obligations shortchanged his family. Of course, he never really saw the impact he had on others. It was the totality of his life, the way he lived his life which inspired his family, students and others. As far he was concerned, there was always room for improvement and more to do.
He could be profoundly absent minded and clueless, which frustrated those who marveled at his insight and attention to nuance. He surrounded himself with like minded persons and others of the eyebrow raising variety. To the casual observer it seems all they shared in common was the same bespoke tailors, Rumpled and Sons.
His small troupe of colleagues, friends really, seemed to have a language all their own, a kind of shorthand which referenced ideas and individuals by referring to their work. “Remember what so and so said? No, not the January Journal but the November issue!” That seemingly contrived method of communication seemed to deliberately exclude and frustrate just about everyone else. The strategy proved highly effective.
Every now and then after spending time together, he and I would have occasion to walk to the train station together to head our separate ways. Sometimes we’d continue an ongoing conversation and other times I’d just listen. Years later he would say the best times were when I asked lots of questions. I once noted how silly some of those questions were at the time but my teacher just laughed.
He had the highest expectations from all, each according to his ability.
A most memorable lesson, discussed and refined over the years was a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:
Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.
Mostly, he loved his family. Family legend has him once absentmindedly asking, “Do you think they know?”
Despite his stature and earnest, simple and moving eloquence, both silent and spoken, his most profound lessons were taught by example. There just weren’t enough of them.
That’s the way it is with teachers.