GHD-1986

That song is about the only thing that didn’t happen at the birthday party my former students threw for me at the ASME meeting in Miami Beach last November! In fact, they actually did sing “For he’s a jolly good fellow’!

I can’t say it was a complete surprise because Ted had called me several months earlier and said he and a few of my other former students would like to plan a “little celebration” and would I be there? And I did know that there would be a brief technical session at 5 and a dinner at 8. And a month before Dan (one of my teachers at Brown) had said he’d been asked to say a few words about me and was there anything he shouldn’t say? But when Thea and I got to our hotel Saturday night and I picked up a program and saw this Symposium listed as the first Technical Session in the 5-day meeting, I got my first inkling of just what an exciting day it would be.

Well, at 5 pm the next day André (who had flown down from Montreal just to chair the session even though he couldn’t stay for the rest of the meeting) called the meeting and introduced Dan who said a lot of things about me that I wish I could believe. And he showed slides that had a certain familiarity to them. It seems that my ever-loving wife and devoted children had connived behind my back to provide Dan with pictorial evidence of various famous and infamous incidents in my checkered past. Just to give you something of the flavor of it all, Dan said something to the effect that “here is incontrovertible evidence that Phil is outstanding in his field”–and showed a picture from my college days of me carrying a hoe and out, standing in my field. Later he referred to my marathon PR time by saying that he was impressed when he thought it meant 3 days, 16 hours, and 1 minute.

Then came the technical program. Brief serious talks by 5 of my former students, all well known in their own right. Each of them said something about how starting under my supervision had influenced their own work; and then each presented a paper which I would have been proud to claim any part of. Many of the audience were friends and associates, of course, but many others whom I didn’t know personally came for the real content of the program.

Next came the party which consisted of one of the best “hotel” dinners I’ve ever been served, complete with wine and dessert. After the dishes were cleared away Carl got up and initiated a sort of free-for-all at which anyone present was invited to get up and reminisce about anything related to me that they cared to. Most of the references recalled fond memories in my own mind, and finally Carl invited me to respond. Ham that I am, you can imagine that I took full advantage of that opportunity. As if that weren’t enough, the evening ended with Carl presenting me with a beautiful 12″ replica of Rodin’s The Thinker.

When Thea and I finally said good night to everyone and went back to our hotel room, it was quite a while before I could come far enough down from my “high” and get to sleep. Truly, if I could believe everything that was said about me that evening, I would need an enormous hat. But the fact that so many of the friends and colleagues that I value so highly wanted to say them means even more to me than if they were all true.

That trip to Miami was one of what seemed like an endless sequence of travels during the year. A month before, Thea joined me at a meeting in Detroit of the American Society of Civil Engineers where I was presented with the von Karman medal. In September I was an accompanying spouse on her trip to Montreal on Cray business, and over Labor Day we both went to Washington to attend the marriage of our special “niece”, Nancy. Thanksgiving we drove to Monroe, Wisconsin to visit my sister and brother-in-law and see my mother, and over the Christmas holidays we visited our two daughters in California. And that’s just what we did together! I went to Washington (twice) and Houston on ASME and USNC/TAM business plus another trip to Monroe, and Thea went to Houston, Los Alamos, Livermore, New Orleans, Seattle, and a few other places while I stayed home.

Our family travelled considerably too, and we even managed to see something of them. Sue and David and their two daughters (did you know I have two grand-daughters?) spent a week with us here in Minneapolis. Eight-year old April was entranced with MacPaint on our Macintosh, and four-year old Miriam has the same enthusiastic “me-too” approach to life that her Aunt Lisa had. Do you suppose it’s intrinsic to being a younger daughter? One of our expeditions was a trip through one of the locks on the Mississippi in a flotilla of three canoes. Sort of impressive to see the whole big lock filled and emptied just to let us through.

Lisa and our son-out-law Bill were also at Nancy’s wedding, and were so intrigued by it that they announced that they wanted one. We like Bill more every time we see him, and are delighted with their plans for a June wedding–although our bank account shudders at the thought of all the hungry guests they plan to invite. Bill gets raises and promotions at an alarming rate with his computer management company 01 (that’s right, Zero-One is the company name). Meanwhile, Lisa is recovering from a reinjury of her back and working only half-time for CDC. But in addition, she and Bill are starting a partnership to develop software for home computers, principally the Macintosh. They’re both very excited and somewhat scared by the prospect.

Son Philip has finished his coursework for a Master’s degree and is also planning to go into business for himself, as a Consulting Engineer. It’s been wonderful having him live in Minneapolis for the past year and a half, but he’s decided that Pittsburgh is the logical hub for the particular type of business he hopes to attract, and is currently negotiating to buy a house there. His love life appears to be eclectic, with a favorite woman in almost any city you can name. His current “flame” in Minneapolis is a engineering graduate student from Colombia, SA, who can only go out with him after dark if we come along as chaperones. His only constants are his dog and cat.

So much for our kids. That brings me to the woman with whom I have now shared more than half of the twentieth century to date. And every year I realize more and more that the smartest decision I ever made in my life was asking her to marry me–and the most good luck I ever had was when she said “yes.” I can’t tell you much about her work with Cray in part because I don’t understand it, and in part because much of what she tells me I can’t repeat in case any of you are associated with ibm or cdc or (worst of all) japan. I do know that one of the big differences between industry and academe is the existence of a “bottom line”, and that Cray stock has quadrupled in value in the four years since she started working for them. She tells me that there are lots of reasons for that, but I know it is solely due to her influence.

So that’s the good news. The bad news is that I am no longer a runner. If you’re interested in details, see the Appendix, an abridged version of which will appear in the Minnesota Distance Runners Spring issue. So another chapter of my life closes, the sorrow of its passing being far less than the joy it gave me while it lasted.

Appendix:

Editor’s note: we don’t have the original appendix, but it looks like the full text was included in the magazine, which was kindly sent to us by Heidi Keller Miler of the MDRA Magazine.

Cover and page from the Minnesota Distance Runners Spring 1986 Issue:

If you can’t read above article, find it here.