[December 16, 1975 in lieu of GHD (2/2) 1976]


Dear Friends-and-Relations,

What is the significance of life?

As I enter this sophomore half-decade of my sophomore half century, it seems an appropriate time to pose this sophomore’s question. I also raise it because these items, copied from the program of the last ASME meeting, have caused me to think about it, at least in relation to my profession, and I’d like to share my thoughts:

PHILIP G. HODGE JR., University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN
“For a group of papers, monographs and books published over a twenty year period.”

TED B. BELYTSCHKO, University of Illinois, Chicago, IL
“For outstanding achievement in mechanical engineering within ten years after graduation.”

AMD-Vol. 13   Inelastic Behavior of Composite Materials (100093), 1975. 212 pgs., $20.00, ASME members $10.00   Editor: Carl T. Herakovich

AMD-VOL 14   Finite Element Analysis of Transient Non-linear Structural Behavior (100094), 1975. 200 pgs., $20.00, ASME members $10.00   Editors: Ted Belytschko, J.R. Osias, and P.V. Marcal

AMD-Vol. 15   Mechanics of Transportation Suspension Systems (100095), 1975. 110 pgs., $12.00, ASME members $6.00   Editors: Burton Paul

Obviously, it is always nice to get a medal, particularly since I didn’t have to make a speech. Thirty-odd years ago, in a book* which made a great impression on me as a young graduate student, Oliver La Farge wrote about the satisfactions and frustrations of being an anthropologist; but the words apply to any research type of profession:

[*O. La Farge, “Raw Material,” Houghton-Mifflin, 1942, p. 87]

So at his greatest strength, at the vital point of his life-work, the scientist is cut off from communication with his fellow-men. Instead, he has the society of two, six, or twenty men and women who are working in his specialty (in my field I once was in correspondence with two at once), with whom he corresponds, whose letters he receives like a lover, with whom when he meets them he wallows in an orgy of talk, the keen pleasure of conclusions and findings compared, matched, checked against one another, the pure joy of being really understood.

The praise and understanding of those two or six becomes for him the equivalent of public recognition. Around these few close colleagues is the larger group of workers in the same general field. They do not share with one in the steps of one’s research, but they can read the results, tell in a general way if they have been soundly reached, and profit by them. To them McGarnigle ‘has shown’ that there are traces of an ancient, dolichocephalic strain among the skeletal remains from Pusilhé¡, which is something they can use. Largely on the strength of his close colleagues’ judgment of him, the word gets around that McGarnigle is a sound man. You can trust his work. He’s the fellow you want to have analyze the material if you turn up an interesting bunch of skulls. All told, including men in allied fields who use his findings, some fifty scientists praise him; before them he has achieved international reputation. He will receive honours. It is even remotely possible that he might get a raise in salary.

But La Farge tells only part of the story. Because I am not only a researcher, I am a person. And, even in my profession, “friend” is a more meaningful word than “colleague.” I accept the fact that my work has some merit, and I am pleased to have it recognized. But I also accept the fact that many others, whose work is at least as meritorious, did not receive the medal, and this fact in no way diminishes my own pleasure. For I have served on ASME award committees, and I know that for an award to be given, work has to be done. The record must be assembled and evaluated and written up in its best light; letters of reference must be asked for and written–all with no hint to the intended recipient. And the fact that some of my friends–I’ll never know which ones–thought enough of me and my work to make this effort adds an additional dimension to my satisfaction.

But I am not only a researcher. I am also a teacher. And the other clippings from ASME are because Ted Belytschko, Carl Herakovich, and Burt Paul are all former students of mine. And, for a student to receive an award or to publicly contribute to a meeting, also contributes mightily to a feeling that life is really worth living. I do not torment myself with questions: did Burt seek me out? Did Ted accomplish so much because of my teaching? Did Carl find my example an inspiration? Or was I just lucky? Regardless–these are my link to the next generation and I glory in their achievements and recognition whether or not it has anything to do with me.

Well–enough of this philosophizing. Some of you may have noticed that unlike my usual winter epistle, this one is not headed Ground Hog Day. There is a reason. For the first three months of this year I am on quarter-leave at the University of California in Berkeley. Terms such as winter and ground hog just don’t seem appropriate to a climate where it rarely gets down to 30 degrees above zero. Also, if I hurry and address these envelopes before December 28, I can save three pennies on each one! But make no mistake. I do not write Christmas letters and next year I expect to be cozily back in sub-zero Minneapolis anxiously looking for friend G.H.

I am not the only member of the family in California. Thea has also been given quarter-leave by the University of Minnesota and will also be researching and studying at UCB. Quarter-leaves, by the way, are a good deal since they include full salary and do not detract from one’s accumulation towards a full sabbatical. They are not a regular perquisite, but are competitive; we may be the first example of both husband and wife getting one at the same time. Thea is still Assistant Director of the Computer Center where they must like her: in addition to the leave she got a whopping salary raise last fall.

Our whole family is planning to join us for Christmas in Death Valley. Sue and David are still graduate students at Washington U in St. Louis–both now working on PhD theses. Lisa is still with Control Data Corporation in Sunnyvale, California. And my son, the corporation president, is in the process of forming his own construction company in Indiana. Time Marches On.

Happy BTP day to you all.

Original letter was hand-written on ASME Journal of Applied Mechanics stationery