Many friends here today may have known Dad only in his later years and even family members may remember recent times more vividly than earlier days. As with many old men, he could be very difficult, and sometimes raised the practice of grumpiness to a gold-medal standard. But while he could sometimes be exasperating in his way, today I’d like to share with you some memories of him as a curious and interested man, a gentleman, and a firm but loving father and grandfather.
Dad was an idealist, a strong admirer of intellect and appreciated high standards. As a child in London, I remember Mum & Dad hosting dinner parties which various academic, government and business figures attended. Dad belonged to several Clubs in London and reveled in the luminaries that he’d heard speaking there. He was in his element listening to erudite after dinner speakers and hugely admired original thinkers. He wasn’t a natural comedian himself, but for a while he kept a notebook with all the good jokes and gags he’d heard at various dinners.
From the many vivid memories of him from my childhood I remember climbing on his back as a small boy, screaming with laughter as he did pushups in his shorts and T-shirt on the sunlit carpet in Corringham Road in London. I remember his excitement at introducing us to the massive crabs at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco (when it was still good!) and how he practically dove into the crabmeat and melted butter when we got there. I remember a family holiday when he capsized his canoe on a Maine river rapid by doing exactly what he’d been told not to and I remember his strong love of mountains and lakes, especially in the Western US and in Switzerland, where he had lived and studied.
Dad had several advanced degrees and an academic approach to life – that is, highly analytical and often impractical. He was a free thinker – free from the boundaries of orthodox thinking, free from establishment tradition and sometimes, free of common sense. However, despite his mixed success in business, he always had huge respect for learning and encouraged all his children through higher education. He admired innovation in any field and kept up his interest until the end. I recently cleared out his email and amongst the 21,173 emails in his inbox, I found newsletters from Physics World, MIT Energy Initiative, MIT Club, MIT Technology Review, Yale Science and Engineering, Yale Alumni Association, New Canaan Library, the Ridgefield Library, the Mises Institute, the Science and Environmental Policy Project, the Middle East Forum and the Wall Street Journal, among others.
He set us an example of the importance of learning with his various degrees and was a firm but constructive editor and critic when it came to writing my college essays.He inherited a love of Europe from his father, and learned French to a conversational level. We were all encouraged to learn it, but I was not a good language student. I remember Dad once tried to improve our French grades by tutoring Jessica and I at home with language records. Unfortunately we got the giggles over the pronunciation of a particular phrase and the rise of his frustration only made it more hilarious for us. He dropped the lessons shortly afterwards.
Dad loved good food. He had eaten well in Europe and learned what he liked. I remember him having very particular views on how certain dishes should be served, perhaps driven by the taste of Cordon Bleu cuisine he had experienced in his early career in Europe. Local Ridgefield restauranteurs will be familiar with his unreasonably high standards. But besides French food, he had another favourite which he enjoyed frequently and for a number of years it was a family habit to go into New York for the traditional Jewish Christmas meal – Chinese food.
He was very interested in health and nutrition and wasn’t immune to trying unusual diets, in a quest for optimal health and longevity. This meant avoiding processed foods and especially sugar, although there seemed to be a notable exception for ice cream and strangely enough, Mallomars. We first saw them at the PX in London and they were a favourite of his until the end. Despite their unmentionable ingredients, these chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies in their bright yellow packages always elicited a smile of anticipation from him. In his honour we will be serving them at the reception afterwards. Mum and I bought a cartful of them and at the supermarket checkout, in response to a mans’ cheery enquiry, I said, “No, they’re for a funeral.”
Dad was a theoretical physicist and joked about the differences with experimental physicists. For example, he struggled with the theoretical unhealthiness of chocolate ice cream and the experimental reality of its deliciousness.
Dad had 10 grandchildren and seeing them always cheered him up. He always looked forward to their visits, at home – or in London, Dallas, Los Angeles, Shanghai or Singapore. Family was important to him and it’s a testament to that that they are all gathered here today, from places far and wide.
Dad was always a gentleman at heart and I remember his heartfelt thank you letters after anything we had arranged for him for his birthday, a foreign visit, Mum & Dad’s anniversaries and so on. He knew it was important and took great care in finding the right phrasing and tone to convey a deep and sincere gratitude. In that spirit, I would like to offer some thanks now.
As children of traveled and cosmopolitan parents, we find ourselves spread out across the globe and, even with the best intentions, it is difficult to provide support from so far away. Friends in this community have been so very kind and supportive and engaged with Mum and Dad and I would like to express, on behalf of our family, our deepest gratitude for everything you have done and are doing.
Robin Brown is practically a family member and she and Jim have so frequently provided help and comfort to Mum and Dad when we could not. Thank you so much.
I’d like to thank Whitney for her love and support and the organisers of this event today and to Alce and the choir who stepped up so quickly and efficiently to make this service the memorial for Dad that Mum wanted.
Thank you to everyone in this community whose names I don’t know, but who, every day, offer Mum & Dad their patient support, love, kindness and friendship.
I’d like to especially thank our spouses, Sharon, Steve and Mike, who have set aside everything to travel here and be with us and to care for the kids and take care of things these days. It is not a small thing and we are very grateful.
Finally, and most importantly, I’d like to thank Mum, who has put so much time and effort and patience and love into caring for Dad all these years during his increasing infirmity. During times that were not always smooth sailing, she was steadfast and encouraging and found boundless optimism to take care of him. Thank you Mum!