Thursday, June 22, 2006

Life Extraordinary

In another sign that I'm getting old, I recently learned of the death of my old physics professor, Walter Meyerhof.

Professor Meyerhof had been around so long that one of my parent's friends remembered taking physics from Meyerhof. He was a great teacher then too.

Meyerhof was a great teacher, and I was lucky enough to take one of his final courses. He explained concepts with clarity and grace, and always showed the greatest care for his students.

It was only upon reading his obituary that I learned all the other remarkable things he had done in his life.

He was born in 1922, the year that his father won the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

In World War 2, he and his family were rescued by Varian Fry, a journalist who became known as "the American Schindler" for his heroism in saving over 2,000 people from the Nazis.

During his time at Stanford, he oversaw the rise of atomic physics, including the construction of the Stanford Linear Accelerator, and guided the careers of numerous future Nobel laureates.

In the 1960s, as the president of the local PTA, he created a training film called "All My Teachers" to sensitize teachers to the concerns of African-American students.

Finally, after retiring, he created a foundation to honor Varian Fry, and created a movie about him (narrated by Meryl Streep) called "Assignment: Rescue" which was distributed to 35,000 schools.

I wish I had known him better before he died, but I salute him and his extraordinary life. We can only hope to do a fraction as much with our own.

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