Today in My History
Bev's 65 x 365
Cast (updated 7/16)
MERRICK AND FRED
16 March 2021
Merrick Garland, the new Attorney General, is someone I will always recognize. From the first time I saw him on TV, I thought how much he reminded me of my old boss, Fred Reif.
Garland's face is thinner and he definitely has a happier expression most of the time, but there are times when the way he turns his head he just looks so much like Fred.
In looking for the right photo of Fred to use in this entry, I discovered that he had recorded a YouTube video about his experience on the SS St. Louis, the "Voyage of the Damned," the ship that took more than 900 German Jews to Cuba, when he was 15. The ship arrived in Cuba and the Jews were not allowed to leave and had to return to Europe, where many of them lost their lives.
I knew Fred had given a talk to some high school students in 1997, telling the experience of his family and how they escaped Hitler and ended up settling in the United States. I never knew that his father, a dentist, committed suicide after Kristallnacht, when he was forced to close his practice and was not permitted to work under Nazi rule.
At 12 Fred became the father in the family especially when they settled in New York in 1941, because his mother spoke no English and he spoke 3 languages.
Fred and I became close friends when I worked for him for four years and we remained friends until his death in 2019. I typed his book, "Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Physics" three times on a regular typewriter (before computers). The book is now available for rent, since it's so expensive to buy. It has been translated into dozens of languages. He once showed me the Japanese version, where in the acknowledgements page, the only word NOT in Japanese was my name.
I think I was drawn to his sadness. "“I was always very pessimistic about life,” he said in the video. “Somehow, I don’t quite feel like other people. I think I felt lonely ... for most of my life, sometimes excruciatingly so.”
We actually only saw each other a couple of times after 1966, once when I was working in DC for 6 weeks and took a weekend to fly to Pittsburgh, where he was then on the faculty of Carnegie-Melon. I spent a weekend with him and his wife. We exchanged Christmas cards each year and occasionally a letter, but the first year I did not get a Christmas card from him, I tried to find out if he was alive or not.
I contacted the head of the Physics Department at Carnegie-Melon and wrote to his wife, and apparently he was OK, but I never heard from him again until I found his obituary a year or so ago. I wrote to his wife, who did not respond, and I wrote to his sister, Liane (if we had a second daughter, I wanted to name her Liane because I loved the name). I didn't hear from Liane, but I did hear from her husband, who told me that she was in a facility for Alzheimers. I am assuming Fred developed Alzheimers and that's why I never heard from him again, though he was 92 when he died so he could just have died of old age. I know he had physical problems when I saw him in Pittsburgh.
It's a strange feeling when someone like Fred leaves your life. You almost never have any contact with him and you know he's dead, but it just seems strange that you can't drop him a note now and then. There isn't the deep grief that you feel when someone close to you dies, but it's a quiet grief that pops up now and then.
Especially when you see someone like Merrick Garland, alive and
PHOTO OF THE DAY
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This is entry #7661