There was a remarkable meeting on November 23 organized by Eugenia to bring people together to talk about their interactions with George. The outpouring of love admiration and respect was extraordinary and wonderful. Several people said that they owe their jobs and in some cases even the existence of their positions to George. He was described as having the ideas for innovations and being relentless in his pursuit of seeing them turned into reality.
Eugenia talked about arriving in this country and finding herself embraced by George and starting her job in the Department within a few days while just barely getting oriented. Suzanne called him a surrogate father and described his guidance as she started out here. Gabe Alba talked about first being in one of George’s classes and eventually being asked to fill his present position as supervisor of the laboratories. And it wasn’t only staff positions: Alan Van Heuvelen’s faculty position would not have existed nor filled by Alan without George’s strong advocacy.
In the last year or two as he became weaker George insisted on continuing to teach the largest lecture course that we have. He was asked whether it wouldn’t be better for him to have a less demanding course but he said no this is what I want to do. He couldn’t have done it without the help and support in the lecture hall of David Maiullo. David made him sit down between classes but that was not so easy since he would stay with the students and answer questions as long as they continued.
George’s single-minded quests were sometimes difficult for the Department’s chairs. Torgny as the present chair described how in contrast to others George would lean forward sitting at the edge of his chair while discussing his latest idea and how it should be brought about. An earlier chair became so enervated by George’s continuing pressure that he refused to continue to see him and asked that all of George’s requests should go to me to be relayed to him. Mohan Jolie and Joel expressed their admiration for him. Joel did not hide the fact that he had serious differences with George and others talked about their fights with George and the fact that he could be difficult. But everyone agreed that the only thing that motivated him was what he could do for the students. One student was there and talked about his experience in George’s class of advanced mechanics.
There was only one thing that could deflect him from his work. Noemie talked about the seven years of the life of his son David who had multiple medical difficulties when care and support for him took priority over all else.
I was honored that Eugenia asked me to preside over the meeting. I recalled my lunch with George two weeks before he died. At that time George showed me the note from the Dean offering to underwrite a celebration of his retirement at the end of his fiftieth year as a faculty member. In it he also said that a new faculty member should be found to continue the emphasis on teaching that characterized George’s work. George said that he was reluctant to accept the invitation for a celebratory meeting but we came to agree that it would be an educational venture showing how much could be achieved in the Department and the University by a dedicated individual. As we continued to talk we touched on six areas where George had made major contributions.
One was his research on phonon physics. (A phonon is a quantum of vibrational energy in the atomic lattice of a solid.) He co-edited a series of volumes that represented the standard literature in the field. When he was considered for promotion to the highest rank of Professor one of the letters that were solicited called him “Mr. Phonon” to describe his leading role among his colleagues. In spite of the impressive spectrum of his achievements the promotion did not come easily. It was eventually granted with my help as his AAUP (faculty union) advocate. He was himself one of the most successful AAUP advocates with over 30 faculty members who owe their continued faculty status to him.
With the enormous difficulties of his son he saw that the medical benefits that were available at Rutgers were inadequate. At this time when what we now call HMOs were largely unknown he was the founding and driving person in the creation of the Rutgers Community Health Plan an organization that for many years took excellent care of the medical needs of every member of the staff and faculty of the University.
When he was president of the AAUP he and Paul Leath (whom he asked to become vice-president) created the sabbatical program which continues to exist and flourish. They also restructured the salary table for all faculty members laying the groundwork for the rank of Professor II.
There are two more lasting monuments to George’s creativity both of which he started in the Physics Department. One was the Physics Learning Center. He recruited Brian Holton as its director and the two of them found space in a barracks building and created a student-friendly organization that provided tutoring and review sessions and a place to study with reference material and old exams. Its success led to its expansion to be the present Math and Science Learning Center. It continues in more modern surroundings but the spirit of the original group is hard to recapture.
Finally there is what is now known as the Gateway program. It was first a physics course for students who were either underprepared or had poor experiences in their previous attempts to study physics as part of the engineering curriculum. We are not here talking about a remedial course. Rather it was and continues to be a “regular” course but with more time and more support by dedicated teachers. It is parallel to the first year of a two-year sequence and in the second year the participants are on their own to sink or swim in the standard traditional course. This is a very severe test but they’re swimming! That the course continues successfully is a tribute to George’s vision and to the dedication of its present instructor (Suzanne) and her assistants. The program now includes a second physics course as well as courses in other departments.
As I think of these developments I remember also the strong opposition that George had to overcome. Many objected that the new courses were going to lower standards and dilute physics. Some of us including me gave the project little chance. George’s advocacy single-mindedly focused on his objective prevailed. His projects remain alive today and his life stands as a model to all of us of what can be accomplished by a single individual.
At our meeting George’s dedication to his students was mentioned by everyone. His accomplishments however went far beyond his teaching. He was an agent of change and created innovations in widely diverse areas. He had hoped to be there for a review of some of his contributions. Now we will have to do it without him. I look forward to a joyous celebration of George’s inspiring life. Close