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[firstname.lastname@example.org: Re: [email@example.com: John Ostrom]]
Matt Wedel's memories of John Ostrom.
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Delivery-date: Sat, 16 Jul 2005 21:54:16 +0200
Date: Sat, 16 Jul 2005 12:54:07 -0700
From: Matt Wedel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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To: Mike Taylor <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: [firstname.lastname@example.org: John Ostrom]
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He is The Man. Death can't change that.
He was also my friend. I don't know if I've every told you about this or
not, but when the new OMNH building opened in 2000, there was a
week-long celebration that included a one-day symposium on dinosaur
paleontology and culminated in an opening banquet in the museum's main
hall with a lecture by Stephen Jay Gould. Rich told us grad students
ahead of time that John was coming in and asked if one of us would
volunteer to be his chauffeur for the week. I figured I didn't have a
shot at it because I was the most junior grad student, but nobody else
took the job. When I asked them about it later, they said they were all
too intimidated! So I got to be John's companion for a week. On the way
back from the airport, I told him about how his cover article on
dinosaurs in the August 1978 National Geographic had first fired my
interest in dinosaurs (at the tender age of three) and set the course of
my life. He said he had a similar story to tell. When he was an
undergrad he was a premed major. In the last semester of his undergrad
degree he had to take a course in evolution to fulfill a requirement.
The textbook for the course was George Gaylord Simpson's The Meaning of
Evolution. John started the assigned reading the night before his first
class. He was so absorbed by the book that he stayed up all night
reading it, and when he was done he wrote Simpson a letter to tell him
how much the book had inspired him and changed his entire outlook on
life. A few weeks later he got a letter back from Simpson, who told him
to finish his degree, skip med school, and come to the AMNH instead to
be his student. John did it, and the rest is history.
Then he told me that the main problem with getting old is that he
couldn't work as hard as he'd once been able to, so he liked hanging out
with youngsters like me because he could live vicariously through us. I
was immensely flattered, but I also believed him. His enthusiasm was
entirely out of proportion to his physical aspect. He seemed like a
fresh young graduate student who happened to be wearing the body of an
elderly man. When you talked to him, you got the sense that anything was
possible, if you could just attack the problem with enough time and effort.
That week was one of the best and most memorable of my life. Even though
we only wrote to each other a handful of times afterward, I loved and
admired John and he always treated me with generosity and a sort of
avuncular affection. He was of course a giant in the field, but that
seemed a small thing next to his greatness of spirit.
I'm sure the DML will be flooded with similar accounts by people whose
lives John touched. Still, you have my blessing to forward this on if
Mike Taylor wrote:
>Bummer. And only yesterday you were saying he was The Man.
>------- Start of forwarded message -------
>Delivery-date: Sat, 16 Jul 2005 20:09:54 +0200
>Date: Sat, 16 Jul 2005 14:07:35 -0400
>Subject: John Ostrom
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>I'm saddened to report that early this morning (16 July 2005), Professor
>John Ostrom passed away from the complications of Alzheimer Disease.
>A loss of a wonderful friend, a fine mind, and a great scholar.
>Alan H Brush
>92 High Street
>Mystic, CT. 06355
>------- End of forwarded message -------
Mathew J. Wedel
University of California
Museum of Paleontology
1101 Valley Life Science Bldg.
Berkeley, CA 94720-4780
lab: (510) 642-1730
fax: (510) 642-1822
"The measure of a healthy organization is probably
the degree to which negative thoughts are allowed.
In places where great work is being done, the attitude
always seems to be critical and sarcastic, not
'positive' and 'supportive'. The people I know who do
great work think that they suck, but that everyone else
sucks even more."
- --Paul Graham, "What You Can't Say"
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