Walter's take: Fumigate the basement, but don't neglect Stan's achievements

Walter's take: Fumigate the basement, but don't neglect Stan's achievements

Walter adds his observations and memories

Kudos to Dan for opening this door and laying out the continuing mystery of why Stan was denied his Doctorate with both sensitivity and historical rigor.

As we have discussed, I recall Helga talking with me about this during my late teens or early 20's and implying that there was some small but essential piece of research or writing that he was supposed to have completed early on--perhaps at the time of the move to Brookhaven, but it could also have been at the time of the move to Endicott--that Stan did not complete due to multiple distractions at the time. It seemed like 'no big deal' at the time but cost him dearly later on. Obviously, Dan's discovery that his collaborator Brice Rustad did also not receive his P.hD,, would appear to be strong evidence that the lack of a PhD related to the failed experiment itself, but the timeline still doesn't make sense.

I want to record here how much I love and respect Dan for his courage and class to open that door and fumigate the long closed psychic room with the 'family secret.' Yet, for me, the fascinating part of the story is not how and why the experiment failed and the P.hD was denied, but rather Stan's subsequent resilience and seeming tenacity in managing to build a thriving, deep satisfying and widely acclaimed career in physics despite this terrible blow at the very outset of said career; which, by most lights, should have been snuffed out right then and there. I believe most people in that position--certainly including myself--would have been broken by the pain, humiliation and likely inability to secure employment in an academic institution and moved on to some other career. Yet Stan decidedly did not give up but but left Brookhaven National Lab and worked for years in research positions at 'industrial' settings like IBM and Westinghouse managed over time to built a credibility in the field of Mossbauer physics, with the deep and abiding respect of top-flight colleagues. Stan's determination and the unique qualities he brought to his work improbably led him to the Weizmann Institute in Israel, and then to Argonne National Laboratory and Stanford University, all the while attending top Mossbauer conferences around the world. In short, Stan stayed in the game and make valued contributions for many decades to come. His colleagues knew he didn't have a P.hD and made clear they didn't care he didn't have that piece of paper. Instead, they deeply valued what he had to contribute.

How did Stan make that happen against all odds? I have no idea, but whatever it was, says volumes about his courage, strength and commitment to staying in the game and doing the work no matter what; which, to me, totally outweighs whatever mistakes and flaws caused  the Ruby-Rustad experiment to go astray and the doctorate not to be granted. Lets see if we can find out what happened so as to clear up the mystery and fumigate that long-closed room, but lets never forget the larger story, which is ultimately so much more important and revelatory of the essence of Stan Ruby as a physicist and a human being.

I so vividly remember Stan telling me on multiple occasions during my youth how incredibly privileged and fortunate he was to have been paid quite decently to do the work that he loved more than anything else in the world. He told me he was aware how rare that was--that most people toil their entire working lives at jobs they are far from being in love with, and he was so grateful to have been in the much smaller camp of those who were really passionate about their work. In discussing this with me, he never spoke about the P.hD that wasn't, but looking back it is clear to me that 'near death' experience must have constantly loomed large in his consciousness and made his achievement of having his career in physics all the more precious to him.

About a year after Stan's death in 2004, Tanya and I were fortunate to be invited to attend a dinner at a physics conference on Long Island dedicated in Stan's honor. I was deeply moved by the expressions of deep respect and personal affection for Stan shared by so many of those in attendance; how they deeply respected him for having been collegial, collaborative and unselfish in sharing his scientific insights with his colleagues in a way that was quite rare. They also spoke of how incredibly fertile and creative he was; constantly coming up with new and fertile ideas and theories that so many others grabbed onto and followed up on. As I said in remarks at the dinner, those comments were incredible moving to me and helped me--someone with no understanding of or interest in, the world of physics that so consumed my father--to better understand what he contributed to his field. Stan's colleagues' assessment also jibed perfectly for me in terms of my perception of who he was as a human being; a person who was kind, giving, generous and possessed of a deep intellectual fascination of the world around him and all of its mysteries.  Stan was a true mensch and wonderful father and I am incredibly proud to be his son.

So yes, open the door, and fumigate the family secret so that we can learn from it and ferret out some abiding mysteries. But whatever happened back then matters so much less than all the wonders that came later. Stan's body of work is done and his life and legacy are secure.