R.I.P Dick (or Feynman wasn't that smart)

I found out today that a friend of the family, a man I have known all my life, passed away.

His name was Dick. Dick spoke the language of the gods. He was a theoretical physicist. He was a full professor at a university. He worked at a national lab. He started his own, very successful, physics company. If you wanted to know how liquids flowed through rock or had questions about quantum electrodynamics he was the guy to ask. If he didn’t know, he’d find out.

Dick was a character. Almost all of his friends have outrageous stories about him. If you tell those stories to people who didn’t know him, they think you are exaggerating or making things up. If you tell the same stories to people who knew Dick, they say ‘Yeah, I can see him doing that’.

One time we were out at Lake Powell. We went to see Rainbow Bridge. I was in the boat with Dick and his wife. I decided to ski on the way back to the houseboat. The area around Rainbow Bridge is always packed and there are large tour boats that take a couple hundred people at a time up to see it.

Anyway, I started skiing with Dick driving. Dick pulled behind one of the tour boats on the way out because the water was a little less rough. So I am skiing and Dick is looking back watching. As we started to get closer to the back of the tour boat I started to get a little worried. Then a bit more worried. Finally I started waving my arm to get Dicks attention. He waved back and sped up. He then looked up and noticed that he was going to run into the back of the tour boat. So he hung a right, off the wake of the tour boat. The huge wake. The next thing I saw was Dicks boat in the air with the prop spinning away like mad. Right after that I was in the air. I landed so hard that ended up with a bruise on my chest from where my knee hit. I also got a standing ovation from the tour boat.

He also water skiied at 60 mph.

He learned how to snow ski by renting skis and going to the top of the steepest hill. According to his wife he came down bloody and beat, but ready to go again. I’d ski with him on the black diamonds while everyone else hit the easier trails. Dick had no style whatsoever but he could ski down anything.

If you mentioned Richard Feynman around Dick he’d throw a minor fit. It always started the same ‘Dick Feynman isn’t that smart…’. We thought about this for a while. No one could figure out why mentioning Feynman would set Dick off. We finally came to the conclusion that Feynman had played a practical joke on Dick at some conference or another. So every trip someone would find a reason to bring up Feynman…

Dick would bend over backwards to help people. He’d argue with my Dad about all kinds of stuff, from physics to philosophy, but he was always good natured with those he disagreed with. He also knew the secret that only smart people seem to get, that it is ok to say ‘I don’t know’.

He also lost his son. That devastated Dick. It was a motorcycle accident but the death was caused by the EMT service. They screwed up badly and killed him even though the injuries shouldn’t have been life threatening. Dick went after them, not for money, but to make sure that it wouldn’t happen to anyone else. He won, though it took a long time.

I emailed his wife and daughter to let them know how much he meant to me. He was one of the good guys. He taught me many important things and none of those things had to do with physics.

R.I.P. Dick. You are already missed.


Feynman may have been smart, but he couldn’t have had a better eulogy. RIP Dick.

I’m sorry I am not blessed to have known Dick.