a few positive influences
Opinions vary on this, but I do pretend to a few positive qualities--sorely needed, I must admit, and all due to a few very positive influences. Here we honor a few of the greatest. I do not deserve the benefits they bestowed.
And when you read,
credit them with my abilities;
absolve them from my faults.
The stunningly handsome couple at right are those who sacrificed for my private schooling, who pointed me toward all the education I could stand (and perhaps I overdid that part), and who kicked my carcass out into the world when it was time. Maybe they didn't do all that too badly.
A tough to follow...but I think we've managed: in the friendship we have as adults. They are Beach Animals, pilots (and they are pilots, both of them), and just you try to keep up with them on the ski slopes.
William Murphy III
Family man, bridge tutor, sire of an excellent high-school friend. Bill Murphy played a Mardi Gras counterpart to my otherwise sober early years. He insisted I sit at his piano each time I visited their home, and never failed to loan me some wonderful music. In my senior year, probably more than half the music I learned came from inside Mr. Murphy's piano bench.
So years later when I moaned at his kitchen table I had missed out on going to graduate school at Rice by missing the deadline, it was he who shook his head, pushed his phone at me, and insisted I call the department chairman, right then, at that very moment. "Deadlines are guidelines, Eric. Make them tell you no." They did not tell me no. I started at Rice a few months later, thought I would die from overwork, and I have no doubt whatever that I am a much better person for having lived and studied in what was, for me, the promised land.
In so many ways it was Mr. Murphy who taught me to break rules when rules need to be broken.
Two decades later, a phone call. I flew from Ohio to Dallas and wept on a green hill in the warm sun. May he rest in great peace.
I knew her only a few months, during which I fell ill. She saved my life by finding someone who could heal me against odds. Then when recovery required I sleep 14 hours a day, she slipped away.
It is so many years since I've seen her. That is hard to believe. I don't even have a picture. I wish her every good thing in life.
Around 1987, I was hoping that someone was noticing the technical work I was publishing. As it turns out, Georges Guiochon had just moved from Georgetown University (not, alas, named for him) to University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge Lab, and he agreed to take me on as research associate.
Little did I realize what an intellectual step I was taking. He was right to advise, "Eric, you are trying to board a fast train without getting your arm torn off." A little fear keeps the mind focused.
And innumerable conversations on chemistry, academia, his life and mine--all this was fodder for organizing my mind, whether he knew that was happening or not. I left Tennessee in 1991 as intellectually able as I ever was, before or since.
That would have been enough. But in 1998, when I was ill and tired and mad at the world and had lost Joni, he and Lois reached out, inviting me to join his family's October retreat in Corsica. Getting ready for the trip, learning what I could about a place I had never been near, all this gave me something on which to concentrate, some things to do besides feeling sorry for myself. When I sat on the rocky cliffs west of Piana, watching the cobalt water 600 meters below, and the distant white waves crash against red cliffs, hearing the bells of goats grazing somewhere as they had there for thousands of years, I was truly glad to be alive. A second time my life was saved, if only by making me realize it was worth saving. And when Georges and I shared pastis a few hours later back in Porticcio, I realized...that he had known all this perfectly well. I am not accustomed to someone--anyone--being that far ahead of me. All the time.
I will always owe much of the best part of me to Georges Guiochon.
Sometimes when I feel kicked around, I just reread this page.