Many years ago, I stood in my dining room and admired the place settings that I'd laid. My wedding china gleamed and the crystal sparkled. Our teak dinner table, which basically screamed newly married couple, glowed warmly as the afternoon sun peeked in the French doors that led to our backyard. From the kitchen came the aromas of dinner cooking. I'd worked hard on that dinner, and I smiled at the waiting table, feeling accomplished and very grown up. Two of the spouse's thesis advisors and their wives along with another couple were to be our guests at dinner.
At odd moments, I suddenly become very aware of my life, the strange and wondrous processes that have gotten me to a certain point in time. And as I stood there, I suddenly realized that I was feeding dinner to a lot of pretty famous scientists. In a short time, in fact, the former head of the Jet Propulsion Lab would be sitting at that table. I tried to feel the momentousness of that fact. But the truth was, to us, he was Bruce.
Bruce Murray, one of the founders of the Planetary Society, professor emeritus at Caltech, died last week. With his passing, the world loses another visionary. We lost a friend.
I met Bruce back when the spouse and I started dating. He was one of the spouse's thesis advisors, and if you've never experienced the rigors of living with someone studying for a Ph.D., then you might not know that thesis advisors sort of become adjunct members of the family, whether you want them or not.
(Of the spouse's thesis advisors, several fell into the Do Not Want category. Bruce was generally good fun.)
I am well aware that Bruce was both revered and reviled for fighting what he saw as the good fight in promoting planetary science. Personally, I'm grateful to him for making sure that we had all those amazing photos of space. But there are a lot of other people out there far more qualified than I am to write about his work and his legacy. I can only tell you about the guy I knew: a man of immense intellect and boundless enthusiasm. A man who always had an idea, was ever ready with a plan. When I think of him, I always see his smile.
I remember him giving a talk on a theoretical lander for Mars, and while he stood in the projector beam, his arms described huge arcs as he went up on his toes, mimicking how the payload would bounce along the surface. I also remember him calling and waking us in the middle of the night when he'd come up with some important something that he needed to share with the spouse that very instant. At least until the night I answered the phone, and told him--sleepily but firmly--not to call after 10 pm. Which, bless him, he never did again.
Last week, the spouse and I raised a glass in Bruce's memory, and we laughed about the time he gave us two visiting Soviet scientists to entertain. We remembered the fun dinner to which Bruce and his lovely wife Suzanne treated us just before the spouse and I married. We grinned about the time he got Carl Sagan to sit in on the spouse's first talk at a conference, and the BBC science program that both he and the spouse ended up in. We recalled the many reasons for our affection for him. And we drank, not to the well-known scientist or the mover and shaker, but to the man who came to dinner.