York Remembered as Scientist, Humanitarian, Leader
Pat Jacoby | Oct. 12, 2009
Chancellor Marye Anne Fox gave remarks during the Herb York Memorial Remembrance.
Associates, colleagues, family and friends gathered for a Memorial Remembrance to Herb York at Mandeville Auditorium Friday, some to speak but hundreds of others merely to be on hand to honor a remarkable man and his life.
The program included remarks by UC San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox; Harold Brown, Secretary of Defense in the Carter Administration; Susan Shirk, director of the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation; Naomi Oreskes, Sixth College Provost; Dr. Kirk Peterson, York's personal physician; Rhianydd Qing York Williams, granddaughter; and Rachel York, daughter.
In welcoming attendees, Chancellor Fox cited “Herb’s knack for being the first person to do something—like becoming the founding Chancellor of UC San Diego. He set the standard for excellence and led us to greatness. Not only was he a leader in academia,” Fox said, “his many other achievements included serving as first director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; appointed as the first director of Defense Research and Engineering; advisor to several U.S. Presidents, from Dwight Eisenhower to Jimmy Carter, and founder and director of UC’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation.
“Because of his vast contributions—as the first Chancellor, as a scholar and philanthropist—I’m pleased to announce that we have renamed our UC San Diego Legacy Society in honor of Herb York. He understood the importance and the value of supporting the university through philanthropy,” she said, “so, from here on out, the Legacy Society will now be known as the UC San Diego York Society in tribute to Herb York.”
Former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown noted that "Herb was a man who matched the challenge of his times."
Brown, a former Secretary of Defense, noted that “Herb was a man who matched the challenge of his times. He was a leading figure in creation of a series of institutions and continued to contribute to society. He was chosen to create the Livermore Lab,” Brown said, “and steered it through its growing pains.”
Herb and I enjoyed 39 years of close personal association, Brown said. “His interest in everything and his great enthusiasm led him to be fun to be with. What a legacy he leaves.”
Shirk began her remarks with a timely reference to the morning’s announcement that President Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize. “I could envision Herb applauding passionately for the Nobel announcement which said ‘The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.’ Herb worked all this life to achieve that vision.”
“As you may know, Herb persuaded Gov. Jerry Brown and UC President David Saxon in 1983 to establish the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, which I now lead.” Shirk said. “Herb believed the university should not be an ivory tower far removed from the urgent problems facing the world today.”
Director of the Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation Susan Shirk gave remarks during the Herb York Memorial Remembrance.
“When I read last week that Iran had said it would consider sending its nuclear material to Russia And France for further enrichment,” Shirk said, “I immediately thought how excited Herb would be to find out if this might be a step toward an international nuclear fuel bank; his vision was of a world in which all nuclear operations were under international control instead of under national governments.”
“Because I am a China scholar, Herb particularly relished discussing China with me. I’m sure you all know that Herb taught himself Chinese and loved China (including the food, of course.) He was thrilled that his daughter Rachel had become a China-hand and that he had two beautiful and brilliant Chinese granddaughters. Despite all the world’s setbacks, Herb never lost his sunny optimism about the prospects for world peace and his confidence that today’s students could become the next generation of global peacemakers.”
Sixth College Provost Oreskes told of her timidity about inviting the Herb York to speak to her class about the history of the atomic bomb. “Herb replied in about three seconds; of course he would come.”
“As Herb talked about his work in arms control, the students began to understand that now we weren’t just talking about history, we were talking to a man who had made history. And Herb welcomed their questions—invited questions—and answered all of them. Freely, openly, honestly,” Oreskes said.
Cecil Lytle performed on the piano Franz Schubert's Sonata in A Major, D. 664.
“He spoke freely about the way his own views of nuclear weapons evolved as the historical situation evolved. And how and why he became committed to arms control. And, in a certain moment, the students would realize that York Hall was actually named after someone. And that someone was in our class, talking—not to them, but with them. I think the students also started to understand—and maybe I started to understand in that moment—what it meant to be UCSD. That we don’t just talk about the history of science here, we make the history of science here.”
Dr. Peterson, a friend and York’s personal physician, described meeting Sybil and Herb York in Switzerland and then being invited to attend a Test Ban social gathering for American and Soviet delegations, “where Herb took obvious pride in introducing a member of his own university faculty.”
“Over the ensuing three decades, we had many medical as well as social encounters, and none were perfunctory or routine—Herb would never let them be so,” Peterson said. “In fact, every lunch that we shared at the Faculty Club was a stimulating experience of Socratic dialogue, with Herb illuminating and defining contemporary political and social issues with clarity and vision. But not all of our out-of-clinic conversations revolved around matters of university, state and country,” he said. “One of my most memorable encounters was a telephone call at 3 a.m. with Dr. York inquiring, in his robust voice, about whether he should go through with a proposed coronary stent insertion by a cardiologist in Hong Kong. Like a man skilled at perfecting informed consent, he understood all the issues that confronted him, and I advised him to proceed. Fortunately for him, and for me, the procedure went well and he was soon on his way back to the U.S.A.”
“For a man who had been in the highest arenas of power and influence,” Peterson said, “he faced the difficult twilight of his life with admirable enthusiasm and equanimity. I also sensed a well-earned confidence that he had vindicated his creation—that both he and his dear and loyal wife, Sybil, had fully acquitted themselves to their family and fellow citizens.”
Rhianydd Qing York Williams, one of four grandchildren gave a speech about her grandfather Herb York.
Rhianydd Qing York Williams, one of four grandchildren, said “I’ve always known my grandfather was a special man, but it wasn’t until many years later that I realized not every kid has a grandfather who had achieved such a great deal and had such an influence, not only on the people around him, but on history. To me, it was almost like he was two different people--one was the renowned physicist and advisor to presidents, and the other was my Gung Gung, which means ‘grandfather on your mother’s side’ in Cantonese.”
“Today, I’m speaking for all the grandkids,” she said. “For my cousin Eddie, who would dare to challenge Gung Gung to games of Go, who reminded me that I must remember Gung Gung as the great storyteller and thinker. For my cousin Marion, who in the tradition of Gung Gung is in the jungle in Costa Rica, learning and experience what the world has to offer. And for my sister Sophie, who made him so proud when she went to study at an Ivy League, even if it meant breaking the trend of York grandkids attending UC’s.
On behalf of her family, York’s daughter, Rachel, thanked those who had come from near and as far as Hong Kong, Ireland, the East Coast and Northern California. She talked of “an almost seamless series of walks and meals with Dad—never in congenial silence—but always in animated conversation on every topic under the sun…politics, nature, or Chinese characters.
Janos Negyesy performed Bun Ching Lam on the violin.
“A typical Dad moment I cherish,” Rachel said, was when he was recovering from leukemia in 2001, sitting in his chair at home, and amusing himself by reading Chairman Mao’s speeches on Agrarian Reform in the original Chinese, laughing his special Herb laugh when he had worked out that the phrase ‘zhi laohu’ literally meant ‘paper tiger.’”
Rachel recalled how her parents had met as students at Berkeley during the war, and had their first date at the Oppenheimers. They never looked back from there, she said.
The program included musical interludes by Cecil Lytle, performing Schubert’s Sonata in A Major, D.664, and an “elegy for Herb” performed by Janos Negyesy.