Some deaths

Three death notices in today’s New York Times, two from September 8. One touched me especially: evolutionary biologist George Williams of Stony Brook University, who died Wednesday at the age of 83. George and I were fellows together at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in 1981-82, and George was responsible for my having published in the Quarterly Review of Biology (only a review, but still).

In addition to being one of the most influential evolutionary theorists of the 20th century, an incisive proponent of the gene as the unit of natural selection, George was extraordinarily nice, a kind and gentle man, genuinely welcoming to ideas contrary to his.

Walking on the foothills above Stanford with George and his wife Doris was one of the great pleasures of that year at CASBS for me.

You can find appreciations of George and his work by pretty much everybody in evolutionary biology and related areas.

Today’s other death notices were for two people who have given me pleasure by their work: the film and tv character actor Harold Gould, especially known for “two television roles in which he played dignified, self-possessed and understanding men trying to look out for the women in their lives” (from Bruce Weber’s obit); and essayist Barbara Holland, especially well-known for her 1995 book Endangered Pleasures: In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity, and Other Indulgences. Gould and Holland, two small but real pleasures.

Then last week, the fortuitous pairing of two obits of gay interest: for Seymour Pine, who led the police raid on the Stonewall Inn back in 1969 and eventually came to say, “If what I did helped gay people, then I’m glad”; and Virginia Smith, a very visible figure in higher education (as president of Vassar, a public official in Washington, and a member of research groups), “survived by her partner of 57 years, Florence Oaks”.

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