The Physics Acolyte
Can't guarantee the details of the following, but essentials are
For many years, starting probably around 1954, extending into (I
think) the mid 1980s, I would frequently see in the Physics Library at
Stanford a small, slender, elderly Chinese man, prominent liver spots
on his complexion, wearing a while lab coat. He seemed to be there
every time I went in, generally not reading, and I can't recall that I
ever saw him writing anything, but either standing alone, sometimes
holding a book, or sometimes possibly conversing with someone.
His story (as it came out eventually):
He had come to Stanford from
China around 1939 to work with Prof. Frederick E. Terman, then
Dean of Engineering. (I believe anyway this is "the Terman" of radio
engineering fame, eventually Stanford's Provost, son of Lewis
Terman who pioneered the IQ test). He left behind in China a wife and
children, supposedly to work with Terman for a year.
World War II then came along, possibly blocking his return, and in any
event he never returned. I believe, in fact, (not dead sure about
this), he never saw his wife, children or China again.
After his appointment with Terman ended, as best I recall the story,
he took up some minor position in the Physics Department, running the
stock room (or something similar) and then just stayed on for the rest
of his life, never leaving the Physics Department. Somehow he
acquired a small closet in the Physics Building, where for many years
he slept, cooked his rice, kept his few clothes (including a physics
lab coat), and spent the rest of his life in the Physics Library,
including serving as a volunteer to help keep the library open
evenings and weekends.
He came to know many of the Stanford Physics faculty, and would speak
with them briefly when they came to the library. My impression is he
never did any actual physics, and acted not so much a scholar as a
kind of acolyte or monk, worshipping in and helping watch over the
temple of physics for his entire life.
When he died, which I think was in the mid 1980s, the Physics
staff paid the medical expenses for his last illness and burial, and
there was a memorial service in his honor in the Stanford Memorial
Church, something usually done only for major university figures. I
believe it was noted that the audience and speakers included three
(maybe more) Nobel Laureates.