Stephen Jay Gould died this morning of cancer in New York City.
I had breakfast at a restaurant in Boston with Steve two weeks ago. He had just had brain surgery. Two crescents were incised on opposite sides of his forehead where tumors had been removed, separated by an elegant ridge of silver hair. Oddly enough, this mohawk hairdo looked great on Steve and I told him so. He was in what can only be described as a state of grace. He was happy, lucid, and utterly without illusion about his situation.†
I can imagine this must read as if Iím just coming up with hazy and comforting clichés, but thatís the way it was. I wondered if I could ever be as clear-headed under similar circumstances.
His mind was focused on the next book he hoped to complete, which was to be about baseball.†
What I remember most of Steve was how much he loved life in all its forms. I remember watching videos documenting cephalopod behavior with him, and he practically took on the identity of each creature as it came on the screen. Sometimes, he would give them cartoon voices. ďAh, Arthropod, witless prey, you will be no match for Cephalopod this time!Ē
Of course Steve will be well remembered in computationally-flavored scientific circles for getting into colorful and sometimes nasty fights with other theorists of evolution. My sense is that while no one is ready to admit it, all the participants in these fights ended up being somewhat tempered and a synthesis of positions is starting to appear.†
Steve loved New York and Boston. He adored walking around in each town. He had a favorite diner in Boston- favorite because it was the first to be integrated, and because it was a survivor. He loved walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. He remained devoted to his antiquarian typewriter, completing his big book on evolution just in time. He loved to sing, and frequently spoke of new pieces his choir was rehearsing. He and his wife Rhonda Shearer would host dinner parties in their New York Apartment, and afterwards Steve would take guests into his library and amaze us with tales from the history of science and old science books in his collection.
I last saw Steve in his hospital room. He had suddenly become
much weaker and could not really speak, but he did acknowledge visitors
with a smile and seemed to still enjoy being alive.