Thursday, September 22, 2005
One of the few truly great men that I have been fortunate enough to meet was a fellow named Frank C. Whitmore. Dr. Whitmore was the Dean of the School of Chemistry and Physics at the Pennsylvania State College while I studied there. He was also an active participant on the War Production Board in Washington and dozens of other academic societies and boards. As a genius should, Dr. Whitmore had his eccentricities. The most apparent was his time saving habit of dictating notes to convey his thoughts rather than calling on the phone, writing a letter, or seeking a meeting. No matter the subject, a simple, typed “Best Wishes, FCW” closed each note.
A PhD candidate lived in the same rooming house as I. Irv had an occasion to write Dr. Whitmore with a request concerning his work. He wrote and rewrote, editing until he felt the letter was clear, concise, and everything a letter to God should be. He paid a secretary to type it for him, then confidently sent it off.
When he received a reply, I happened to be with him. Without a word he passed it to me. I looked at him and so help me, he was laughing and crying at the same time. He had mailed the letter to the Dean and forgotten to sign it. The reply was a severe rebuke informing him of how rude it was to not personally sign a letter. And, of course, the last line was followed by “Best Wishes, FCW”, neatly typed.