SPEAKER 1: Good morning and welcome everyone to the celebration of the life of Dale Raymond Corson. Dale was a cherished member of the Cornell and greater Ithaca communities for more than six decades, and one of the truly extraordinary leaders in the history of Cornell University or any university.
I extend a special and especially warm welcome to Dale's family, Nellie, Dale's wife of 73 years and partner in so many endeavors, including Cornell. We love you, Nellie Their children, and spouses, or partners, David and Carolyn Corson, Bruce Corson, Mary Wyman, Richard Corson, Cheryl Dorfman, and Janet and John Corson-Rikert, and their grandchildren and great grandchildren. And to Dale's many friends and colleagues from Cornell, and Kendall, and throughout our community, thank you for joining us and Nellie today.
Dale, as you know, was a renowned physicist and engineer, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and who was also honored by the National Academy of Sciences. The discover, as a postdoctoral associate, of astatine, element number 85 on the periodic table, and one of the first elements created in the laboratory, rather than being found in nature.
Well into his long and productive retirement, Dale remained a deep thinker about the place of the research university in our national lives. Just for one example, he founded the Government University Industry Research Roundtable, under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, to promote discussion among the key players in the national Research and development enterprise, an enterprise responsible for the majority of economic growth in this country in the last half of the 20th century.
He was also, as many of you know, an accomplished photographer and designer, whose works combined technical excellent with artist's eye, whether they were photographs of children, or landscapes, or the remarkable sundial that graces our engineering quad.
One of the founders of Kendall at Ithaca, the Life Care community where he lived with Nellie. And not least, he was a great friend of the Cornell glee club and chorus, whose members are providing music for today's celebration.
Robin and I will never forget the first time that we met Nellie and Dale. We decided to do him a big favor and visit him at Kendall so that I could tell him a little bit about what was happening in higher education. We came into a room to meet. And he asked me politely to sit down. He asked me if I brought anything to write on.
I fumbled around and thanks to Robin found a pen and something to write on. And he began to talk and I began to write. Five minutes later, I leaned over to Robin and said, do you have any more paper? 10 minutes later, I broke out into a sweat. 20 minutes later, I had writer's cramp.
One of the things that I will never forget that Dale told me that day, and many days that followed, he said, "You know, we have a much better physics department here at Kendall than you have at the University." And when I looked at him quizzically, he said, "Count the Nobel Prizes, count the productivity. Do your homework."
With so many accomplishments through a long and hugely productive life, it may come as a surprise to those of you who don't know Dale's background that Dale came from extraordinarily humble beginnings on the Kansas frontier. I'm told he did not start his formal schooling until age 7. When his parents thought he was old enough to care for the pony, he had a ride to and from school each day.
We talk about first generation college students, but Dale was the first in his family to attend high school, in Emporia, Kansas, where the family moved after their farm failed. And he might never have been able to follow his passion for physics in college if a thoughtful woman in his town had not offered him a loan.
Dale obviously rose to the very highest levels within his profession. But he remained true to the values of his Midwestern roots. Calm, and resolute, and committed to his family, to Cornell, and to making the community, and the nation, and the world better. And always exemplifying integrity, and competence, and great, and hard-fought wisdom.
As he stepped down as Cornell's Chancellor in 1979, having provided service beyond his presidency to focus on the affairs of what was then the Cornell Medical College, the Cornell Board of Trustees passed a resolution, a part of which I think reflects what many of us feel when we remember Dale Corson.
His fundamental human kindness, combined with foresight, steadfastness, and quiet humor set an example of unpretentious effectiveness that has captured the meaning of Cornell for us all. How fortunate we are that Dale Corson was a part of our university, and our community, and our lives for so many years.
He is here tonight in our hearts. And how fitting that we have all come together to remember him and to reflect on all that he was, all that he accomplished, all that he achieved, and to draw a new purpose, each and every one of us. Purpose in strength from our shared memories of a great man and a great Cornellian.
SPEAKER 2: Dale Corson began his career as a professional physicist in 1938, with the award of the PhD from Berkeley. There he worked in the laboratory of Ernest O. Lawrence, inventor of the cyclotron, who he learned about doing science with accelerators and about the science and technology of the accelerators themselves.
Employing the unique accelerator tools then available at Berkeley, Dale was a discoverer of the chemical element number 85 called astatine, as we've already heard, and with colleagues, measured its chemical character tics. That was 1940. And the call to become involved in the Second World War effort was very strong.
Accordingly, in 1941, he joined the famous Rad Lab at MIT, working on the development of radar, a very physics intensive activity. Application of this new technology to aircraft was a key to the war effort. And Dale was deeply in it, with British colleagues, both here and in Great Britain.
In 1943, he moved to work on the war effort at Los Alamos and was involved in the establishment of the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, a laboratory that focuses on the application of the sciences to national defense. After the war, in 1946, Dale joined the faculty of the Cornell physics department and immediately plunged into the teaching and research activities of the new Laboratory of Nuclear Studies, as it was then called.
Not surprisingly, the folks returning from Los Alamos decided to pursue what was then called nuclear physics and to build a new accelerator of the type invented during the war years, independently in Russia and in the US. It was called synchrotron and promised much higher energies than the Cyclotron.
At the new Cornell Lab, Dale was given primary responsibility for a major subsystem of the new accelerator, a responsibility which required a deep knowledge of both how the accelerator worked, and also the materials that would be required in this environment.
Working with scientists at the Corning Glass Research Lab, he developed a robust glass vacuum system that had an electrically coated surface on the inside, as was necessary for the proper operation of the synchrotron. Needless to say, that effort was successful. And thus, was born number one in a series of Cornell synchrotrons, extending to the present day.
The first beam of electrons in this machine was achieved in 1949. The Final Report on Construction and Early Operation to the Office of Naval Research, which supported this kind of thing in those days, was published in 1953, and Dale was a principal author thereof.
Of course, Corson and colleagues were anxious to use their new instrument to advance the just born science of elementary particle physics, which focused on the inside of the nucleus, rather than on the nucleus as a whole itself, a new science, enabled by the higher energies made possible by the synchrotron.
In addition, there was then still the still novel phenomenon called synchrotron radiation, which was to prove profoundly important for the future of science in more than one way. When electrically charged particles are accelerated, they give off a broad spectrum of light, extending from the far infrared, through the visible, to X-rays.
This had been predicted by classical electromagnetic theory, but it was not known if the prediction was correct. In 1952, using the new synchrotron, Dale published a quantitative measurement of the energy carried by that radiation and showed that it agreed precisely with the theoretical prediction, furnishing, thereby, an essential scientific underpinning for today's many, many applications.
The particle physics experiments with the new accelerator were not neglected either, and Dale published several articles on this subject with students and postdocs. In addition to his important role in the research life with the department, Corson was right in the middle of the teaching activities. No better summary of the first years of his teaching could be given than the 1950 report of the then physics department chair.
And I quote, "During the past five years, he--" Corson, that is-- "has had charge of part of the sophomore physics course for students of Arts and Sciences. He has taken a great interest in this course and has been instrumental in improving the quality of the course. And at the same time, stimulating and maintaining student interest in it." This is physics, remember.
"His teaching also extends to the advanced laboratory, where a broad range of experimental physics is taught for seniors and graduate students. He has been instrumental in developing some of the experiments in nuclear physics in that laboratory."
Pedagogy remained a central part of Dale's devotion. Based on his experience, both in research and teaching undergraduate physics during these years, he authored and co-authored textbooks which had a significant impact on the teaching of the science of electricity and magnetism, the first appearing in 1958.
These undergraduate texts covered both introductory and advanced material, and exhibited his deep knowledge of the subject, and his ability to convey it effectively. They present with great clarity the underlying theory, followed by examples, both pedagogical in purpose, together with important practical applications, a combination not elsewhere found in this genre.
In 1956, recognizing Dale's leadership ability and many relevant skills, he was appointed Chair of the physics department, in which role he knew exactly what to do and how to do it. Leaving in 1959 an outstanding department studded with outstanding scientist.
This experience in scientific research, pedagogy, administration, and leadership, already an enviable record, were to become of inestimable value in the years to come.
SPEAKER 3: In 1969, the Cornell campus was in turmoil. A building had been occupied, classes and exams had been canceled, faculty were badly divided from students and from each other. The president had been forced out. The mood was anger, fear, confusion, and everyone was overtired.
I had just been elected a faculty trustee and asked to serve on the committee to recommend a president. That committee met only once and for less than 15 minutes. There was immediate and unanimous agreement that we must get a president just as soon as possible. And the only one for the job was Dale Corson.
I was delegated to ask him whether he was willing to serve. I saw him that afternoon, and he said he would. That was most fortunate for Cornell. He was about the only person who had everyone's trust. And trust is critical for any leader.
Dale had earned it with his absolute honesty. Not only did he tell you the truth, the whole truth, even if it wasn't what you were hoping for, Dale went one step further and made sure that you understand all of the ramifications for you.
Dale was completely devoted to truth in all that he did. And as Bruce Corson notes, his father was able to aggregate and communicate a consensual truth consistent with his principles.
There was another reason that Dale Corson was the perfect choice for the time. One of the principal reasons for the division on campus was a questioning of the mission of the university. The time-honored community of scholars concept was being questioned by those who thought the university must become a change agent to right the injustices of war, racism, sexism, and poverty.
Dale very much wanted to correct all those. But he did not see that it interfered with the traditional role of the university. And he would not let it do so. He never said these things, because he wanted to avoid controversy. But every action he took reflected his devotion to truth and his strong conviction that a university must be a place for discovering and preserving truth.
He felt it was his job to see that there was a stable and supportive environment for scholarship and learning. In the first few years of his term, he was tested repeatedly. He always stayed true to his convictions. At a time of crisis, he would tell his staff, these are to be our principles, and then he listened.
They were always true to his concept of the university, although his tactical principles changed with the event. But incidentally, the first principle didn't change. It was always no police on campus. Throughout the entire period, Dale's unwavering devotion to truth and honesty served him and Cornell well. It got Cornell out of turmoil and strengthened the university so it continued, so it could continue, to be the great university it is today.
SPEAKER 4: Many of us in this room had an intimate connection with Dale Corson, however varied our interests and disciplines, and each of us is better for our association. Many of us felt that he and we were working towards something larger than ourselves, something valuable, something that the university might call community, and others might term grace.
This sense came from Dale, who listened more than he talked, who was Augustinian in his forbearance, and who felt intimately that all of us were in process, that each of us was sacred and salvageable.
I was a frightened freshman when I first met President Corson, when he and I worked on a committee charged with finding a way to negotiate Cornell's abbreviated term in the advent of the 1970 United States bombing of Cambodia. The meeting was contentious. Students wanted to be heard. Faculty members worried that standards had to be maintained. Everyone to a one felt unheeded.
And then President Corson, with great delicacy, asked each of us what we most valued in what someone previous to us had stated. That is, to take the thoughts of another seriously as if they were our own. To do what Dale always did seamlessly. And we became a community, a commonwealth.
And on my way out of that meeting, the president-- remember, he was the president, and I was a lowly freshman-- made a point of seeking me out. And he told me, and I'll never forget it, thank you for trusting in us.
I've thought a great deal about that generous overture in my time at Cornell. It was the beginning of a maturing for me, of a connection that Dale and I maintained over many years. It was the first time that I was thanked for my involvement in something larger than myself. It was the beginning, just as powerfully, of my desire to earn that trust.
And it was the first time that I was invited into the purifying calculus of a great educator. And that was what Dale Corson was. Imagined you not as the intellectually unwashed, which I surely was, but in your fullest possibility. I was not merely someone of 18 years of age, an isolate. I was part of a grand notion, if I would only take up the mantle.
It was not surprising that President Corson would bring great poets, like AR Ammons and great humanistic scholars, like Jay Saunders Redding, to Cornell. Dale was true intellectual. He wanted us to understand how things are interconnected, to celebrate what was generous and generative, to seize and venerate wonder. Like Dale, Professors Ammons and Redding were lyricists of inclusion and the perils of disintegration.
In the difficult years of Cornell's racial coming of age, it was Dale Corson who kept this institution together, yes, physically, but also spiritually. A few years back, black students honored President Corson at reunion. Many of those students had kept in contact with him for 40 years. And I know he felt enormously proud of them and their accomplishments.
Many of them now lawyers, doctors, filmmakers, and bankers. Others might have seen these students as merely troublemakers and wished them ill for their misbegotten politics. For many of these students had been in the Willard Straight takeover. But not Dale.
He viewed them as he did me, as fellow travelers. He knew what it meant to be the first to go to college, the apprehension and the fears. He understood that we were variously impassioned, sometimes wrongheaded, sometimes naive, but irrefutably valuable.
In time, most of us grew to merit his respect. And all of us at some juncture of true import, when we were in the throes of great despair or highest celebration, when the world in words was phrased, was too much with us, would, like so many in this room, ask ourselves, what would Dale Corson do?
SPEAKER 5: Nellie and family, President Gordon, and Dale's many friends and admirers, this celebration has traced some of the steps that Dale took in his extraordinary, nearly century long, career, that began on an isolated Kansas farm and climaxed with the widely praised and globally significant achievements on the national and international stages.
Dale actually reached that stage quite quickly. Shortly after he gained the distinction, as Maury Tigner has mentioned to us, of co-discovering element 85 on the periodic table, that achievement and the publication of one of the earliest papers on synchrotron radiation, helped elevate him into that small group of scientists, largely physicists, who in 1941 and 1942 founded the MIT Radiation Laboratory, which was developing radar.
Before Pearl Harbor, and while still in his mid-20s, Dale, in charge of primitive radar equipment, flew bomber runs over the North Atlantic in order to test, and, it was hoped, quickly improve the radar needed to track German ships and especially submarines.
Dale later wrote laconically, quote, "There were plenty of submarines to find there." And partially as a result, he and his colleagues rapidly improved radar. Later in 1941, he flew to England to help work out successfully vital cooperation between the British and US laboratories, which until that point had been independently developing radar much too slowly.
He arrived in the London area as it was enduring some of the worst months of the Nazi aerial blitz. Dale later noted that at this point he learned a most valuable lesson, one that shaped his handling of the challenges he later faced at Cornell and after he retired from the Cornell presidency.
Quote, "Existing technology was not being improved a little at a time. Entirely new technology was being developed. And it was done by people who were unencumbered with the older ways of doing things. One does not develop a jet engine by improving a piston engine. It takes new ideas and new people. And so too with radar."
Dale concluded that to act anew in a world suddenly shaped by radar, the atomic bomb, and the United Nations, it was necessary to think differently. The MIT Radiation Laboratory's success, Dale believed, was one result of such thinking. And some of Dale's major successes at Cornell over the following three decades were other results.
After joining the Cornell physics department in 1946, he chaired this distinguished department during the mid to late 1950s, an explosive decade, politically marked by Mccarthyite attacks on Cornell physicists, among other faculty. Dale, President Malott, and others blunted those attacks while defending academic freedom.
In 1959, Malott asked him to become Dean of the College of Engineering. Dale later recalled, with one of his slight smiles, that doubts were raised about a physicist becoming Dean of Engineering, particularly a physicist who was intent on making changes in that college.
As Dale phrased it in a 1962 panel discussion, he believed Cornell engineering had been for 40 years primarily geared for a traditional undergraduate education and not for multiplying postwar demands. With the help of a $4.3 million grant he had solicited from the Ford Foundation, Dale changed that curriculum, gave new emphasis to and resources for graduate research and multidisciplinary approaches.
He oversaw the organizing of the Center for Radio Physics and Space Research and the Material Science Center. He was also instrumental in the founding in 1963 of the Arecibo Observatory.
At the observatory's 40th anniversary celebration, Dale was honored, not only because his earlier support had helped obtain the necessary funding from the US government, but because this, quote, "Highly regarded photographer," as one article accurately characterized Dale, had taken some of the earliest pictures of the telescope.
When Dale became Provost in 1963, the entire university, and indeed the university world, was quickly changing, although many of us did not realize how fundamentally. Dale understood that although many might enjoy the status quo, notably perhaps tenured professors, change was not only inevitable, but rapid and often fundamental.
The central question was how it was to be handled. Thus, for example, when the 1969 crisis occurred, as we've already been reminded this morning, his overriding principle was that it be handled without the squads of police and other law enforcement officers who gathered around from the state, in downtown Ithaca, for a possible occupation of the campus.
He was right. While president in the early 1970s, he concluded that students who occupied buildings in order to protest the Vietnam War be waited out, not physically forced out. He was right.
And when Professor Don Greenberg, on a more personal level, came to Dale, frustrated because he could not find the support needed to develop a virtually unknown field, that Don believed could change the way we view much of our environment, a field called computer graphics, Dale found a location and the all-important seed money for Professor Greenberg's pioneering work.
Through it all, Dale somehow maintained increasingly good relations with the growing numbers of minority, and women students, and faculty who he had committed to bring to Cornell, with the new Africana Center he had helped establish, with faculty who had differed with him in 1969. And of particular significance, I think, with Cornell alumni, some of whom had been alienated by the campus events of the late '60s.
He left the presidency in 1977. But a number of Dale's most significant accomplishments lay ahead. In 1982, he chaired a landmark National Academy of Sciences study, now known as quote, "The Corson Report." It was a reasoned highly effective protest against increased secrecy in government funded science.
It was so effective that the study forced the Reagan administration to deal with Dale's critique in a national security directive. Of particular significance, Dale led but became a 10-year long World Bank effort to help bring leading Chinese universities back from the near abyss of the Cultural Revolution.
Cornell Professor [INAUDIBLE] who worked with Dale, has noted that Dale became, quote, "Probably the best informed American on the quality of Chinese higher education." The result was the dispersal, largely under Dale's direction, of $2 billion of no-interest, or low-interest World Bank loans, that proved pivotal in helping revive the major parts of Chinese higher education.
Dale, as we've been reminded this morning, was also the leader in creating the Government University Industry Roundtable in 1984. He designed the roundtable to help regain American leadership as he saw it, of cutting edge science and technology, by erasing the restraining lines that were separating government, university, and industry.
The roundtable was and is a noted success. Next month, the roundtable will gather in Washington for a two-day meeting to discuss the topic, "Re-imagining the University." That title could be appropriately subtitled, quote, "In Honor of Dale Corson."
Dale is remembered for his humility. And by some for being what the Cornell Sun on his retirement from the presidency termed, "The quiet president." Many people were actually giving prayerful thanks for any quiet they could find on campus in the middle 1970s.
But being quiet was not one of Dale's primary characteristics. Primary was his personal courage and commitment, that took him into battle zones in order to develop radar, led him to confront McCarthyism in the 1950s, and swept him into the crises he endured in and after 1969 at Cornell.
Primary was his cutting-edge intelligence that discovered a new element in the periodic table, helped adapt radar to evolving military needs, reshaped Cornell's distinguished College of Engineering for the demands of the late 20th century, and played a major role in helping leading Chinese universities move into the global community of world class scholarship.
Dale's gifts, like his personality, were unique. And those gifts will also be inspiring for the many he touched and helped nationally and internationally. And I think especially for Cornellians.
CATHERINE CORSON: Good morning. I'm Catherine Corson and this is Abby Spencer. Dale Corson was our grandfather. 98 years is a long time, more than one lifetime by most standards. So it should not surprise you that it's no easier to capture the many facets of my grandfather's family life than it is to summarize his long professional career.
But like his professional career, when you begin to consider the less public life, certain themes emerge. His commitment to family, the importance of technical precision, and artistic perfection. His genuine interest in the lives and concerns of others. And his appreciation of the natural world.
We would like to share with you a collage of memories from his wife, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. On behalf of the family, Abby and I will read these as a duet to share with you the diversity and richness of his life.
ABBY SPENCER: My grandparents met at the College of Emporia in Kansas. My grandmother recalls, "Dale was a year ahead of me, quite shy and quiet. I got teased about doing all the talking for the two of us. The first time we were out together, we got a ride in someone's car. I wanted to demonstrate that I was an independent woman.
So when we stopped, I jumped out of the car before he could open the door for me. In my haste, I slammed the door on his hand. It was obviously very painful. But he did his best to convince me it was nothing. I guess we had a lot of practice forgiving each other over our 78 years together, but he set a high bar on that first date."
CATHERINE CORSON: The best advice I learned about marriage came from my grandparents. They were married in 1938, in the living room of my great grandparents' home. Their honeymoon consisted of a drive across country from Kansas to Berkeley. My grandmother later recalled this trip and the very early trials that they faced as a newly married couple.
"We started out across Western Kansas," she said. "And during the afternoon, we ran into a dust storm, and then a rainstorm, and then the windshield wipers didn't work. So I just reached out and worked them by hand."
In a letter that grandpop wrote to me and my husband on our wedding day, he wrote of the larger lesson that he had retained from that trip. "Marriage is not easy," he wrote. "There will be storms that threaten you. Sometimes it will be hard to find your way. During those times, may you always count on each other to keep one hand on the steering wheel and another on the windshield wipers."
ABBY SPENCER: In 1960, my grandparents chipped in with three other physics families to buy an old sea captain's cottage on the coast of far down East Maine. My mother remembers, "It was a haven for our father, 12 hours drive from Ithaca, off the grid, no telephone. You might think it was the sound of the ocean waves or the lobsters straight from the boat that attracted him. But the best part of that cottage for my father was the never ending negotiation with the generator.
It challenged him practically every day, a new problem to be diagnosed, jerry-rigging to try out, or new parts to be found, requiring long treks up the bumpy dirt road to the hardware store. Somehow he always managed to convince that generator to see things his way."
CATHERINE CORSON: For me, my grandfather's power in the world was signified by one tiny wire on that generator. The wire, that if it ever broke, would mean the end of light at Ripley. No one else, not even the generator repairman, understood what that wire did.
We all feared the day that grandpop would no longer be able to give us directions by cell phone from Ithaca on how to fix the generator.
As usual, though, he had a plan. In 2011, at age 97, he carefully researched and purchased a modern generator that promised to be less eccentric. But he just couldn't restrain himself and ended up designing custom circuits that might yet confound both his progeny and the repairman.
Our grandfather loved exploration. And he saw travel and outdoor living as gateways to learning. My aunt remembers. "Dad didn't have a lot of free time. But we were lucky to be part of what he had. And much of that time was spent outside. Come summer, our pattern was to drive west to Kansas and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
We had a big old army surplus tent and army surplus sleeping bags. I can still conjure up the musty smell. When I first started hiking on my own, I wasn't really an enthusiast. So I entertained myself, thinking about lunch.
I recall the great dismay I felt when on one hike, dad gleefully announced lunch was one cube of concentrated calories for each of us, the latest in NASA nutritional technology. That meal put a definitive end to my aspirations to be an astronaut."
ABBY SPENCER: My uncle remembers, "Even on these family vacations, our father never stopped being a teacher. The knowledge we gained through him on these trips, which covered everything from history, to geology, to astronomy, and fauna and flora, has enhanced my life immensely. What I'll always remember is his passion for improving his children's understanding of the world."
As my mother recalls, "There didn't seem to be any question he couldn't answer. He remembered people, events, and dates with amazing accuracy, and knew something about almost everything, animal tracks, birds, constellations, geography, history, poetry, music, the causes of various natural phenomena, and how almost anything worked. And what he didn't know, he took on as a challenge.
A perfectly innocent question about the town in Maine with the earliest sunrise led to pages of handwritten calculations, and later a treatise on all the relevant variables, latitude, longitude, topography, elevation, time of year, atmospheric refraction, temperature and barometric pressure. Needless to say, the correct answer was not the easternmost point in the state.
He studied and mastered celestial navigation. And though his love of technology drew him to the earliest versions of computers and GPS, his highest admiration was reserved for such individuals as Lewis and Clark, and Ernest Shackleton, who managed amazing feats of navigation with simple tools and basic mathematics."
CATHERINE CORSON: My cousin describes, "When I was 13 he was 83, my grandfather organized a trip with my uncle and me to retrace parts of Lewis and Clark's exploration through Montana and Idaho. I still have his blue binder, assembled in preparation for our adventure.
On one page, his dense handwriting takes me back to Forest Grove 569 in the Bitterroot Mountains. I vividly recall sitting on the back seat, breathing in the fresh mountain air through my open window, as our four by four vehicle steadily climbed thousands of feet in elevation.
With grandpop consulting an Atlas in his lap, we took turn after turn on rough dirt roads until snowdrifts blocked our way. It was remarkable to think of Lewis and Clark struggling through the same rugged terrain after crossing the Continental Divide on their way to the Pacific Ocean. There are places throughout that country that will always be linked to fond memories of our trip together."
ABBY SPENCER: Much of what we learned from him came from helping him with his projects. My uncle says, "I can't smell a soldering iron without being transported to the workroom, dad's basement shop space. I spent hours there assisting him as he assembled numerous do-it-yourself electronic component kits.
He followed the instructions meticulously. Each wire was exactly the right length to be routed from here to there, with precise right-angle bends. He taught me to respect tools, to care for them, to store them in an easily retrievable order, and to buy good ones.
For years, I have had a stubby flat blade screwdriver and a small quarter inch drive socket wrench set that I requisitioned from dad's tool collection quite late in his life. Despite having no discernible use for these tools, he fretted about my not returning them to him.
I resolved the issue when I finally confessed that I kept them as a visceral connection between us. When I touch them, he is there with me."
CATHERINE CORSON: Grandpop loved writing letters to his grandchildren and his great grandchildren. And he loved teaching them, all of them, before their first birthday to give high fives.
ABBY SPENCER: My sister recalls, "He wrote me a letter on the day I was born. His words provide me a treasured image of that day, noting everything from the weather, to current world events, to his first impressions of me in the hospital. He describes my eyes and hair, my curiosity, how solid I felt in his arms, and my reaction to his camera's flash.
He reviews the preparations for my homecoming, how my room is equipped, the windows washed, a monitor set up beside my crib, and my older siblings' drawings of me posted on the fridge. He closed the letter, "It has been a fine day today. We hope that all your days, or at least most of them, will be fine days.""
CATHERINE CORSON: His commitment to us extended throughout our entire lives. When I interviewed for academic positions, he became a close advisor. I once called him in a panic during an interview at a university that was highly ranked-- well, defined by basketball, something I didn't follow.
I called him to get the latest scores before I met with the dean. He knew the scores, of course, but the dean didn't ask me about basketball.
ABBY SPENCER: He had to wait until he was 92 for his first great grandchild. But they came in close succession after that first. And he seemed to think they were worth waiting for. He would just light up seeing my daughter.
He held her, and clucked at her, and cajoled her into riding on his lap in his electric wheelchair. As a toddler, she remembered him between visits and responded to his warmth and interest, even through Skype, eagerly showing him her toys and latest tricks.
CATHERINE CORSON: He and my son Jeffrey wrote emails back and forth via me from the time Jeffrey was three. Jeffrey would dictate them to me. I would send an email, to which my grandfather would eagerly respond.
With the bittersweet symmetry of life, in his final months, grandpop had to resort to dictation as well, enlisting his children for the service. His last dictated letter was a reply to his great grandson's correspondence about coming to celebrate his 98th birthday. To the end, my grandfather had his priorities straight.
ABBY SPENCER: There is so much that we could say about our grandfather, about his intellectual curiosity, commitment to family, and love of travel. He was a role model, an advisor, and a friend. We miss him profoundly.
SPEAKER 6: 40 years ago this fall I met Dale Corson in person for the first time. As a Cornell senior, I went to Day Hall to invite President Corson for dinner at my sorority and come speak to our sisters and fraternity guests.
Typical of college students, I made this request but 10 days in advance of our desired date. While that proved impossible, President and Mrs. Corson did make themselves available about a week later. And indeed came to Phi Beta Phi for dinner and an evening conversation, sitting beside the fire in our living room.
That evening at this event, I distinctly remember, all these years later, although I have zero recollection at all of extending the invitation. Thanks to Dale and Nellie's personal archives, otherwise known as Janet's Basement, the documentation of that invitation remains.
Little could I have known back then that my life and Dale's would intertwine in so many ways. His wisdom, his generosity of spirit, his advice, his integrity, and most of all, his perspective, have had such an impact on my life, both personally and professionally.
Dale Corson was indeed Cornell's good fortune. And it has been my personal very good fortune to have benefited from that association. As we close today's celebration, I invite you to join me in remembering Dale in your own special way.
For me, it will be Dale the mentor, Dale the administrator, Dale the teacher. For you, it may be his life in science or engineering, his incredible skill as a university leader, his work in and for the community, whether that be the local, national, or international community, his passion for opening doors for all who could and should benefit from a university education, or his love as a husband, father, grandfather, or great grandfather.
For all of us who knew him, Dale will forever be remembered for his extraordinary accomplishments and his gifts over these 98 years. Ever the educator, he also remained a learner until the very end, inspired by his insatiable desire to know and his eternal sense of wonder in all that surrounded him.
Please sit with these thoughts as we enjoy our university organist, Annette Richard, playing the postlude. Presidents Skorton, and Lehmann, and Rhodes, and the Corson family will depart a bit in advance so they may be ready to receive you in the Dyson Atrium at Sage Hall at the conclusion of the service.
When you process to Sage Hall, listen to the ringing of the Cornell chime. It is a gift to Dale and Nellie from their family in honor of their sixtieth anniversary, and revel in the Alma mater as we all give thanks for Cornell's good fortune, Dale Raymond Corson.
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The life of Cornell President Emeritus Dale Corson was celebrated at a service September 8 in Sage Chapel including a welcome by President David Skorton, remarks by honored guests and family, and music from the Glee Club and Cornell Chorus.
Corson, who died March 31, was Cornell's eighth president and professor of physics emeritus. He served as president from 1969 to 1977, and was known for leading the university through one of its most turbulent eras, marked by student protests against the Vietnam War and for civil rights.