Remembering Professor Robert Richman (written by Prof. David Keyt)


Bob Richman will be remembered for his big heart, his modesty, his wit, and his intelligence.

Bob died on July 30, 2011, at the age of 88. He never expected to live so long. Since the males in his family had always died young, he was surprised that he lived into his sixties and astonished that he almost reached 90. His longevity was due in part to his love of hiking. He would regularly drive to Mount Rainier for a day hike. When he had a class he would often walk from his house in Madrona to campus and back again — a long beautiful walk traversing the arboretum. These walks in the arboretum were traded for walks in Seward Park when, after retirement, he and his wife, Carol switched neighborhoods.

Bob entered our Department in 1961. We had snatched him from the University of Oregon, where he had landed after getting his Ph.D. from Harvard. Within two years he was, for a quarter, acting chairman; within three he had begun a five-year term as permanent chairman. He returned to the chairmanship, for one quarter, yet again in 1971. Though he didn't particularly like administrative duties, he performed them well.

Bob's big heart is illustrated by a story that came to be told about him. When Bob was chairman, the chairman was also the graduate advisor. In that role Bob sometimes had to tell a graduate student that he had flunked the qualifying examination. Since Bob hated to disappoint or discourage anyone, he would begin by stressing the positive aspects of the student's (failing) performance. In one instance, so the story goes, Bob did such a good job of stressing the positive that a student who had failed the qualifying exam left the chairman's office thinking that he had actually passed. That the story is probably apocryphal is unimportant. Its significance lies in the fact that it was taken to capture Bob's nature.

Bob's sly sotto voce humor is difficult to recreate, but some of it lives on in his underappreciated little gem of a book God, Free Will, and Morality. Those who know the book will recall that Bob's humor infects even the Table of Contents, which lists such chapter titles as 'Was Free Will a Pseudo-Problem?' (implying that philosophical problems and their solutions are temporally indexed), 'The Fly in the Flypaper' (improving on Wittgenstein's famous image), 'Unprincipled Morality' (a pun), and 'With God All is Permitted' (indicating that Ivan Karamazov got it backwards).

Bob's modesty and self-effacement kept his work from getting the recognition that it deserved. It wasn't that Bob was unsure of himself; he was aware of his philosophical talent and ability. He just couldn't bear self-advertisement.

We received many remembrances about Bob... too many to print here in the newsletter. Please go to our website for a walk down memory lane with Bob's students and friends.

http://www.phil.washington.edu/RememberingBobRichman.htm

 

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