Share / Discuss

Mangelsdorf Remembered

Paul Mangelsdorf Jr. ’49, Morris L. Clothier Professor Emeritus of Physics, died March 5. Former student Marc Joel Wertheimer ’71 was unable to attend the memorial service for Paul, but he sent a letter to be read. Here is the text of his letter:

I wish I could have come in person to speak about Paul. He was among a select few people in the world who have greatly impacted my life in an enduring way.

As my professor of physics he taught that the quality of my reasoning and my process was more important than a correct answer. Not that accuracy doesn’t matter, but this was college, and learning how to learn was the bigger issue. I also discovered that this grandfatherly sort with a bicycle, suspenders, and a bowtie was not always as benign as he appeared. Corrective encouragement was meted out as needed but with adequate kindness: a velvet fist.

Paul was unusual in his grading style. He made audiotapes in which he cited his opinions both favorable and not. He would even comment on the jokes I scattered through my papers, placed there to see if he really read them. He read them all right and critiqued the jokes as well as my efforts in physics. I was more offended by having jokes downgraded than by failed efforts in science. He would offer alternatives and say, “This would have been funnier had you said XXX.”

I eagerly sought out extra courses with Professor Manglesdorf, and the lessons learned are still useful to me today. In addition to understanding tides and winds, tectonic plates, and foot pounds, Bernoulli, Venturi, and Avogadro, I am among the select few who know what drumlins and eskers are. How lucky can one get? 

As Paul’s physician for several decades I had a chance to practice some role reversal. There were no tapes, but the flow of advice and help reversed direction. It was a joy and privilege to have that opportunity.

It was always more than just a doctor/patient relationship. He was a scientist, educator, and gentleman, interacting with a student now grown up. We were two friends with mutual respect, admiration, and love. We are always students or at least should strive for that and, in all my time with Paul, I continued to learn from him: how to be a human being, spouse, parent, grandparent., and community member. I also learned the necessity to be charitable and honest. He taught by example, and others could not help but improve themselves by observing. I also learned that one can accept the unwanted events in life and move past them and live well. I doubt I could face adversities as well as he did. Setting strong examples for life? No one does it better, and that was just who he was. There was nothing preconceived or contrived, just natural Paul at his perpetual natural best.

When Paul and Mary Burnside Mangelsdorf ’48 were finally unable to maintain our professional connection it was a sad day with a teary goodbye, which went both ways. That was the last day I saw him. It will not be the last day that I think of him or be influenced by him. Every day in most everything I do there is piece of Paul. My life was greatly changed by Swarthmore College and the faculty staff and students there. Paul Mangelsdorf is at the top of the list of those for whom I am grateful.