This was a giant of a man. Intellectual giant. A character from a by-gone era, an erudite, sophisticated, authentic, self confident man. It was a privilege to know him. I learned from him what a classical education was. They don’t make people like that any more - nor would it be possible even if there were the desire and money -nor is it even desirable I suppose, but it was remarkable. Globalization and the explosive growth in information have narrowed the scope of ‘stuff’ that one person can assimilate so playing a recorder, having a job and friends, and watching movies & TV is about the limit for most people.
Dr. Romer quickly established a friendship with dad that went beyond the professional relationship of congenial co-workers. The effect of this attention was foundational to Jim’s development. It encouraged him to grow and learn and to use his talents and abilities. In so doing, Jim was prepared for jumping out of the nest and taking his place in the world of Paleontology on his own.
Dr. Romer dominated the professional side of our lives in Boston. “Al.” That’s what he told dad to call him, that’s what his wife Ruth told dad to call him, but dad never did. His respect for “Al” was too great. “Al” was forever “Dr. Romer”. Not surprising when you consider the gulf, the abyss really, between them in terms of education, erudition and background.
Dad was raised on a dirt-poor farm, a high-school drop out.
Dr. Romer, attended Amherst, earned a Ph.D., traveled europe
By the time dad meet him, Dr. Romer was internationally known. Dad was in awe and never got over it. Always, Dr. Romer was called Dr. Romer.
Dr. Romer always treated me well. I appreciated that. I understood that he was important and the dominant figure of the museum but he was courteous. He didn’t lavish attention on kids but he was aware we were around and would talk kindly to us if we asked a question. But he was one of the lower gods so I didn’t test the limits. I liked him and admired him and never had any complaints or concerns about him. He impressed me.
Here’s a photo gallery of Dr. Romer in different settings.
I like how informal he was even though he was brought up in tweeds and ties. Notice his fingers and hand as you go through the slides. They are the hands of a working man, not an ivory tower academic. He got right in the middle of digs with his “boys”, luggging things around, digging, and working as much as they did.
Dinner in Provo in 1964,illustrated Dr. Romer’s erudition, Dr. Romer, mom, dad and me. He talked comfortably with me, an opinionated undergrad minoring in Classical Greek, about classical subjects, I thinking snottily that I really was the more current of the two of us. At one point I remarked something about the Sack of Troy knowledgably, I thought, giving the date when it happened. “Oh,” he said, “Wasn’t that in such and such a year?” “No,” I corrected him, “It was (whatever I had said).” He looked down at his plate, took a bite of food, started talking to dad, and let it go. That made me uncertain. I checked later. He was right. Well. But note. Not only did he know more than I did, from his undergrad days several decades previously, but he did not correct me, he didn’t argue with me. He knew the answer better than I, but he didn’t need to win an argument with a brash young man who overstepped the boundaries of his own knowledge. That smarts more than if he’d argued with me. Then, at least, I would have been able to be indignant that he had argued.
At that same dinner with the four of us at the dining room table at 2821 North, Dr. Romer told many interesting funny things. His comments didn’t feel like he was showing off. He was just chatting, bringing in to the conversation things from his past that were apropos to whatever the topic was at that moment. He talked about his undergrad days at Amherst and then recited a long poem - in Latin. Later in the same meal, he recited Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Kahn”, a gorgeous poem I had never heard of. He spoke with humor and security, a most remarkable performance, there in the dry sparsely educated Utah desert.
Well, that’s the man and his background. His education was enormous. He was one of the truly grand, broadly educated men from a by-gone era when that was possible, when well-heeled men -usually men- were able to get themselves around most of the natural sciences, a bit of philosophy, some current events and speak intelligently about them all. This type of figure is gone today, the result of many forces, not least of which are (1) the geometric growth in knowledge and (2) the concomitant shrinkage in the scope of an individual’s area of specialization. It is impossible, today, to keep abreast of developments in the natural sciences, philosophy, cosmology, sociology, political science and so on. So it is sort of unfair to lament the disappearance of a type that was destined to be extinct. But I do. It is impressive to see a person with such a large scope of abilities.
Dr. and Mrs. Romer fulfilled their duty as the responsible parties for the faculty and staff in the paleo section of MCZ by holding a variety of social activities each year, including receptions after lectures and seminars, picnics at their summer home, Christmas parties at their Avon Street home, clam bakes and beach parties. A thumbnail of these actities is found here: