Lawyer/poet remembers his friend, ORIE professor Lionel Weiss
Edwin Zimmerman, a prominent Washington lawyer and Assistant Attorney General under Lyndon Johnson, was also a long time active member of the Capitol Hill Poetry Group.
After Zimmerman's death last year, his daughter Miriam found, in his files, a poem about his high school and college friendship with Lionel Weiss, a statistician and member of the ORIE faculty.
The poem, was recently published in the Innisfree Poetry Journal. It is reprinted here with permission.
Something the other day reminded me
of Lionel, my brilliant boyhood friend,
whose mind was agile, whose temper gentle,
who at an early age liked to wander
through mazes of mathematics and did so
surely, as though on well-lit highways.
It has been more than half a century since we spoke
but his image remains clear in my mind
and I think of him time and again -
cheerful, quick, unassuming, finding
humor in the awful - and since I often wondered
what he had made of his life and whether
he knew what I had made of mine,
I thought it time to reconnect, compare
the totals, reminisce. So I went to the great
vat of facts, typed his name, discovered
to no surprise that my friend had flowered,
taught admiring students at warp-speed,
published more than a hundred papers on topics
such as the asymptotic properties
of order statistics, and displayed kindness,
charm, grace, common sense, and wit.
What I hadn’t bargained for, what numbed,
was the shock of finding that these affirmations of my friend
were in a stale obituary, a decade old,
that I had been harboring a ghost,
that I was lonelier than I had realized.
-- Edwin Zimmerman, January 2007
Weiss, who served on the ORIE faculty for nearly fifty years, died in 2000. He went to New York City's DeWitt High School and Columbia University with Zimmerman.
In his online obituary for Weiss, ORIE professor Sidney Resnick refers to Weiss's warp-speed teaching, charm, grace, common sense, and wit, as mentioned in the poem. The poem and the obituary also mention Weiss's research area.
The research reference helped Miriam Zimmerman, a documentary film maker, connect the poem to the obituary and identify the ORIE professor as the subject of the poem: "I googled 'Lionel' and 'aysmptotic properties of order statistics,'" she said. "That's not a phrase a poet usually uses. I found Lionel Weiss instantly with that."
Miriam Zimmerman recently sent a copy of the poem to the Weiss family. Weiss's widow Rhoda recalls that "Lionel liked Ed Zimmerman very much."
The Weiss's son Paul, is Distinguished Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry and of Materials Science & Engineering at UCLA. He responded to Miriam Zimmerman that "my father remains with me often, as I am sure you will find that your father will. There is much in my life now that I would like to share with him, but I have a feeling he already knows."