Memories of Joe Platt, Page 18

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Thomas Helliwell

Professor emeritus, physics department, HMC

I first met Joe in 1957 when I was a college senior, and was recruited by him in 1961 as I was trying to finish my doctorate. Joe was a charming and compelling recruiter; we met outdoors, me in a chair and he sitting on a wall, curling his legs up under him, stoking his pipe and talking about his dreams for a great college. How could I not want to join?

It always seemed to me that Joe and Jean provided half the vision of HMC: The other half was provided by the Mudd family and their friends. Both halves were essential for the ultimate success of the college. They got on well together.

Four aspects of Joe’s personality stand out especially vividly to me, all of them contributing to the legacy of the college even for those who never knew him personally.

The first was integrity. You knew where Joe stood, and he never disappointed. An example: in the early days the faculty endlessly debated what qualities we were looking for in our students. At one point a faculty member suggested that to learn something about them, we tell potential students one thing but actually do something else. Another faculty member said he didn’t think that was smart, because somebody would find out. Joe said in his kind way that it wasn’t only not smart, but it wasn’t right. That settled that.

The second was teamwork. His way was to make everyone, faculty, students, alumni, staff, trustees, feel part of a team; we had no doubt we WERE part of a team. An example: in the 1960’s, while other campuses were storming administration buildings to protest the Vietnam war, some HMC students decided to organize their own protest. And who was the first person they asked to speak to them? Joe, of course.

The third was quality. An example: Joe traveled the country recruiting the best founding faculty he could. Art Campbell and Roy Whiteker in chemistry, Bob James in mathematics, Bill Davenport and George Wickes in humanities, and Gray Bell and Duane Roller in physics. And a couple of years later he brought in engineers of like quality, to found what ultimately became the best undergraduate engineering program in the country.

The fourth was fun. Joe had a sense of play. An example of course is his guitar playing and singing Art Roberts songs, at places like the East Dorm Christmas Party. “When Rabi was a young man….” “Round and round and round go the deuterons …..”. Nobody was left out; we all came in on the choruses.

Joe was and is the fundamental soul of Harvey Mudd College.

Bob Cave

Professor of chemistry, HMC

I loved Joe’s enthusiasm for each new endeavor at HMC. His ability to support innovation that furthered the mission statement was inspiring.

John Townsend

Professor of physics, HMC

My first year at HMC was Joe’s last and 20th year as president. So most of my experiences with Joe date from the period after he returned from a five-year sojourn as head of CUC. He started teaching a section of Physics 54, Modern Lab, each spring until he was 90, to very good effect with the students. Since I chaired the physics department in that period, he often introduced me as his boss, which certainly gave me a good laugh.

Looking back at the history of Harvey Mudd College, the most striking thing to me is that Joe somehow managed to create a college that was perceived as excellent from the very beginning, one that consequently attracted unusually capable students and faculty. It is an amazing accomplishment, given where we started, and speaks to Joe’s special character.