Ned Goldwasser, 97, loving husband and father, Professor of Physics Emeritus
and former Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at the University of Illinois, and former Deputy Director of Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory, died on December 14th at his Urbana home. He was a passionate and tireless advocate for education, the pursuit of knowledge, and equal rights for all. He was also a warm and generous man who loved and was loved by his family and an immense number of friends.
Born in Manhattan on March 9, 1919, the son of Israel Edwin and Edith Goldwasser, he attended Horace Mann School and then majored in physics at Harvard University, graduating in 1940. He was on the Harvard swim team, and he continued to swim regularly well into his 80s.
It was while he was at Harvard that he was introduced to Elizabeth (Lizie) Weiss.
They were wed on October 27, 1940, and shortly thereafter moved to Washington,
D.C., where Ned worked for two years for the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance. They
then moved to Berkeley, California, where Ned was employed by the Twelfth Naval
District until 1945, helping to degauss ships to protect them against enemy mines.
Ned completed his PhD in physics at UC Berkeley in 1950. It was the McCarthy
era, and all University employees at that time were required to sign a loyalty oath. A total of 31 “non-signing” professors were dismissed by the University of California, and even though as a post-doc Ned wasn’t required to sign the oath, his conscience moved him to leave as well rather than replace a departing faculty member.
In 1951 Ned accepted a faculty position at the University of Illinois. Having
grown up in Manhattan, then lived in California for a decade, moving to a small
university town in Illinois seemed daunting to Lizie and Ned. In fact, Ned was convinced that Lizie would hate it. However, they soon became enamored with the congeniality of Champaign-Urbana and the close-knit physics department, building meaningful relationships that spanned many decades.
As a physicist, Ned had an immense curiosity about the makeup of matter. He
performed research experiments at the betatron, a small particle accelerator located on the U of I campus. He also played a leading role in efforts to bring a national accelerator lab to the Central United States.
In 1957 he received Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellowships to spend a year in
Rome, accompanied by his family. He lectured that entire year in Italian, having
received lessons from Laura Fermi, the wife of Enrico Fermi.
A dedicated and inspiring teacher, Ned wrote the then-influential college textbook
Optics, Waves, Atoms and Nuclei (New York, W.A. Benjamin, 1965). He also helped to develop the PSSC physics curriculum, which transformed the way physics was taught in U.S. high schools. His overarching goal in teaching physics was to reveal to students what he called the beauty of physics—“its support of the unflinching drive of human beings to understand more about their surroundings.”
In 1967 Ned was named the first Deputy Director of Fermilab National
Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. Working closely with the Director, his dear friend Robert Wilson, they oversaw the construction of the world’s largest small particle accelerator. During construction, Ned led the effort to require contractors and unions that wanted to participate in the project to expand their minority involvement. Once the Laboratory was operational, Ned fought to make it a truly international enterprise, insisting that physicists from all over the world, including (at the height of the Cold War) the Soviet Union, be allowed to participate in its research activities. Fermilab became a center of learning and research for physicists all over the world, while at the same time serving as a model for how scientists, to quote Ned, “[can] lead the way in demonstrating that any business enterprise can make a significant contribution to improving the plight of the under-privileged, the undereducated and the underemployed.”
Ned resigned from Fermilab in 1978 to become Vice Chancellor for Academic
Affairs and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Illinois. Upon his
resignation, Dr. Wilson commented, “I have been honored and privileged to be
associated with this great physicist and lovable man in the adventure of Fermilab,” and went on to say that “the successes of the Laboratory, the firm foundation for the future, the cultural ambience, the spirit of opportunity for all, the international importance of our work, are all monuments to his sense of the value of science and its place in our society.”
When Ned and Lizie returned to the University of Illinois they bought a house on
Delaware Avenue, just a block from their previous home in Urbana, where they lived together for the next 38 years. In his new administrative role, Ned was instrumental in implementing a bridge program to help minority students succeed at the university. He also almost singlehandedly saved University High School (Uni) when the U of I College of Education withdrew its financial support, by helping to establish a state funding plan for Uni and arranging for the school to report directly to his office.
In 1986, Ned and Lizie returned to Berkeley for two years, where Ned joined the
Central Design Group for the Superconducting Super Collider. From 1993 to 1994, he was a Linde Distinguished Fellow at Cal Tech, where he worked on the development of the gravity wave detector.
Before and after Ned’s retirement, he and Lizie traveled throughout the world,
including trips to Russia, China, East Africa, Ecuador, Israel, and frequently to Europe. They also made annual visits to Stephentown, NY, where Lizie’s mother had built an enclave of houses that served as a gathering place for family for nearly 50 years. It was a place where Ned could partake in three of the great loves of his life—playing tennis with his family, swimming in the nearby pond, and replacing and repairing dilapidated floor joists and appliances.
Lizie’s and Ned’s marriage of 76 years was a loving partnership marked by a
shared passion for music, culture, travel, the exchange of ideas, and above all for
family. He was devoted to Lizie and to their five children, Mike, John, Kathy, Davey and Rick. He was a hands-on father at a time when it was such a rarity that his fathering style was featured in a book on parenting, Helping Your Child’s Emotional Growth by Anna M. Wolf. He encouraged each of his five children to follow his/her own path, wherever that might lead, to treat all people with fairness and respect, and to enjoy life to the fullest.
As Ned entered his 90s, he and Lizie maintained an active social and cultural life,
while Ned continued his lifelong quest for the perfect bowl of chocolate ice cream.
When he finally lost his driver’s license, he made almost daily two-mile trips to the
grocery store on his adult tricycle. Despite his failing hearing and vision, he continued to involve himself in the lives of his children and in the affairs of the University and the world.
Ned died with the same grace with which he lived his life. He managed to have
meaningful conversations with each of his children about his life and his impending
death, and in his final days he spoke often of his extraordinary good fortune to have lived so well and so long.
Ned was preceded in death by his sisters Marjorie Wyler and Joan Schine, and
by his grandson Daniel. He is survived by his wife Lizie, his son Mike and daughter in-law Marion, his son John and daughter in law Kathy Cash, his daughter Kathy, his son Davey and domestic partner Kate Moses, his son Rick, grandchildren Sarah and Ellen Goldwasser, Shama and Sophie Cash-Goldwasser, Ben Goldwasser, Jake Baker and Josh Goldwasser, and 18 nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate donations made in Ned’s name to
the American Civil Liberties Union (www.aclu.org), Planned Parenthood
(www.plannedparenthood.org), United Negro College Fund (www.uncf.org), or the
NAACP Legal Defense Fund (www.naacpldf.org).
A memorial service celebrating Ned’s life is being planned and will take place
early next spring.
View the online obituary and send condolences to the family at www.HeathandVaughn.com.
For Dr. Michael Goldwasser.....
Please accept my deepest sympathy. You and I are old colleagues......I worked at Carle for many years, including in the position as SICU Nurse Manager. I relocated to Georgia in 1990. It is interesting that I was thinking of you just the other day. Your father was, obviously, a brilliant and respected man. No doubt that he will be missed by many. Take care!
Valerie Buchanan, MPA, RN
Though I married into the family, I quickly felt a part of it, owing in no small measure to my very first conversation with Ned in 1984, at Stephentown of course. He gave me a brief family history, welcomed me to the fold — and handed me a pair of pliers so I could help him fix the perennially non-working ice-machine! We both were early risers, so I had ample opportunity to have one-on-one chats with Ned over the years. I cherished them then, and more so now.
My sincerest condolences to Lizie (a most beautiful person) and to the entire Goldwasser family.
Your husband’s accomplishments on behalf of the University of Illinois, the scientific community, and the world beyond are legendary.
As Board Co-Chair, I especially would like to note his vital role in the success of Sinfonia da Camera.
Ken and I offer our sympathy to you and your family.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (ret)