Dick Taylor Story
I was one of Dick's grad students. Here are some of my memories:
He was larger than life - really - not only was he a large fellow, but the way he would stand with his chest puffed out made him seem huge. He was not in the least bit a mean-spirited person; he was a happy man who was always smiling, but still, he got a kick out of intimidating people who didn't know him well. He thought that was really funny.
He was very gentlemanly with outsiders. I remember how nice he was when he first met my wife Kathi years after I had left SLAC. He gave her the greatest gift you can give to a new acquaintance: his attention.
He really admired intelligence. One time he told me how disappointed he was when he met Audrey Hepburn, whom he had adored as a youth. He thought she was dumb as a doorknob. On the other hand, he was very impressed with Whoopi Goldberg. He thought she was very sharp and funny.
More than intelligence, he admired honesty. One of his idols was a physicist who did atomic spectroscopy where the goal is to accurately measure the position of spectral lines (accuracy is everything). When this man analysed his data, he deliberately introduced a systematic mis-calibration factor to the frequencies; in other words a blind analysis. He would take the data, do the various corrections, identify and quantify the peaks and even write the whole paper without unblinding the data. Only when all this was done would he unmask the scaling factor and change the scale on his graphs and submit his paper the same day! That really impressed Dick.
He admired Jim Cronin very much. He told me that he was the best experimental physicist in the country. He told me this after I had told him that I was applying for a post-doc position with Jim's group at the University of Chicago. He replied that that was fine but I would never get an offer. I did.
As everyone knows, he had very colorful language. One of my favorites was when he describe a featureless, constant graph as being "flat as piss in a pan".
I had many great mentors at SLAC, but I interacted most closely with Dick when I was writing my thesis. He taught me how to write. For example, I walked into his office after he had read a draft of the section on background subtraction. He said, "What is this nonsense?", except he didn't say "nonsense". When I responded "Well, we changed our threshold parameter and measured the number of counts within the mass limits, scaled by the efficiency and subtracted this from the overall spectra." he said "Well say that! Now get out of here."
In addition to being very inquisitive, hard-working and "physics-smart", he was very clever. When gas prices went way up during the 1973 OPEC gas embargo, Dick went out and bought a lightly-used Cadillac for a low price, remarking on how stupid most people were and how prices would go back down soon. He was right. Another time, he told me that as soon as the draft was reinstated and the sons of congressmen were killed in Vietnam, the war would end. He was right again.
I cannot finish my remembrance of Dick without recalling what a superb team he had assembled at SLAC. They were all really first-rate. I won't start listing names for fear of leaving someone out, but I will say that Hobey DeStaebler was his loyal and indispensable right-hand man. Hobey told me and others: "Never say anything which is irrelevant and untrue." I hope I haven't.