Share Your Memories of Paul Doty

Paul Doty touched the lives of countless people, from Harvard classrooms and science labs to the arena of the Cold War nuclear arms race that he worked so hard to restrain.

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10 thoughts on “Share Your Memories of Paul Doty

  1. Paul Doty was a giant in the field, a man of tremendous accomplishment and intelligence. That did not prevent him, however, from being a kind and decent human being. He often reached out to me when I was a young’ish pre-doc. He would ask how I was doing, or what I thought about this or that. He had me over to dinner. He showed a genuine interest in a young man, despite having more important things to do, and for no reason other than kindness. Paul was a leading light in the great generation of our field. Together with people like George Rathjens, Carl Kaysen, Jack Ruina and others, he helped shape the post-war world and prevent a Soviet-US nuclear war that would have ended life as we know it. In addition, as Steve Walt observed, he was a truth-teller — the most noble and important calling for any scholar. I am deeply saddened by his passing. It is a loss for all of us.

  2. Paul had a rare and amazing combination of intellectual brilliance, commitment to making the world a better place, and unfailing warmth and good humor. He was a great mentor and friend to generations of younger scholars and practitioners — myself among them. There is no doubt that the world is a safer place, and the store of human knowledge is larger, than it would have been if Paul Doty had never been born. I miss him terribly already.

  3. Paul was a man with deep commitments, a ready smile, and a willingness to help others. We served together on the Ford-Mitre Report on Nuclear Energy: Issues and Answers. I then joined the Carter Administration to try to implement some of our recommendations, including the cessation of reprocessing and the breeder reactor program. Our policy was not popular with the nuclear industry, to put things mildly, and I was heavily criticized. But Paul was always there with scientific advice as well as emotional support. He was always a friend in need and deed. We all owe him for his lifetime of commitment.

  4. Paul Doty was unique: a brilliant scientist, an exceptionally shrewd student of international security affairs, and an amazing institution builder, all while being incredibly warm and humane. I had the privilege of being Paul’s colleague and friend since 1973, the start of what has become the Belfer Center. He changed my life, as he did countless others. Paul had an indefatigable commitment to excellence. Everything he did was at the highest level–an extraordinary achievement. He will never be forgotten and his passing leaves an immeasurable void.

  5. Paul was a visionary and a builder. He repeatedly created or improved institutions that would leave the world a better place. Across nine decades, starting with teaching his fellow high school chemistry students, he was committed to teaching and mentoring younger generations. A year ago, he invited me to lunch, to tell me about his early efforts to build bridges to Russian scientists, which later blossomed into cooperation to secure Russia’s nuclear stockpiles. I will always appreciate his generosity with his time and wisdom.

  6. Paul had all of the admirable qualities enumerated in previous comments – and more. He was an extraordinary role model and mentor. Generations of colleagues and students owe their success in large part to his guidance and support. In 1974, he invited me to come to Harvard and help him build what is now the Belfer Center, and he brought me under his wing. Because of him, I’ve had opportunities beyond my most optimistic dreams, and memories to match. For that, and even more importantly, for his friendship, I will forever be indebted.

  7. Paul Doty: A Remembrance: December 20, 2011

    Paul Doty was a man of immense accomplishment: a world class figure in both science and public policy, a builder of institutions, an intellectual leader, a stalwart at Harvard for more than 60 years. He had major accomplishments in biochemistry and molecular biology. He was a leading expert on nuclear arms control. He founded Harvard’s Biochemistry Department and the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He created leading journals in both fields. He built teams of colleagues that were second to none. His former students and fellows represent a legacy that would make any scholar proud.

    These impressive facts, however, do not fully capture the measure of the man. It is easy enough to recite his accomplishments but much harder to effectively communicate the human qualities that made him special. Despite his stature, he was unassuming, almost self-effacing, and approachable. He rose high, but on his merits, because he seemed to lack almost completely the self-promotional instinct. He was legendary for his partial embodiment of the absent-minded professor (giving rise to innumerable Doty stories that now constitute an oral tradition among his many friends and proteges), but there was no doubting his incisive, penetrating intelligence and his unerring ability to get to the heart of the matter. In a low-key, civilized way, he was full of intellectual integrity: no pandering, no backing down, no retreat from his beliefs in the face of high-powered opposition. Easy to underestimate, he was exceptionally effective at navigating the political and bureaucratic thickets at Harvard and in the wider world; in the end, it was Doty, more than most, who got things done. Though at ease among the high and mighty, in whose circle he regularly traveled, he was particularly devoted to the unknown and unproven. Indeed, in the institutions he created he surrounded himself with young people – incipient scholars whom he cared about, watched over, nurtured, and helped. People, he often said, were the principal purpose and product of the Center – and he took warranted pride in the long list of distinguished alumni that accumulated over the years. Paul had a deserved reputation as a particularly good judge of talent, but his ability to calibrate was in part due to his deep engagement with the young scholars in his charge; he could judge them well because he knew them well.

    Paul was a man of substance. He cared deeply about the issues on which he worked and was unflagging in his efforts to make a difference. He made dozens of trips to Moscow (invariably burdening his traveling companions with his excess baggage) and countless trips to Washington DC, seeking to promote dialogue between the Soviet Union and the United States even in the darkest days of the Cold War, and helping to construct an arms control edifice that might help reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. His main aim in creating the Belfer Center was to train successor generations to carry on this essential work. His sense of purpose suffused the Center and enveloped those he sought to train: here was work that mattered; here was a cause worth devoting a life to.

    It was my enormous good fortune to fall into Paul Doty’s orbit several decades ago, when I was awarded a pre-doctoral fellowship at the Center he had then recently founded. I was a doctoral candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy: young, unknown, unaccomplished, unpublished, struggling with a recalcitrant dissertation and, in my own eyes, certainly unworthy of a precious post at Harvard. I soon found myself completely integrated into an amazingly rich and stimulating community: working with intimidatingly impressive colleagues, interacting with famous Harvard professors, teaching Harvard undergraduates as a Teaching Fellow, attending dinner seminars with major academic and policy figures – it was well beyond anything that I could have imagined. I was quite likely the most junior person in the Center, not long past my PhD general exams (by today’s standards I would not even have been eligible to apply). But it did not matter; all were treated with respect and judged by their performance. Everyone was given the chance to partake of the intellectual riches offered by the Center. This was the Doty ethos.

    For me, that pre-doctoral fellowship turned out to be the beginning of a lifelong association with the Center that Paul had created. Within three years, to my own considerable astonishment, I found myself to be the junior member of the Center’s directing staff, working with Paul and his wonderful colleagues, Al Carnesale, Michael Nacht, and Dorothy Zinberg. Paul and his team must have seen more in me than I saw in myself, but by whatever miscalculation they proceeded, the opportunity they put before me changed my life and set me on a course that persists to this day. Looking back, it was a golden time, working with Paul and his team in an environment that combined serious work with fun and friendship. Paul was then and forever after a good and cherished friend, a wise and reliable mentor, and an admirable but unmatchable role model. So many young scholars have benefitted from the opportunities that Paul made possible for them, but few have benefitted more than me.

    Paul Doty did not get cheated in this life. He had a full, rich 91 years that left him looking back in wonderment, having covered such a vast distance from his humble origins in rural, small town Pennsylvania and having so greatly transcended his mother’s dream that he might become, some day, the math teacher at the local high school. A life so long, so good and so meaningful should not be lamented, but those of us who knew him, and whose lives were touched by him, will miss him dearly: the warmth, the kindness, the wide smile, the hearty laugh, the wry sense of humor, the twinkle in the eye, the generosity and freely proferred help, the unfailing wisdom, the very human qualities of Paul Doty – this is a disappearance that is not easily replaced. And one cannot avoid a sense that the world has been diminished by the loss of a great man.

  8. Paul Doty
    1920-2011: A Farewell
    Dorothy S. Zinberg

    Paul Doty never took a course in leadership; it was in his DNA. Lasting examples abound: founding the department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (1967) and raising funds for the building in which it is housed (Conant); being a founding member of Pugwash (1957) for Soviet dialogue on abolishing nuclear weapons, which later received the Nobel Peace Prize; chairing an ambitious overview of General Education at Harvard, an effort to restructure undergraduate education (1962-64); or knowing exactly what he wanted to achieve with the Program for Science and International Affairs, which he founded in 1974: a home for new generations of scientists and policy architects committed to slowing and in time abolishing nuclear weapons, working in a center with a kitchen at its heart where chance encounters might lead to informal discussions and new ideas.

    He never wavered. Nor did he concern himself with the likely repercussions when he took firm stands on unpopular issues, sometimes paying a high price. In Paris in the 1950s, he was a pallbearer at the well-publicized funeral of two distinguished French physicists, Paul Langevin and Jean Perrin, both of whom were members of the French Communist Party. Subsequently, he was blacklisted by the NIH and at the instruction of the nefarious Senator Joseph McCarthy; his Fulbright Fellowship was retracted. Years later he upset both the US and Soviet governments when he visited Andrei Sakharov who was under house arrest. Even his long-time Soviet colleagues, including Georgy Arbatov, the head of Moscow’s Institute of USA and Canadian Affairs, were upset by his independent actions, but Paul wanted to make clear to the Soviet government, his disapproval of their actions. On several occasions his well-known equanimity deserted him, such as when in 1972 he wrote a long letter of unbridled fury to then President Nixon which began: “Your decision to undertake the heavy air bombardment of the major cities and densely populated regions of North Vietnam during the past week is the most repulsive act this country has carried out in my lifetime.”

    Doty’s talent for institution-building never deserted him. Page upon page of his bio marked his originality: “Founder” or “Founding member” appeared on every page. Even in his last visit to what is now the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, just weeks before he died, he cast his critical (he would have said ‘constructive’) eye about and suggested that the library get rid of its Cold War relics and build a collection that reflected current security challenges; give each graduate student a Kindle and $100 budget to keep up with the literature; create an alumni/ae association that if successful could in time become a new Institute harnessing the talents of the legions of now-prominent professionals who spent time at the Center (among them HKS professors, Ashton Carter, Deputy Secretary of Defense and John Holdren, President Obama’s Advisor for Science and Technology); and publish a book of the best articles from the quarterly journal International Security which he founded in 1976, despite some skepticism from his colleagues. At age 91, and knowing that he had little time left, he was still looking to the future.

    Above all, he was committed to the University. In the more than sixty years he was at Harvard, he supervised more than 100 PhD theses and worked tirelessly with its presidents, deans, faculty and students to ensure that the values it embodied were sustained. It was not easy….particularly attempting to balance his academic commitments with the compelling case to be made for work in Washington, the Soviet Union, and the many organizations concerned with anti-nuclear weapons proliferation. But as Walter Gratzer wrote in his superb Doty obituary ( Current Biology January 24, 2012 Volume 22, Issue 2): “Henry Kissinger maintained that his bruising experiences on the Harvard Faculty had equipped him to confront hostile world powers with equanimity.”

    Much of this ‘leadership’ could at times be a bit difficult for colleagues. I co-authored many articles with Doty beginning in the 1960s and have amassed a significant collection of searing ‘suggestions’ for improving my drafts. When the word GOOD! was spelled out in small letters on the title page, it was indeed a treasured gift. All of us under his leadership often reeled from assignments for new projects, articles, books, committees, along with not-so-subtle persuasion to attend long seminars, department policy meetings, and emergency gatherings to make certain that the kitchen was making tea and coffee freely available at all times.

    All of this ‘leadership’ was tempered by his amiable absent-minded professorial feats that often left us wondering, how he ever managed to get anything done. On one occasion he took a taxi from Logan airport to Cambridge and only then realized he’d left his car at the airport. Taking another taxi, he returned and with the help of Logan’s police ‘remembered’ where he had left it. The car was locked, the keys were still in it and the motor had been left running. Fortunately his wife and colleague, the biochemist Dr. Helga Doty long accustomed to such ‘happenings’, came to rescue him. On another occasion he called the Center to say that he had indeed arrived in Paris but had forgotten who he was to see; and then there were the endless packages sent from the Soviet Union…clothing he’d left behind in hotel rooms. Although we were astounded, he never seemed surprised: not only was everything returned, but each shirt had been perfectly laundered. To this day I assume there are men all over the world happily wearing oversized Brooks Brothers raincoats left behind at conferences in Washington, New York, China, France, the former Soviet Union and faculty clubs too numerous to mention.

    This unique combination of intellectual brilliance, organizational skill, and a laser-like focus on issues of freedom and peace were marked by a rare ability for friendship and mentoring, all interspersed with wit, mischievousness, drollery and unspoken insight, leaving behind a powerful human and humane legacy.

  9. From John P. Holdren
    May 4, 2012
    Paul Doty was a giant in biochemistry, in mentoring students who became giants, in science policy and policy advice at the highest levels of government, in science diplomacy and nuclear arms control, and in founding and nurturing organizations that advanced all of these pursuits.

    He thought deeply about the most important questions, and he communicated his insights about them with uncommon clarity and candor. He was fearless and prolific in speaking truth to power.

    To me and so many others who sat at his feet and stood on his shoulders, he was not only a mentor but a warm and caring friend. I will miss him terribly.

    And while I very much regret not being able to be present in person at this memorial and celebration of Paul’s remarkable life, as I am inextricably in China in official meetings on science and technology cooperation and climate change, my consolation is that I know Paul would approve of my excuse.

    My best as always,

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