Dear Friends,

Thank you so much for the kind words you shared with us about John. We know John would have been deeply moved, and somewhat embarrassed, by the many wonderful tributes we have heard.

John passed away peacefully in his sleep from a rare blood disorder on August 17th. He was surrounded by his family, grateful for a full and happy life that, as he said, exceeded his wildest expectations. John died as he lived, surrounded by those he loved, embracing life to its fullest, working and joking to the end.

During Shiva services at our home in Princeton, nearly a hundred people came each night to offer condolences, express their own feelings of loss, and share stories of John. Many more shared similar sentiments in e-mails, phone calls, and letters.

It has been remarkable for us to hear from so many of you how much John made a difference in your lives, how much you admired and respected him, how he served as role model, father figure, or mentor. We heard stories from students, postdocs, scientific colleagues, and friends about his passion for science and for life, his integrity, tremendous will, love of family, and sense of fun. We were moved by the tears of many colleagues who told us that they felt they lost a father. You are part of the extended family that John created.

Many of you are familiar with John's achievements in research and his accomplishments as a scientific leader. What has become clear from listening to all of you is that John stood for something much larger. John believed in people, in their ability to overcome obstacles and rise to a challenge. He expected the best in people, and often got it, more than people knew they had in them. He valued intelligence, determination, learning, seriousness of purpose, and unflinching honesty; he combined it all with a playful sense of humor. In addition to his scientific contributions and leadership, John's legacy is in the people who knew him and were helped, trained, or inspired by him and in the values he impressed on all of us.

John will live on through these values and through the stories we remember and share. These include how he met Neta—seeing her on a tour of the Weizmann Institute where she was a graduate student 40 years ago, asking her advisor to introduce them, persisting in asking her for a date, and then writing her letters every day, including sending a round-trip ticket, until she agreed to fly from Israel to Caltech, where John was a young faculty member, to visit him and receive his marriage proposal. Or jolting visiting and member scientists with his battle cry "Lunch"—done in his loudest roar— every day at the top of the stairs in the astrophysics building at the IAS, gathering his group for their daily luncheon. Or introducing the President of Israel at the Dan David award ceremony in 2003, and, with a twinkle in his eye, thanking the President, in Hebrew, for throwing such a wonderful party on the occasion of his daughter's Orli birthday, which led to a serenade by the President and guests— Orli's most memorable birthday.

John's love of physics had a non-traditional beginning. John never took science classes in his Shreveport, Louisiana, high-school; he focused on tennis and debate team, and became both a state tennis champion and a national debate team champion. At Berkeley he began by studying philosophy. A graduation requirement led John to take a physics class the first science class he ever took. "I fell in love with physics," he said, "and it changed my life." If Berkeley had no science requirement, John would most likely have become a philosopher.

John was an enormously loving and caring husband and father. For me, Neta, John has been my best friend for 40 years. I could not have imagined a better life, a better husband. We had so much fun together—playing, working, sharing, traveling, and enjoying every minute. Our years together have been the best joy of our lives. John was an enormously caring and proud father, who relished his close relations with Safi, Dan, and Orli, and took great pride in their accomplishments. Safi, a physics PhD, is president and CEO of Synta Pharmaceuticals, a Massachusetts biotechnology company developing new drugs for cancer; Dan, a cognitive science PhD, lives in Berkeley, CA; Orli, an epidemiology PhD, is a science editor for Nature Genetics in New York.

We were all lucky to have John. He will be with us forever. "The passionate light that shined so brightly in John has kindled many new flames," wrote a friend, "it kindled flames in his children, in hundreds of students, postdocs, and colleagues throughout the world, in the IAS and Princeton, in the astrophysics program in Israel, in the Hubble Space Telescope, in Solar Neutrinos, in Quasars, the Galaxy, Black Holes, Dark Matter, and in the numerous projects and activities he carried out. These flames will continue to burn and brighten this world."

May this light shine forever.

With Love,

Neta, Safi, Dan, and Orli Bahcall

A recent family photo (of John, Neta, Safi, Dan, and Orli)

New York Times Obituary     Nature Obituary

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This page was last modified: September 9, 2005