Monday, March 30, 2015

Octave Du Temple:

Some Personal Recollections

 I was saddened to hear, earlier in the month, that Octave Du Temple, the first Executive Director of the American Nuclear Society (ANS), died on March 7.  I have been trying to wait until an obituary was published to which I could link for a fuller account of his career, but I do not want to wait any longer.  A short bio appears on the ANS website, and a fuller story about his career, written about 5 years ago, appears on the website of Michigan Technical University (MTU), his alma mater.

Neither of these articles touch on the huge influence he had on the lives and careers of so many ANS members and others during the course of his tenure as ANS Executive Director.  I am sure that many stories of his influence will be told in the coming months as we all process the fact that he is no longer here to advise and guide us--and yes, occasionally to push and prod us.  This is my story.  

I first met Octave as a young professional, just out of graduate school.  To tell the truth, my meeting  him, and in a sense, much of my career, was shaped by a small, trivial thing--a pink badge.  As I've previously recounted, ANS, in the early 1970s, used pink badges for spouses of registrants at ANS conferences.  The first ever paper I was scheduled to present at a professional conference was at an ANS meeting in Washington, DC, where we lived, so of course, I invited my husband.  He did not like wearing a pink badge, and he wanted me to do something about it.

Taking on the establishment was not exactly my forte in those days, but I finally decided that I should start by doing a survey to convince the ANS management that there were other female members of the ANS, and that meant they might want to come up with a slightly more gender neutral badge (although I don't think we used words like "gender neutral" back then).

To make a long story short--or at least, shorter--getting ANS to support the survey brought me to his attention and led to an enduring friendship.  (And, yes, ANS ditched the pink badge.)  Octave had a unique way of providing guidance and assistance, whether it was for the survey or for other things I tackled later.  "You see," he'd say conspiratorially, "They're going to think--or say--this, so what we want to do is..."  And he would then outline some steps I should take, make some phone calls himself, or otherwise grease the skids.

It was through him that I made most of my initial contacts with the icons of the Japanese nuclear establishment, contacts that have, in many cases, endured to this day, either with the individuals he originally introduced me to, or with the people they, in turn, introduced me to.  The amazing thing was that I hadn't even asked him for help.  I had simply mentioned that I was planning a trip to Japan, and the next thing I knew, he had handed me a list of people in Japan that "you really ought to meet," and had called them to let them know I'd be contacting them.

He accompanied the first ANS delegation to China in 1983, which I was fortunate to join, and there, I also connected with many of his Chinese contacts.  His interests and knowledge extended well beyond the nuclear field.  He knew I was Jewish, and as we traveled overnight by train across China, I recall him coming into the cabin where my husband and I were staring into the darkness beyond our window to point out that we were passing Kaifeng, which had been the site of a small community with ancient, but mysterious, Jewish roots.

Over the years, we had conversations about many matters--ANS activities, of course, but also more general nuclear matters, and some non-nuclear matters as well.  I learned bits and pieces about his background, some of which are alluded to in the MTU link.  One thing that always impressed me is how, even many years later, he remained grateful to the people who gave him assistance early in his career.  He knew, for example, that I knew Manson Benedict, who had headed the Nuclear Engineering Department at MIT when I was a student there, so made a point to tell me that Manson's family held a special place in his heart for the scholarship that had enabled his education. 

He was also ahead of his times in many ways, and once told me that he was happy he was still the Executive Director when the first woman was elected president of ANS (Gail de Planque, who served as president in 1988-89). 

He influenced me in many ways, large and small, directly and indirectly.  I attended one event where he was called to the stage to make some remarks.  He pointedly walked to the side of the lectern on the stage instead of staying behind it, telling the audience that, being short in stature, he felt disconnected from them if he stood behind a box.  I took that observation to heart when I began to make a lot of presentations, and I have regularly driven conference organizers crazy as I insist that I don't want a microphone that pins me behind the lectern.

In fact, at one point, perhaps noticing how strong Octave's influence was on me, my husband jokingly started referring to him as "Uncle Octave."  I thought that was rather fitting, as he seemed to deal with me and so many others in the ANS as a kind uncle trying to provide help and guidance.

Although Octave retired more than 20 years ago, we kept in touch for quite some time via occasional e-mails and holiday cards.  In recent years, his replies dropped off, although a couple of years ago, in response to a card I had sent him, he sent me an e-mail to remind me to spell his name with a capital 'D' rather than a small 'd.'

So, even though I haven't seen him for a number of years now, I still feel a deep sense of personal loss knowing he is gone.  RIP, Uncle Octave.  


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