April 09, 1998
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Faculty of Arts and Sciences Memorial Minute -- Edward Mills Purcell

Colleagues and friends worldwide were saddened by the passing of Edward Mills Purcell, Gerhard Gade University Professor, Nobel Laureate, and giant of 20th century physics.

Purcell grew up in the Illinois towns of Taylorville and Mattoon, where his father managed a regional telephone company, and where the youthful Edward discovered the joys of tinkering with discarded telephone equipment. He was inspired also by the elegant articles in the Bell System Technical Journal - "It was a glimpse into some kind of wonderful world where electricity and mathematics and engineering and nice diagrams all came together," he recalled fifty years later. He entered Purdue intending to become an electrical engineer, but by the time he graduated with a BSEE he knew that he was to become a physicist. He spent a year as an exchange student in pre-war Germany, studying physics at Karlsruhe. On the voyage to Europe he met a fellow exchange student, Beth Busser, who became his wife three years later. The return voyage brought him to Harvard, where he earned his Ph.D. under Kenneth Bainbridge, and where he remained throughout his career.

During the war Purcell headed the group working on very short wavelength radar at the MIT Radiation Laboratory, where microwave radar was being urgently developed to contribute decisively to the Allied victory. In 1945 Purcell (with Pound and Torrey) observed nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), in an after-hours experiment while still completing work on the classic 27-volume series of books on radar. Though initially used in physics, NMR has been applied powerfully as an analytic method for elucidating chemical structure and materials properties. The Nobel prize winning discovery is also the basis of medical resonance imaging (or MRI), now routinely used as an elegant and non-invasive diagnostic tool, producing beautifully detailed images of the body's interior.

In 1951 Purcell (with his student Harold Ewen) was the first to detect the 21 cm hydrogen hyperfine emission from galactic neutral atomic hydrogen, radioastronomy's first spectral line. This had been predicted seven years earlier by van de Hulst and Oort at Leiden, whose group had to settle for second place. In a most gentlemanly gesture, Purcell and Ewen insisted that Nature delay publication of their own paper until the Dutch group had a chance to confirm their results and have them published simultaneously. Hydrogen line observations soon produced the first maps of our galaxy's spiral arms, until then hidden from human view by dust; they have been a major tool of radioastronomy ever since.

Purcell's other contributions to these fields included a comprehensive theory of nuclear magnetic relaxation (with Bloembergen and Pound - the famous "BPP" paper, one of the most cited references in physics); the concept of negative spin temperatures (with Pound), which was a precursor to the maser and laser; improved spin-echo techniques (with Carr); and explanations of the absorption and scattering of starlight by interstellar grains. With Ramsey he was the first to question the conventional assumption (later disproved) that all particle forces are parity symmetric. With Berg he applied physics to biological problems, in their description of the physics of chemoreception and in his classic paper (in The American Journal of Physics) "Life at Low Reynolds Number," a life whose locomotion is dominated by viscosity. In that same journal his monthly "Back of the Envelope" problems challenged and delighted a large audience of physicists.

Purcell's stunning introductory textbook on Electricity and Magnetism has educated and inspired a generation of physicists, who refer to it often, and depend on it utterly. Those lucky enough to have taken one of his courses were treated to unforgettable lectures, masterful and incisive.

Colleagues and friends of Purcell remember his genuine modesty and humility, his warmth, his infectious enthusiasm, his quiet authority. Ed did not just listen to a lecture; he came away full of ideas, calculating new effects with elegance and simplicity, and moving those around him to do the same. A colleague once remarked that "the proper way to solve any physics problem is to pretend you are Ed Purcell." He had a remarkable ability to turn problems over in his mind, playing with their elements as one would with objects of everyday life, until he came to terms with the essence of the matter. Then he would express this understanding in a simple, direct, and modest way, with luminous clarity.

Purcell's wisdom extended beyond physics; his colleagues were enriched by his thoughtful views on subjects ranging from philosophy and education to politics and academic freedom. One beneficiary was the Society of Fellows, where he served as a Senior Fellow. Purcell played a key role in defending Professor Wendell Furry when he was viciously attacked by House and Senate committees during the McCarthy era. His was a sane voice in countering foolish or dangerous uses of science, for example the misguided Strategic Defense Initiative. "We have to protect people from the experts," he said.

Purcell's extraordinary skills never dulled his sense of wonder. Quite the contrary - his deep understanding of the workings of nature only enhanced his appreciation. In his Nobel lecture in 1952 Purcell remarked "I remember, in the winter of our first experiments, just seven years ago, looking on snow with new eyes. There the snow lay around my doorstep - great heaps of protons quietly precessing in the earth's magnetic field. To see the world for a moment as something rich and strange is the private reward of many a discovery."

Purcell was a past president of the American Physical Society, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a science advisor to three presidents, and recipient of numerous awards, which he accepted reluctantly. He is survived by his wife Beth, his sons Dennis and Frank, four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. The University, and its students and faculty, have lost a man of extraordinary wisdom and integrity, one who shared generously his delight in understanding, through physics, the wonders of the natural world.

Respectfully submitted,

Howard C. Berg

Nicolaas Bloembergen

Costas D. Papaliolios

Robert V. Pound

Norman F. Ramsey

Paul Horowitz (Chair)


 


Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Memorial Minute -- Marland Pratt Billings
April 09, 1998
Harvard
University Gazette

 

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Faculty of Arts and Sciences Memorial Minute -- Marland Pratt Billings

BORN March 11, 1902

DIED October 9, 1996

During the last half of the nineteenth century and the first third of the twentieth, geologists in this country suffered from a "One-Hundredth Meridian Complex" - namely that most of the geology east of that meridian had already been done, and that what hadn't wasn't worth doing, and was probably too complex and too inadequately exposed to be deciphered. The West was where the excitement was, where the best exposure was, and where untold natural resources were to be found. Well-advised budding geologists accordingly went there, both for much of their training, and for their later investigations. Marland Billings heard this conventional wisdom, and accepted some of it, but was never completely convinced that it was entirely true. As a consequence he sparked a rebirth of Appalachian (and especially New England) geology that has continued to this day.

Marland was born March 11, 1902, in Boston, son of George Bartlett Billings and Helen Agnes McDonough. He attended Roxbury Latin School, and went from there to Harvard where he received an A.B., magna cum laude, in 1923, an A.M. in 1925, and a Ph.D. in 1927. His doctoral thesis was a study of the younger igneous rocks in the eastern White Mountains of New Hampshire. Marland spent the next year, 1927-28, as an Instructor at Harvard. This was also the first year of a visiting professorship held by Leon Collet of the University of Geneva, whose lectures had a considerable influence on Marland. During the following summer Collet took several Harvard faculty and graduate students on a geological grand tour of the Alps, providing an opportunity for Marland to become acquainted, first-hand, with the techniques then being employed in Europe for the study of complexly deformed and metamorphosed terranes, such as those of the New England Appalachians.

In the fall of 1928 Marland joined the faculty at Bryn Mawr College where he spent the next two academic years, working each of the following summers with the United States Geological Survey, the first in Montana with Hugh Miser, and the second on the high plateaus of Utah with E. M. Spieker. In the fall of 1930 Marland returned from Bryn Mawr to Harvard, still, to the surprise of his friends, a bachelor. His appointment at Harvard was as Assistant Professor, and in the following years he rose through the academic ranks, to become Professor in 1946.

Although Marland had thoroughly enjoyed his western experience (more or less obligatory for young geologists of that day), and gained much from it, he remained intrigued by the thought that something could indeed be done with the tangled geologic record in his native New England. From his doctoral research he knew that the dense forests concealed a sufficient amount of exposed outcrop, and he also knew that the Swiss and other Alpine geologists had made considerable headway with the more grandly exposed, but similar, terranes of the Alps, much more like New England, geologically, than were the Rockies. Although his doctoral research was concerned with plutonic and volcanic rocks now known to be essentially coeval with the times of the dinosaurs, Marland had been fascinated by the more ancient rocks (Paleozoic and possibly older) into and upon which the younger igneous rocks had been emplaced. He accordingly began fieldwork, in the summer of 1931, in the area about Littleton, New Hampshire, where there were recognizable Paleozoic fossils, and where the deformation and metamorphism were relatively mild.

The choice was strategic in that Marland was able to establish a stratigraphic succession of early and mid-Paleozoic rocks, and show that by using techniques developed in similar terranes in Europe and the British Isles, these dated rocks could, in fact, be traced into the more highly deformed and recrystallized rocks that underlie much of upland New England. Much rock, once believed to be ancient Precambrian, proved to be as young as Devonian. The first results were published in 1937 by the Geological Society of America in a now classic paper entitled "Regional metamorphism of the Littleton-Moosilauke area, New Hampshire." New England geology, once scorned, soon became popular, and remains so to this day. Current visitors and researchers come from west-coast universities, Europe, Japan, and even Down Under. The bulk of the work, from the thirties through the fifties, however, was carried on by Marland and his students and close associates. Among these (at last) was Katharine Stevens Fowler, a Bryn Mawr graduate, whom he married in 1938! Marland and Kay spent many happy years continuing the New Hampshire work together.

Their marriage, on the other hand, is said to have been a disappointment to some. Several of Marland's early graduate students were women. It has been reported that one summer Marland and some students were camped out in the White Mountains, and that one of the women had succeeded in manoeuvering Marland away from the campfire to a lookout commanding a fine view over much of New Hampshire. She supposedly sighed and said "Isn't it beautiful!" to which Marland is said to have answered "Yes, and thank God it's all Devonian!" The tale is perhaps apocryphal, but most agree that Marland could have said it. His many students remember him with affection for his salty speech and quick-witted, often bawdy humor. His standards for performance were high, and his dissatisfaction with error and inefficiency was immediately apparent. Some secretaries were terrified, others adored him.

During World War II Marland served in 1944 with the U. S. Office of Field Service in the South Pacific, assessing strategic nickel deposits in New Caledonia. At Harvard he served as Chairman of the (then) Division of Geological Sciences, 1946-1951, and as Curator of the Geological Museum. He was a member of the Mineral Resources Committee of New Hampshire, from 1935, and for much of that time was de facto State Geologist. From 1958 he was Consultant to the Metropolitan District Commission and did the geological studies before and during the driving of the water supply and other tunnels through the bedrock beneath Boston.

Marland's pioneering work in complex metamorphic terranes was recognized by honorary degrees from Washington University, St. Louis (1960), and the University of New Hampshire (1966). Election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1968 was followed by the publication of a festschrift volume that same year. Marland was president of the Geological Society of America in 1959, and received the Society's highest award, the Penrose Medal, in 1987. He was president of the Boston Geological Society in 1940, and vice president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1947. Other memberships included the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Mineralogical Society of America, the Seismological Society of America, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and the Societe Geologique de France. Marland was the author of numerous papers on New England Geology, and of a widely used textbook: Structural Geology, first published in 1941.

The New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference, a gathering for field trips at the height of fall color, has been held more or less annually since the turn of the century. Marland, an active participant, missed few. The most recent meeting, in the Mount Washington area of New Hampshire, took place shortly before Marland's death. The guidebook to the 1996 meeting was dedicated to Marland and Kay, and marked the fiftieth anniversary of an earlier meeting there that was led by Marland.

Marland and Kay were long-time residents of Wellesley and part-time residents of Randolph, North Hampton, and Bartlett, New Hampshire. Marland died October 9, 1996 in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He is survived by his wife, Katharine*, a son and daughter-in-law, George Bartlett and Rachel (True) Billings, and two grandchildren, Marland and Heather, all of Peterborough. A daughter, Elizabeth (Billings) Neilson, died in 1990. Kay's autobiography Stepping Stones, published in 1996 by the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, provides many fascinating details of her life with Marland.

Respectfully submitted,

Cornelius S. Hurlbut, Jr.

Ulrich Petersen

Raymond Siever

James B. Thompson, Jr., Chairman

*Mrs. Billings died in December 1997.

 


Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Memorial Minute -- Edward Mills Purcell
April 09, 1998
Harvard
University Gazette

 

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Faculty of Arts and Sciences Memorial Minute -- Edward Mills Purcell

Colleagues and friends worldwide were saddened by the passing of Edward Mills Purcell, Gerhard Gade University Professor, Nobel Laureate, and giant of 20th century physics.

Purcell grew up in the Illinois towns of Taylorville and Mattoon, where his father managed a regional telephone company, and where the youthful Edward discovered the joys of tinkering with discarded telephone equipment. He was inspired also by the elegant articles in the Bell System Technical Journal - "It was a glimpse into some kind of wonderful world where electricity and mathematics and engineering and nice diagrams all came together," he recalled fifty years later. He entered Purdue intending to become an electrical engineer, but by the time he graduated with a BSEE he knew that he was to become a physicist. He spent a year as an exchange student in pre-war Germany, studying physics at Karlsruhe. On the voyage to Europe he met a fellow exchange student, Beth Busser, who became his wife three years later. The return voyage brought him to Harvard, where he earned his Ph.D. under Kenneth Bainbridge, and where he remained throughout his career.

During the war Purcell headed the group working on very short wavelength radar at the MIT Radiation Laboratory, where microwave radar was being urgently developed to contribute decisively to the Allied victory. In 1945 Purcell (with Pound and Torrey) observed nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), in an after-hours experiment while still completing work on the classic 27-volume series of books on radar. Though initially used in physics, NMR has been applied powerfully as an analytic method for elucidating chemical structure and materials properties. The Nobel prize winning discovery is also the basis of medical resonance imaging (or MRI), now routinely used as an elegant and non-invasive diagnostic tool, producing beautifully detailed images of the body's interior.

In 1951 Purcell (with his student Harold Ewen) was the first to detect the 21 cm hydrogen hyperfine emission from galactic neutral atomic hydrogen, radioastronomy's first spectral line. This had been predicted seven years earlier by van de Hulst and Oort at Leiden, whose group had to settle for second place. In a most gentlemanly gesture, Purcell and Ewen insisted that Nature delay publication of their own paper until the Dutch group had a chance to confirm their results and have them published simultaneously. Hydrogen line observations soon produced the first maps of our galaxy's spiral arms, until then hidden from human view by dust; they have been a major tool of radioastronomy ever since.

Purcell's other contributions to these fields included a comprehensive theory of nuclear magnetic relaxation (with Bloembergen and Pound - the famous "BPP" paper, one of the most cited references in physics); the concept of negative spin temperatures (with Pound), which was a precursor to the maser and laser; improved spin-echo techniques (with Carr); and explanations of the absorption and scattering of starlight by interstellar grains. With Ramsey he was the first to question the conventional assumption (later disproved) that all particle forces are parity symmetric. With Berg he applied physics to biological problems, in their description of the physics of chemoreception and in his classic paper (in The American Journal of Physics) "Life at Low Reynolds Number," a life whose locomotion is dominated by viscosity. In that same journal his monthly "Back of the Envelope" problems challenged and delighted a large audience of physicists.

Purcell's stunning introductory textbook on Electricity and Magnetism has educated and inspired a generation of physicists, who refer to it often, and depend on it utterly. Those lucky enough to have taken one of his courses were treated to unforgettable lectures, masterful and incisive.

Colleagues and friends of Purcell remember his genuine modesty and humility, his warmth, his infectious enthusiasm, his quiet authority. Ed did not just listen to a lecture; he came away full of ideas, calculating new effects with elegance and simplicity, and moving those around him to do the same. A colleague once remarked that "the proper way to solve any physics problem is to pretend you are Ed Purcell." He had a remarkable ability to turn problems over in his mind, playing with their elements as one would with objects of everyday life, until he came to terms with the essence of the matter. Then he would express this understanding in a simple, direct, and modest way, with luminous clarity.

Purcell's wisdom extended beyond physics; his colleagues were enriched by his thoughtful views on subjects ranging from philosophy and education to politics and academic freedom. One beneficiary was the Society of Fellows, where he served as a Senior Fellow. Purcell played a key role in defending Professor Wendell Furry when he was viciously attacked by House and Senate committees during the McCarthy era. His was a sane voice in countering foolish or dangerous uses of science, for example the misguided Strategic Defense Initiative. "We have to protect people from the experts," he said.

Purcell's extraordinary skills never dulled his sense of wonder. Quite the contrary - his deep understanding of the workings of nature only enhanced his appreciation. In his Nobel lecture in 1952 Purcell remarked "I remember, in the winter of our first experiments, just seven years ago, looking on snow with new eyes. There the snow lay around my doorstep - great heaps of protons quietly precessing in the earth's magnetic field. To see the world for a moment as something rich and strange is the private reward of many a discovery."

Purcell was a past president of the American Physical Society, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a science advisor to three presidents, and recipient of numerous awards, which he accepted reluctantly. He is survived by his wife Beth, his sons Dennis and Frank, four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. The University, and its students and faculty, have lost a man of extraordinary wisdom and integrity, one who shared generously his delight in understanding, through physics, the wonders of the natural world.

Respectfully submitted,

Howard C. Berg

Nicolaas Bloembergen

Costas D. Papaliolios

Robert V. Pound

Norman F. Ramsey

Paul Horowitz (Chair)


 


Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Memorial Minute -- Marland Pratt Billings
April 09, 1998
Harvard
University Gazette

 

Full contents
Notes
Newsmakers
Police Log
Gazette Home
Gazette Archives
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Faculty of Arts and Sciences Memorial Minute -- Marland Pratt Billings

BORN March 11, 1902

DIED October 9, 1996

During the last half of the nineteenth century and the first third of the twentieth, geologists in this country suffered from a "One-Hundredth Meridian Complex" - namely that most of the geology east of that meridian had already been done, and that what hadn't wasn't worth doing, and was probably too complex and too inadequately exposed to be deciphered. The West was where the excitement was, where the best exposure was, and where untold natural resources were to be found. Well-advised budding geologists accordingly went there, both for much of their training, and for their later investigations. Marland Billings heard this conventional wisdom, and accepted some of it, but was never completely convinced that it was entirely true. As a consequence he sparked a rebirth of Appalachian (and especially New England) geology that has continued to this day.

Marland was born March 11, 1902, in Boston, son of George Bartlett Billings and Helen Agnes McDonough. He attended Roxbury Latin School, and went from there to Harvard where he received an A.B., magna cum laude, in 1923, an A.M. in 1925, and a Ph.D. in 1927. His doctoral thesis was a study of the younger igneous rocks in the eastern White Mountains of New Hampshire. Marland spent the next year, 1927-28, as an Instructor at Harvard. This was also the first year of a visiting professorship held by Leon Collet of the University of Geneva, whose lectures had a considerable influence on Marland. During the following summer Collet took several Harvard faculty and graduate students on a geological grand tour of the Alps, providing an opportunity for Marland to become acquainted, first-hand, with the techniques then being employed in Europe for the study of complexly deformed and metamorphosed terranes, such as those of the New England Appalachians.

In the fall of 1928 Marland joined the faculty at Bryn Mawr College where he spent the next two academic years, working each of the following summers with the United States Geological Survey, the first in Montana with Hugh Miser, and the second on the high plateaus of Utah with E. M. Spieker. In the fall of 1930 Marland returned from Bryn Mawr to Harvard, still, to the surprise of his friends, a bachelor. His appointment at Harvard was as Assistant Professor, and in the following years he rose through the academic ranks, to become Professor in 1946.

Although Marland had thoroughly enjoyed his western experience (more or less obligatory for young geologists of that day), and gained much from it, he remained intrigued by the thought that something could indeed be done with the tangled geologic record in his native New England. From his doctoral research he knew that the dense forests concealed a sufficient amount of exposed outcrop, and he also knew that the Swiss and other Alpine geologists had made considerable headway with the more grandly exposed, but similar, terranes of the Alps, much more like New England, geologically, than were the Rockies. Although his doctoral research was concerned with plutonic and volcanic rocks now known to be essentially coeval with the times of the dinosaurs, Marland had been fascinated by the more ancient rocks (Paleozoic and possibly older) into and upon which the younger igneous rocks had been emplaced. He accordingly began fieldwork, in the summer of 1931, in the area about Littleton, New Hampshire, where there were recognizable Paleozoic fossils, and where the deformation and metamorphism were relatively mild.

The choice was strategic in that Marland was able to establish a stratigraphic succession of early and mid-Paleozoic rocks, and show that by using techniques developed in similar terranes in Europe and the British Isles, these dated rocks could, in fact, be traced into the more highly deformed and recrystallized rocks that underlie much of upland New England. Much rock, once believed to be ancient Precambrian, proved to be as young as Devonian. The first results were published in 1937 by the Geological Society of America in a now classic paper entitled "Regional metamorphism of the Littleton-Moosilauke area, New Hampshire." New England geology, once scorned, soon became popular, and remains so to this day. Current visitors and researchers come from west-coast universities, Europe, Japan, and even Down Under. The bulk of the work, from the thirties through the fifties, however, was carried on by Marland and his students and close associates. Among these (at last) was Katharine Stevens Fowler, a Bryn Mawr graduate, whom he married in 1938! Marland and Kay spent many happy years continuing the New Hampshire work together.

Their marriage, on the other hand, is said to have been a disappointment to some. Several of Marland's early graduate students were women. It has been reported that one summer Marland and some students were camped out in the White Mountains, and that one of the women had succeeded in manoeuvering Marland away from the campfire to a lookout commanding a fine view over much of New Hampshire. She supposedly sighed and said "Isn't it beautiful!" to which Marland is said to have answered "Yes, and thank God it's all Devonian!" The tale is perhaps apocryphal, but most agree that Marland could have said it. His many students remember him with affection for his salty speech and quick-witted, often bawdy humor. His standards for performance were high, and his dissatisfaction with error and inefficiency was immediately apparent. Some secretaries were terrified, others adored him.

During World War II Marland served in 1944 with the U. S. Office of Field Service in the South Pacific, assessing strategic nickel deposits in New Caledonia. At Harvard he served as Chairman of the (then) Division of Geological Sciences, 1946-1951, and as Curator of the Geological Museum. He was a member of the Mineral Resources Committee of New Hampshire, from 1935, and for much of that time was de facto State Geologist. From 1958 he was Consultant to the Metropolitan District Commission and did the geological studies before and during the driving of the water supply and other tunnels through the bedrock beneath Boston.

Marland's pioneering work in complex metamorphic terranes was recognized by honorary degrees from Washington University, St. Louis (1960), and the University of New Hampshire (1966). Election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1968 was followed by the publication of a festschrift volume that same year. Marland was president of the Geological Society of America in 1959, and received the Society's highest award, the Penrose Medal, in 1987. He was president of the Boston Geological Society in 1940, and vice president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1947. Other memberships included the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Mineralogical Society of America, the Seismological Society of America, the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, and the Societe Geologique de France. Marland was the author of numerous papers on New England Geology, and of a widely used textbook: Structural Geology, first published in 1941.

The New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference, a gathering for field trips at the height of fall color, has been held more or less annually since the turn of the century. Marland, an active participant, missed few. The most recent meeting, in the Mount Washington area of New Hampshire, took place shortly before Marland's death. The guidebook to the 1996 meeting was dedicated to Marland and Kay, and marked the fiftieth anniversary of an earlier meeting there that was led by Marland.

Marland and Kay were long-time residents of Wellesley and part-time residents of Randolph, North Hampton, and Bartlett, New Hampshire. Marland died October 9, 1996 in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He is survived by his wife, Katharine*, a son and daughter-in-law, George Bartlett and Rachel (True) Billings, and two grandchildren, Marland and Heather, all of Peterborough. A daughter, Elizabeth (Billings) Neilson, died in 1990. Kay's autobiography Stepping Stones, published in 1996 by the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, provides many fascinating details of her life with Marland.

Respectfully submitted,

Cornelius S. Hurlbut, Jr.

Ulrich Petersen

Raymond Siever

James B. Thompson, Jr., Chairman

*Mrs. Billings died in December 1997.

 


Copyright 1998 President and Fellows of Harvard College