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Memories of a friend

Nobody in Seattle is going to believe this.

Richard Feynman was my personal friend. Having Feynman for a friend was never relaxing, because he was always 'on'. But it could be, and often was, great fun.

My first experience of Richard came on my first visit to Caltech, for a job interview/seminar in 1965 when I was tying up loose ends in my thesis as a postdoc at the University of Washington in Seattle. Feynman, who went on to win the Nobel Prize in Physics that year, was then unknown to the general public, but he was already a legend among physicists. I hoped that I might catch a glimpse of the great man, even if at a distance.

But when my contact at Caltech, Jim Mercereau, met me at the Los Angeles airport, he asked me if I would mind having lunch with Feynman before going to the campus. I agreed, of course. Lunch was at Feynman's favourite hangout at the time — a topless restaurant in Altadena, just north of Pasadena. We met there and had our lunch. All I can remember from that hour of intense culture shock is thinking to myself, over and over again, “Nobody in Seattle is going to believe this.”

That afternoon I gave my seminar, with Feynman in attendance. He peppered me with tough questions, but I must have done all right, because I was hired, and I have spent my entire career since then as a Professor at Caltech. That in turn enabled me to spend much more time with Richard Feynman.

In the last ten years of his life, Dick underwent a series of operations for stomach cancer, and I became increasingly fearful of losing him. During this time, he was invited to address a group of high-school physics teachers. He turned down the invitation regretfully but when the morning came he was feeling better, and he called me to ask if I would take him there. I did and he was magnificent — his old self, mugging and performing for his audience.

I believe that was the last public appearance Feynman ever made.

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Goodstein, D. Memories of a friend. Nature Phys 3, 141 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nphys553

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