1923 - 2000
MEMORIAL SERVICE for ADAM YARMOLINSKY
February 26, 2000
In Plato's Gorgias, Socrates says, "I think that it is necessary that we all try to outdo each other in knowing what is true and what is false in the matters about which we speak, because it is clear that this, i.e., knowing what is true and what is false, is a common good for all." Adam Yarmolinsky spent his life relating the idea of truth to that of the common good.
I am Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I had the privilege of serving as Adam's deputy during the late 1980s, while he was Provost at UMBC. Since then, Adam served as Regents Professor of Public Policy and senior advisor on campus. Most important, he was not only a mentor and friend, but also a father figure in many ways.
When the family invited me to speak at this service, I decided to ask my colleagues for their thoughts about him because I wanted to speak as a representative of the University community, which respected Adam and cared deeply about him. I also wanted to speak from a personal perspective -- as an observer of a man whose reach obviously went far beyond the campus, but whose impact on the campus was profound. He taught his colleagues as much as his students.
It is clear that my colleagues took time to think about the significance of Adam's life. Here, in their own words, are some of their observations: "one of the broadest intellects I have ever met," "a humanity of an amazing depth and sensitivity," "unbounded dedication to liberal learning," "fearlessly independent," "vastly knowledgeable," "principled and accessible," "a ready and eager teacher," "a prolific author and intellectual giant," "a major figure in our lives."
Adam was a splendid teacher, and he taught us a great deal about balance. He had the uncanny ability to focus intensely on an immediate problem, while always keeping in mind the bigger picture -- what was happening beyond the campus in the nation and around the world. He would teach lessons about life through interesting stories or through his subtle humor. Clearly, Adam knew how to live life seriously, without taking it, or himself, too seriously. He also taught us a great deal about the importance of resilience. In December, Adam participated by phone from his hospital bed in a doctoral dissertation defense for one of his advisees. I'm told his questions and comments reflected preparation and insights characteristic of his high standards.
One of my early memories of Adam is of his walking up 20 flights of steps each morning to his 10th-floor office. When I first started making this ascent with him, by the time we reached the third or fourth floor, I was out of breath and determined to stop and use the elevator. Adam's response was simply to keep talking with me as if I was perfectly o.k. -- the effect was to encourage and push me actually to go on. And that's what we did -- kept going until we reached the top everyday.
He was a man of unusual determination and broad vision, one who lived his life richly. It was inspiring to observe his strong determination to know, and his commitment to applying that knowledge whenever possible. I was always amazed at how calm he remained in stormy times, and how he used his understanding of human nature to connect people and solve problems. We were clearly the beneficiaries of a lifetime of broad experiences.
On campus, he will be remembered especially for his ability to elevate discussions; for serving as a strong advocate of the humanities, a voice of reason, a master of understatement. His life reminds us that no human endeavor is more noble than seeking truth -- not simply through our research and teaching, but in the ways we live our daily lives. He challenged us to be honest with ourselves, to ask hard questions, to rise above parochialism, and to take a keen interest in others. I will always remember our conversations about poor children in Baltimore, and what could be done to move them out of poverty. He talked about the transforming power of education -- and he envisioned ways of focusing the resources of the University on solutions to poverty and related issues. In fact, Adam was one of the few Americans who could talk about the sticky issue of race with raw honesty.
His vision and commitment to service led to one of his great legacies on our campus -- the creation of the University's Shriver Center, named for his friends, Eunice and Sargent Shriver, and recognized for its success in working with other campuses on our most troubling urban ills.
How, then, might we measure the man?
I continue to think about Adam's climbing 20 flights of steps each day, and I'm struck by how it symbolizes his constant reaching for the truth -- for what was good in both himself and others -- and his conviction that we could advance much further in life than we rarely imagine -- that we can soar.
We knew that he had become wiser and stronger over the years in response to life's challenges, and, consequently, he helped us to put our own personal and professional lives in perspective. In fact, Adam's life inspires us. Like Tennyson's Ulysses, he encouraged the hero in each of us. I always came away from my talks with him both elevated and stronger. Like Ulysses, Adam called to us.