In Memorium . . .

By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This past Wednesday, the world lost two giants: one used physics to expand man’s knowledge of the universe, and the other used physics to enhance the understanding of fly fishing. Both were an inspiration to me.

Stephen Hawking was arguably the preeminent physicist in the world. For those unfamiliar with him (hard to imagine), he was the gentleman to whom is attributed the theory of “black holes,” those areas of space whose mass is so overwhelming large and whose gravitational force is so strong that not even light can escape their pull. However, he did concede that small amounts of radiation could escape, and that became known as “Hawking Radiation.” He is also the man credited with the Big Bang theory of creation.

Hawking’s passing at the age of 76 is remarkable, if for no other reason than the fact he was diagnosed in his college years with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and was given less than two years to live. Obviously, those who offered that diagnosis were wrong. Hawking contradicted all the stereotypes associated with his disease and chronic disability in general. When he lost the power of speech, he was able to continue “speaking” through the use of a speech-generating device that enabled him to speak in the monotone-sounding pattern with which he became widely associated. When his legs no longer worked, he got around quite well with the use of a special wheel chair. His list of accomplishments is immense (see Stephen Hawking’s Wikipedia page). Even his social life was a contradiction of sorts, as he married twice, fathering three children with his first wife.

I have always viewed Stephen Hawking as an amazing role model for what can be accomplished in the face of the most enormous adversity. Perhaps consistent with his vocation of scientist, Hawking declared himself an atheist in September 2014, as a keynote speaker at the Starmus Festival.*  In an interview with El Mundo, he commented:

“Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”

Painting by Monica Acee

Bernard “Lefty” Kreh was 92 years old when he departed this mortal coil. He was recognized as the unofficial ambassador of fly fishing and, more specifically, of fly casting. His skill with the long rod is the stuff of legends. But it was Lefty’s appreciation of the laws of physics that set him apart from his colleagues. He was the first one to realize how specific laws made the fly line do what it does during a cast, and to relate that information in a way that average people could understand. I saw him on several occasions throw an entire fly line with just the top half of a fly rod. It was my privilege to have met Lefty on numerous occasions when I was the manager of the fishing department in a large outdoor sports store in New Jersey. 

I learned to fly fish, as most people do, by copying others. For many years, that was good enough and my abilities to throw a fly were sufficient to keep me happy. But there were always certain situations where my lack of understanding of the basics of fly casting left me unable to achieve my goals. Lefty changed all that. His series of instructional cassette tapes will forever remain a treasure. A gregarious man, he always had time for just one more lesson or tip and never tired of spending time with fellow fly fishermen. He was a prince.

I have no doubt that Lefty is already plying the waters of the afterlife, catching fish, and befriending and teaching those he meets.  He’s where he belongs.  And it’s my sincere hope that Mr. Hawking was wrong in his assessment regarding the existence of a deity, and that he is teaching a course in advanced quantum physics somewhere in the firmament under the watchful eye of God. After all, everyone is entitled to one mistake.


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