Tag Archives: Shakespear

Shakespeare and the “Ocean Genius”

9 May

Fortune smiled on me in April. I was invited to the “Folly Garden Theater” for a benefit supporting theater arts for middle and high school students. The open air theater sits in Walter and Mary Munk’s back yard. We were also celebrating the Bards 453 birthday.

When I arrived three middle schools students were performing a scene from ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ and there was the great man himself giving them his full attention. For the past seventeen years Walter and his wife have opened their home for this event. At 99 years-old, the man the New York Times called the “Einstein of the Oceans” is still encouraging students.

The outdoor theater stage is at the bottom of a terraced incline. Each of the four grass covered terrace levels are wide enough for one row of folding chairs. A large cement balcony with room for more than 50 people tops off the seating. Behind the stage area is an unmolested canyon leading down to the beach at the Scripps Institute, where Walter has been affiliated since the late 1930’s. It is an amazing ocean view in which colorful hang gliders arc gracefully on ocean breezes.

The students were in full costume. In a scene from ‘Henry IV’, the young man playing Fallstaff was particularly amusing in both dress and demeanor. The stage sound system made the flawless delivery of the almost 450 year-old lines by the Bard’s newest enthusiasts easy to hear. Clearly, the students involved had spent many hours perfecting their performances and were truly enjoying their day in the sun. Doctor Munk rose from his wheel chair multiple times to express appreciation for their performances.

This is one of many events sponsored by the San Diego Shakespeare Society. Inspired by the idea “Teach a child Shakespeare at an early age and they can learn anything,” the Society sponsors many events for K-12 students. Amongst the largest of these is the annual event held on the various stages in Balboa Park’s Prado area at which about 500 students perform 10-minute scenes.

The Adults

The emcee for our event was author and performer, Richard Lederer. Among his many credits, Richard founded the PBS show “A Way with Words.” Richard who came dressed for the occasion in a costume topped off by a giant felt hat, seems to feel that his best credits are his champion poker playing son and daughter (Howard Lederer and Annie Duke) and his poet daughter, Katy Lederer.

Mr. Lederer showed off his word mastery whenever he spoke. He was also the fund raiser auctioneer. One of the items he auctioned was poker lessons. He claimed that his having sired two national poker champions was proof of the value his lessons would bring. His light hearted style was a delight.

Alex Sandie, the President of the Shakespeare Society delivered a few brief remarks. Not only did he grow up in Sean Connery’s home town of Edinburgh, he also bears a remarkable resemblance. He lamented bad things coming in threes by noting that he is 3 inches shorter, 30 pounds lighter and $300 million poorer than his famous Scottish doppelganger. For the past 16 years this delightful man has been leading the Society’s effort to educate the public, especially youths.

The “Einstein of the Oceans”

For me meeting Walter Munk was a special treat. And like all truly great people, he was a humble delightful person who shows gratitude and appreciation for any effort. Kasey Kay wrapped up the afternoon by playing some wonderful renditions of Chopin and other classics. Walter was there listening intently and applauding enthusiastically. In one touching moment while Kasey was playing, Walter’s wife Mary stood behind him with her hands on his shoulders – Walter reached up with his left hand and held her right hand affectionately.

In 2015, Kate Galbraith wrote about Walter for the New York Times. She began the article:

“In 1942, with World War II in full swing, a young military scientist learned of the Allies’ plans to invade northwestern Africa by sea to dislodge the nearby Axis forces.

“The scientist, Walter Munk, who was in his mid-20s, hastily did some research and found that waves in the region were often too high for the boats carrying troops to reach the beaches safely. Disaster could loom. He mentioned it to his commanding officer, but was brushed off.

“’They must have thought about that,’ Dr. Munk, now 97, recalled being told. But the young scientist persisted, calling in his mentor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to help.

“They devised a way to calculate the waves the boats could expect to face. Their work helped the boats land in a window of relative calm, and the science of wave prediction took off, becoming part of the planning for the D-Day landings in 1944.”

I was standing in the entryway garden in front of the Munk home talking with a friend when we noticed a meter by meter bronze plaque memorializing Roger Revelle. Walter Munk and Roger Revelle are widely considered the two most important scientists in the history of global climate change studies. The meaning behind the plaque is revealed in a 2013 UC San Diego news release about Munk being presented the Revelle award. From the release:

“Commonly referred to as the “greatest living oceanographer,” Munk is widely recognized for his groundbreaking investigations of wave propagation, tides, currents, circulation and other aspects of the ocean and Earth. The 95-year-old scientist is still active at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. His accomplishments have been recognized by a lengthy list of organizations from around the world. He won the National Medal of Science and the Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences. He was the inaugural recipient of the Prince Albert I Medal in the physical sciences of the oceans, which Prince Rainier of Monaco created in cooperation with the International Association for the Physical Sciences of the Oceans. Most recently, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced Munk’s receipt of the Crafoord Prize.

“Yet for Munk, the Roger Revelle Medal is especially meaningful. ‘Roger was my best friend and the person who had the greatest influence on my career,’ said Munk, who received his Ph.D. in oceanography in 1947 from Scripps, where he went on to spend his entire academic career.”

Munk played a lead role in the Acoustic Thermometry of Ocean Climate (ATOC) project. Because sound travels through water at different rates depending on the temperature, Munk realized he could use sound to measure ocean temperatures. It gave him a method for tracking climate change.

Munk and Revelle cemented their long professional and personal relationship during a 1952 year long research voyage. They first went to the Eniwetok Atoll to monitor the hydrogen bomb test for possible tsunami issues. They didn’t find a tsunami but they did have to strip off their clothes and throw them overboard when they were doused with a nuclear polluted rain. This was Munk’s second trip to monitor the effect of nuclear testing on the oceans. He was also at the Bikini Atoll for the 1946 atomic bomb test where he put dye in the lagoons to see where the currents would disperse the radioactive products of the test.

1952 at Eniwetok Atol

New York Times Photo

After the hydrogen bomb test, Munk and Revelle spent many months doing ocean research in the beautiful islands of Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, and the Marquesas, taking a full year to make their way back to San Diego.

In the 1960’s, the new University of California at San Diego campus quickly gained a reputation as one of the top public universities in America. This was due in no small measure to Revelle and Munk’s ability to recruit top young scientists.  Munk describes how they did it:

‘“Roger was a tremendous recruiter.… He became so interested in the work of these people and what they were doing that he could explain to them how they could do their work better at UC San Diego. He was a genuine participant in their dreams.”’

“Munk reminisced about his role in the recruiting effort. ‘Magically, Roger would turn up at our house with the recruits around martini time,’ said Munk. ‘He would show them the ocean view and we would have the martinis ready.’”

After my afternoon watching Shakespeare at that same house, I can see how effective the recruiting team of San Diego, Munk and Revelle was.

It was such a pleasure to see how great people share their largess. After years of watching pseudo philanthropy harm public schools, it was refreshing to see genuine public spirit on display.