Great dad dies (also, he was a scientist)

Handsome Dad of the Year (a former brunette) took out the garbage without fail, did the family shopping, and is remembered fondly by his step-daughters/first-cousins-once-removed. Also, outside the home, he discovered something called "relativity". Jennie Dusheck has a great follow up to a story that Xeni posted about earlier today.


  1. It’s so great that he was able to nurture a balance between work and family as a modern male scientist :p

  2. I truly agree with the WashPo’s She the People that the writer wrote over people’s heads, who couldn’t get passed the first paragraph. Ms. Brill told her story pretty much the same way the obit read, that was the Times’ first mistake.

    If you read all the way to the last paragraph, which contains a brilliant “shot” against the Washington Post, you can better understand what the writer was doing wth this piece. But I doubt very much many people read to the end.

    1. Funny….it was the last paragraph, referencing the WashPo article, which was the final detail convincing me Douglas wrote a more-sexist-than-usual obit:

      “In 2010, when Mrs. Brill was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, The Washington Post began its article about the event by lauding two other honorees, Arthur Fry and Spencer Silver, the inventors of Post-its. The article went on to suggest that it took two men to create an adhesive stationery but only one woman to figure out how to keep satellites in place.”

      The WashPo piece was quite funny, referring to the two men as “hotshot studs” IN THE LEDE.  The article was almost entirely about them, and secondarily about the award ceremony; it merely referenced a few other award recipients in passing (including Yvonne Brill) in one paragraph near the end of the piece.

    2. Regarding repeating the story exactly as Brill told it (supposedly, according to the only family member quoted):

      Journalists are supposed to find out the facts — who, what, when, where, how and why — and then present the info in descending order of importance.  (Makes it easier to edit the column if there isn’t enough room when the publication is about to go to print.)

      Starting out an award-winning scientist’s obit with reference to an entree recipe she was supposedly good at making is not “over people’s heads”.  (But thanks for the condescension anyway.)

      I know I’d be pretty damned insulted if that was how the NYTimes chose to write about one of my female relatives’ lives.  An obit is not the place to prove how clever the writer is, even if they actually ARE clever.  It’s insulting to the person being memorialized, their family, and anyone who respects what they did in life.

      The fact that the lede was altered after the fact without any editorial note admitting the change is rather interesting, don’t you think?  Almost like Douglas’s editor recognized how wrong it was and wanted to sweep it under the rug as quickly as possible.

      1.  But here’s the thing: The stroganoff line was dumb but it wasn’t literally about stroganoff. (metaphor).  Personally, I’d have combined the first and second paragraphs to further convey this. But the reason this isn’t your basic “brilliant scientist dies and, oh my god, she was also a woman” story is the intersection of her domestic life and her professional life is what led to her most notable achievement. If she doesn’t choose to give up her job and follow her husband, she doesn’t end up in a spot where she changes the world by developing a propulsion system that keeps satellites in orbit.

        It’s remarkable, really, not just because she was so brilliant, but because the luck of life is so incredibly fascinating.  And, it should go without saying, it’s not a footnote because women couldn’t do that in her day; they can barely do it now.

        By the way, if you want to hear her tell her story herself, go here. .

        I’m sorry you viewed the assertion that the STORY (not the lede) was too nuanced for the audience. I was relaying Melinda Hennenburger’s  “She The People” column in the WashPo.

        I agree, it sucks that the cultural burden here falls on women, but the reality is that it did in the life of Ms. Brill, and while she was particularly adroit at not taking a stand (which is another discussion), and recognized the unfairness, at the same time she didn’t contend that her life as a rocket scientist diminished the role she chose in her family.

        In terms of her editor changing the lede, well, that’s another fascinating controversy. He didn’t change it. Someone else did without telling him or the writer. Of course, he says he never saw the pushback coming, which is really stupid not to have seen it coming.

        I suppose if anything good comes out of this in the short term, it’s that if the Times had posted the reworked lede in the original, the world would’ve moved on by now and not further considered this amazing the woman. We probably wouldn’t even remember her name

        1. If I knew nothing of women’s history and feminist theory, I suppose your response would be an acceptable explanation of how things should be understood.  So nice of you to explain things to me slowly and carefully, even providing a link, because otherwise I would be ignorant about how her success was due to opportunity being fortuitously dropped in her path.  Funny how luck is seldom used to describe men’s career paths….especially in an obit meant to sum up the highlights of their life’s work.

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