Norman Dolloff

Norman Dolloff had Cutler's boundless enthusiasm and energy. As Cutler's student, Norman devised a way to mine copper without having to dig for it—50 years ahead of his time; he did not live to see it happen. He too was a human being.  He and I had an affinity rare among men. He taught geology, like Cutler Shepard later taught Metallurgy. We went out in the field and saw for ourselves the grand works of nature, eroding, reprocessing, remelting the earth into lava, eroding and depositing anew. He honed my professional insights and taught reality—let theory catch up and explain later—this is the way it is.

He was that rare friend who could laugh at himself as easily as he laughed at me, which he never hesitated to do. His enthusiasm was boundless. He also had a rare confidence in his own psyche, and those of others. In a discussion one time about something arcane, I recall him saying to me, "I could teach you that in 5 minutes", and thinking, "how can you possibly be so sure?" It was not arrogance, he really could teach. His Socratic method blended with drill and experiment and not a little improvisation did wonders for me. Norman, more than anyone, motivated me scholastically. My only straight A quarter came after learning his methods. That is because learning is the flip side of teaching—I learned to ask myself the same questions he asked in class or the field.

Only once did I ever see him flustered. It seems that on a field trip to an ancient quarry to examine some fossils, the owner suddenly appeared and demanded to know what was going on. (Norman had only made this field trip a hundred times and he assumed the area was public domain). He explained that, but the owner promptly kicked us off his property anyway. Never one to dodge the tough stuff, he broke a leg on a similar adventure.

Norman was also intensely human, loved to play with his kids. He always had a smile and pleasantries. Norman was always available for mentoring—via the Socratic method. He introduced me to the two-way street that lies at the heart of any successful mentor-protege relationship—it always has an important emotional component.

He taught me something else. Once you have the fundamentals of how to think and reason all you really need from there is the vocabulary of the field—every test he ever gave had a vocabulary section and he was a stickler on definitions. And so it was in transferring to Stanford. The new words of metallurgy quickly became friends in the fabric of science, the fabric that Norman built. In effect, I had completed two majors in four years, geology and metallurgy. But I have never practiced geology except in passing or to keep a "know-it-all" honest.

Norman's Geology left an imprint on my psyche—nature. Nature is at once ever so marvelous yet so difficult to understand. It is no wonder superstition preceded legend, which preceded logic, which preceded the experimental sciences in our human development. How it all came into being is so vastly beyond me, I shall never understand. But I am part of it — thinking, feeling and acting part of it. Whoever the creator, however our universe came into being, I am one of its products. From these foundations, our core values and governance arise. Our governance makes logical, practical and emotional sense. They define who we are without having to invoke any higher authority. Their realization is not complete and they may not be suitable for everyone or even anyone else. But in their practice I find myself and my faith in myself as well as in nature—whatever it ultimately means.

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