Some, if not many of you, were present at Irwin’s 80th birthday celebration. There, I presented the initial results of the research project that I started related to some interesting (and sometimes surprising) aspects of Irwin’s life. Those who did not attend Irwin’s 80th birthday event, don’t worry! I’m not going to mention names (not even you know who…).
On that occasion, I reported my first findings about the origin of the nickname “IO” and how in a few years following its inception, it infiltrated a number of important organizations like Disney. From there, you probably know this famous song (The Louis Armstrong's version):
“IO, IO, to make your troubles go
Just keep on singing all day long IO, IO, IO
IO, IO, for if you’re feeling low
You positively can’t go wrong with I, IO”
I also mentioned that you are probably used to hear "Heigh-ho”, but it is really “IO” - those Polish immigrant midgets had a strong foreign accent…
What I would like to discuss though today is not Irwin’s initials but rather his last name, Oppenheim. When I first came to this country to stay for 2 years at Irwin’s group, I was amazed that people here mispronounce his last name. You all call him something that sounds like “Up-enheim” and not as I used to hear from my Jewish German neighbors or even in the Weizmann Institute, where I first met Irwin. These people pronounced his last name: Open-heim, “open” like "open the door”. And this turned out to be exactly the aspect that Irwin meant the most to me (in addition to the science) - he literally opened or helped me open many doors.
Irwin opened the door of the world for me. Coming here from a small country with tightly closed borders, I was amazed by his global approach, with his extensive contacts & internationally diverse group. We were all equally accepted even if you had a heavy Israeli accent, or even worse, a local Boston accent...
Before I came to Irwin's group, I have never heard the name Julia Child. Here, she was the queen of the culinary-sophisticated group. In discussions and in many group visits to some great restaurants, I became familiar, through King Irwin and Queen Julia, with the word “gourmet” and learned its true meaning both theoretically and practically!
This was not just limited to culinary arts. It also included an open horizon to the humanities and the arts. After all, Irwin is the reason why I started to read The New Yorker!
Regarding science, Irwin “cleansed" my system from the tendency to look down on anything that is not “pure” science. He did both himself, pure and applied science, and as he taught us, each one has its place and value. This has helped me a great deal when I changed directions and entered through the door leading to applied science & later on through the door of working on anything that might spark my imagination, creativity, and interest. Thank you, Irwin!
I miss you, Irwin, and will continue to miss your presence, sense of humor, and above all your roaring laugh. RIP.