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“Yesterday I went for a long walk in the spring sunshine with Trudy Eyges and Richard Feynman. Feynman is the young American professor, half genius and half buffoon, who keeps all physicists and their children amused with his effervescent vitality. He has, however, as I have recently learned, a great deal more to him than that, and you may be interested in his story. The part of it with which I am concerned began when he arrived at Los Alamos; there he found and fell in love with a brilliant and beautiful girl, who was tubercular and had been exiled to New Mexico in the hope of stopping the disease. When Feynman arrived, things had got so bad that the doctors gave her only a year to live, but he determined to marry her, and marry her he did; and for a year and a half, while working at full pressure on the project, he nursed her and made her days cheerful. She died just before the end of the war…

As Feynman says, anyone who has been happily married once cannot long remain single, and so yesterday we were discussing his new problem, this time again a girl in New Mexico with whom he is desperately in love. This time the problem is not tuberculosis, but the girl is a Catholic. You can imagine all the troubles this raises, and if there is one thing Feynman could not do to save his soul, it is to become a Catholic himself. So we talked and talked and sent the sun down the sky and went on talking in the darkness. At the end of it, Feynman was no nearer to the solution of his problems, but it must have done him good to get them off his chest. I think that he will marry the girl and that it will be a success, but far be it from me to give advice to anybody on such a subject. […]

I came to the conclusion that he is an exceptionally well-balanced person, whose opinions are always his own and not other people’s. He is very good at getting on with people, and as we came West, he altered his voice and expressions unconsciously to fit his surroundings, until he was saying ‘I don’t know noth’n’ like the rest of them.

Feynman’s young lady turned him down when he arrived in Albuquerque, having attached herself in his absence to somebody else. He stayed there for only five days to make sure, then left her for good and spent the rest of the summer enjoying himself with horses in New Mexico and Nevada.”

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Pulled from two letters by Freeman Dyson, now 94, written in 1948 and just published in the new book Maker of Patterns: An Autobiography Through Letters. (I lifted the title from this Nautilus article, which excerpts some of the book.)

Image courtesy: Jim Britt