Guest post by Melanie Sturgeon, Librarian for Engineering, Physics, and Computer Science
I was terribly saddened to hear that Professor Horst Meyer passed away this weekend. As the physics librarian, I started working with Horst three years ago. I feel like I should say that I never met anyone like Horst, but that’s not entirely true. Horst reminded me very much of my Grandpa, Harry Goldberg. It wasn’t that Horst acted like a grandfather towards me. It was their personalities. They were of an age and lived through a time that is difficult for most of us to imagine. My Grandpa was part of what we in the U.S. call our “greatest generation.” I’m not sure what they were called in Europe, other than “survivors,” I suppose. But neither Horst nor my Grandpa were hardened by what they had been through. Instead, they were almost giddy with life and determined not only to enjoy every minute of it, but to make sure those around them did as well.
Working with Horst was a joy. He was always passionate about whatever he was doing and thankful to be doing it. As a leading physicist at Duke for almost sixty years, Horst was a brilliant scholar and a very familiar face in the library. Many librarians worked with him over the years and also have stories about him. It was impossible to come away from an interaction with Horst without a positive memory or a story you wanted to share with someone.
When the latest Stephen Hawking book came in for him, he was so excited he literally bounced up and down when I gave it to him. Later, when Horst returned the book, he joked about how proud he was that he was able to understand part of what Hawking wrote. He did clarify that Hawking’s work was in a completely different field of physics than his, then quickly returned to joking and smiled about needing to be a genius to understand the whole book.
I’m sure many people did consider Horst a genius. But as a librarian, my takeaway was an appreciation for someone who obviously enjoyed learning so much. Every interaction with him left me smiling and thankful for the opportunity to work with him. It turned out that Horst was also thankful for those opportunities. A few years ago, he submitted a wonderful letter of appreciation along with a very generous donation to the Libraries for always supporting him. This is something Horst did frequently. If he cared about something, he wanted to help it grow and flourish. You can read more in the beautiful DukeToday article about his dedication to art, music, and the Duke Gardens. Here in the Libraries, we will be forever grateful that he wanted to help with our mission to preserve the past and educate the future. His memory will live on in the Libraries through his contributions to the History of Medicine Collections and our collection of rare materials on physics.
I am deeply grateful for my time with Horst, and I’m reminded of the lessons my Grandpa taught me about truly enjoying life and pursuing your passions. While Harry Goldberg was no world-renowned scholar, he had that same infectious smile and positive outlook that Horst did. To be honest, I had a difficult time remaining professional with Horst, as I was always tempted to hug him goodbye and ask if I could adopt him as an honorary grandfather.
When Horst told me the end was close (while still requesting more research), I became visibly upset. He comforted me and assured me that he was a lucky man who had had a great life. I can only hope that we all feel that way—not just at the end, but every day as we pursue our dreams and appreciate the amazing life around us.