Celebrating Sidney Drell

29 December 2016

Sidney Drell, a Stanford theoretical physicist who counseled government leaders for more than 50 years and who was an internationally prominent advocate of limits on nuclear weapons, died Dec. 21 at his home in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 90. (See the full Washington Post article here.) 

The Right Rev. William E. Swing, URI President and Founding Trustee, shares a speech he gave at Sidney Drell's 90th birthday:

In the early 1980’s, I invited three distinguished people to speak at Grace Cathedral about nuclear weapons.  One was Cap Weinberger, then Secretary of Defense.  One was McGeorge Bundy, an expert in American foreign and defense policy.  And one was Sidney Drell, a renowned physicist from Stanford University. That occasion was the start of a twenty-five-year friendship.

Having taken and failed Physics 101, three times at Kenyon College, I have always been amazed that a physicist of Sid’s stature would associate with such a loser as I. But there is the first quality of Sid’s that I would like to mention.  He is kind.

I would like to point out that his 90th birthday comes at a moment when the attention of America falls on two matters of terror.  Fifteen years ago about this time of year, the 9/11 tragedy gouged great scars in New York, at the Pentagon and in Western Pennsylvania.  Second, last week, North Korea tested its fifth nuclear devise and sent shivers through Japan, South Korea and the United States. From these two events, we learn that the intent to do cataclysmic harm is present today, and the capacity for such harm is getting closer and closer. When I think about the threat, I also think about the alert qualities that are needed now, qualities of sanity and humanity.  Both are carried in Sid’s heart and head.

I have a friend who was the chaplain to England’s royal family, and he loved to say:  “The Queen Mother and I hate name droppers.”  Even so, Sid Drell and I admire the same literary authors.  Most recently, he loaned me his books-on-tape edition of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  And speaking of literature, when I write some little piece, Sid is willing to give it a good read. Only a friend would do that.

It is hard to mention Sid’s name without mentioning the name of George Shultz.  We have known great twosomes.  Batman and Robin!  Lum and Abner! But when I think of Sid and George, what comes to my mind are Ruth and Gehrig. They had clout.  They were where the action was. And they were difference makers.

When my wife, Mary, and I are in need of good conversation and a good meal, we plot an invitation for dinner with Harriet and Sid at the V. This is always a grace note in our lives.

Sid, you are exactly ten years older than I, and I look up to you…with abundant respect.  Happy 90th Birthday!

See Sidney Drell's message in URI's Voices for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons video here.