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Postre: Ronald Hilton, 1911-2007: a Scholarly Anecdote (Edward Jajko, US) (John Eipper, USA, 02/21/10 5:55 am)
Ed Jajko writes: John Eipper reminds us that yesterday, February 20, was the third anniversary of the death of Professor Ronald Hilton, founder of WAIS. At the memorial service for Professor Hilton that was held in the Bechtel International Center in 2007, I told a story of my first encounter with RH. John asked me to write up the story for posting on the anniversary date. I joined the staff of the Hoover Institution in January, 1983, and sometime afterward began hearing from several of my new colleagues about Ronald Hilton, a Stanford emeritus faculty member and Hoover visiting scholar who might be contacting me at some point. But although I kept hearing about Prof. Hilton, I don't recall having any contact with him until I joined some of my colleagues in attending a Hoover seminar sometime in mid to late 1983 or in 1984. (Seminar is the name given in the Institution to an informal talk presented by a visiting scholar or dignitary to a small audience.) Library staff were encouraged to attend seminars, as a form of professional education. This seminar took place in room 130 of the Herbert Hoover Memorial Building. The room was set up with a large conference table and ten or twelve chairs around the table. I went in with my colleagues. We noted that the speaker would likely place himself at the narrow end of the table next to the wall, so we went to the opposite end, with me taking a seat on the long side at the far end. Then Prof. Hilton came in and took a seat on the same side of the table, about half-way down, placing him between me and the speaker. By then I knew who he was, even if we had not had any significant interaction. I should add here that I have absolutely no recollection of who the visitor, the seminar speaker, was, nor of the topic of the talk; I do remember that I found it irrelevant to my interests and deadly boring. One thing only did strike me. As soon as the speaker began to talk, Prof. Hilton's elbow went onto the table and his forehead came almost crashing down into his hand. His head remained that way throughout the talk and he sat there without moving. As the speaker rambled on, Prof. Hilton, between me and the speaker, was constantly in my line of sight. In those days, I was in my relatively vigorous mid-forties; Prof. Hilton was somewhere in his seventies. I have to admit that, as the seminar went on and on and as I observed Prof. Hilton, various thoughts came into my head like "Poor old guy, I guess this is too much for him; it's mid-afternoon, maybe he needs a nap; he's probably as bored as I am by this speaker and has been put to sleep by this dull talk," etc. (The late Mrs. Hilton and daughter Mary heard me deliver these remarks and enjoyed them, so I know I am forgiven.) I continued to have thoughts like these about poor old Prof. Hilton. Then the talk ended and the host asked for questions from the audience. And my jaw dropped as Professor Hilton's head shot up and he immediately began peppering the speaker with precise questions: In your first sentence, you said X. What did you mean? In your sixth sentence, you said Y. How can you defend that? In the middle of your talk, you said Z; what did you mean, why did you say it, how can you relate that to A, B, C? In each instance of his many questions, he quoted the speaker verbatim, going back to the very first sentence that the speaker had uttered some twenty minutes before. I sat there quietly amazed and never forgot that introduction to the phenomenon that was Ronald Hilton. Nor the reminder to myself about jumping to conclusions, not that I have always kept it in mind. JE comments: Ed Jajko's joyful anecdote really struck a chord with the attendees of the RH Memorial Gathering of May 2007. It illustrates better than anything the type of meticulous scholar Prof. Hilton was, and the type all of us should aspire to be. I'm grateful Ed has written up this episode for posterity (and for our public website).