Not long ago a grad school comrade passed away: Richard Flammang, of a heart attack at age 56. As noted in SoftOutsideCrunchyCenter (1 May 2000) Rich was a rather unconventional student, particularly for Caltech: older, more physically fit, and far more extroverted than most of his classmates. Describing his studies, Rich's sister Janet and our advisor Kip Thorne wrote:

After graduating from Caltech in 1968 with a degree in physics and economics, Richard received a master's degree in economics from Harvard, and then returned to Caltech for graduate study in physics. His 1982 PhD thesis was a definitive theoretical study of the flow of optically thick gas into a black hole. Among other things, he discovered the manner in which outward diffusing radiation influences the inflowing gas, smearing out the critical point at which the flow becomes supersonic. This research is a foundation for our modern understanding of black holes in dense astrophysical environments.

But beyond his work in physics (and later in the aerospace industry), I remember Rich Flammang for his iconoclastic attitude toward Authority, his exuberant friendliness, and his love of wilderness, particularly the California mountains.

That side of Rich came to mind again when news reached me of Galen Rowell's recent death in a plane crash. Rowell's fame was as a photographer and mountaineer. Our paths intersected at the base of Mount Whitney in 1976 when, as described in CaliforniaSherpa (27 May 2000), I tagged along with some Caltech astronomy students to take photographs of them as they climbed. Rowell, solo and unaided, flew past my friends as they labored up the sheer rock of Whitney's eastern face.

Rich Flammang had that same ineffable lightness of foot and spirit, of sole and soul. I recall now those hikes and scrambles with Rich in the Sierra Nevada and other western ranges ... plus a wild nighttime ride along Mulholland Drive after a party at his parents' home, with the lights of the Los Angeles basin twinkling below us like a mirror of some surrealistic galactic core, polychromatic and brilliant.

I'm sorry that we lost touch for the past few decades. Good-bye, belatedly, Rich ....

TopicProfiles - TopicPersonalHistory - 2002-08-14

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