Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 22  |  Friday, July 2, 1999  |  Number 13
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

Orr portrays multifaceted directors

by Mike Perricone

Rich Orr’s career at Fermilab spanned all or parts of the first three directors’ administrations from 1970 to 1990, and his wide range of roles—from riding horseback with Bob Wilson to serving as associate director for administration—gave him acute insights into the personalities of Wilson, Leon Lederman and John Peoples.

"All three are multifaceted," Orr told the Ramsey Auditorium audience at the John Peoples Symposium. "Not a single one was a one-dimensional person, either pure physicist, or pure administrator. Or pure dictator—though they would have liked to be."

Here are summaries of Orr’s word portraits of the three directors:

Robert Rathbun Wilson (1968-1978) "A crisis manager without peer, and he had to be. We had crises like crazy, and most of them were Bob-generated. He built crisis into this place. I think he was an artist almost before he became a physicist. Someone telling him how to run a laboratory was like someone looking over Picasso’s shoulder and telling Picasso how to paint. He stamped Bob Wilson all over the 6800 acres of Fermilab. This place looks like it does, feels like it does, is like it is, and the staff is like it is, because of Bob Wilson. His heart and soul are in every square inch of this place."

Leon Lederman (1978-1989)"Leon put a world-class cachet on our experimental program. Educator, lecturer, author, leader—Leon was also a great diplomat, and he had to mend a lot of fences after Bob. I know a lot of hostile people ended up being Leon’s best friends. Having him as our director increased our standing quite a bit. We were almost a great laboratory waiting to happen, but we had to have a strong experimental program. Leon had been guiding us in that direction already. Bob relied on Leon more than anyone else for advice on our experimental direction."

John Peoples Jr. (1989-1999)"John is a physicist of the first rank, but he is also a CEO of the first rank. I firmly believe John could go out and run any company in this country, including General Motors. A problem solver of the first order. An incredibly quick study. He’ll come in and solve a problem before everyone else knows what the problem is—but with one caveat, which we called ‘ready, fire, aim.’ He was too good in too many directions at once. Sometimes you had to hold off a few days to make sure he didn’t come back with another decision 180 degrees away. He was our best talent scout. John was perfect at picking and recruiting really first-class young physicists and plugging them into the program. He puts good people in good places, an important thing for a director to do."

Orr concluded with words of guidance for new Director Mike Witherell.

"He faces a problem convincing the people and the present Congress that we need basic research in this country if we’re going to survive," Orr said. "I think what we do here is the basis for everything else that’s going on, even the basis for the ‘.com’ corporations are putting after their names to make billions. The World Wide Web was invented by high-energy physics. It’s important that we keep doing basic research. It’s important that Fermilab stays alive. That’s Mike’s job, and we wish him well."

last modified 7/2/1999   email Fermilab