Within the last several weeks I received a polite, well-written note in my mailbox at home. The note requested that I remove a lawn sign from my front yard inviting people to visit a local private school for an open house. The writer suggested that my sign ruined the look of our beautiful green neighborhood and was an advertisement for a business. The letter was signed, “Your Neighbor.”
While I could respect “my neighbor’s” point of view, it is clear that he/she had no respect for mine or my property. When I wasn’t home, “my neighbor” chose to trespass on my lawn and take the sign. When I got to school the next day, I found out that several families in my West Mt. Airy neighborhood had received the same note and had the same experience.
I wish the individual who thought that they could be a vigilante had had the grace to come and talk to me in person or find a more neighborly way to communicate his/her views.
Remembering Ruth Patrick
It was the late 1970s. I was Philadelphia Water Commissioner, and I had just delivered a keynote address for a national water quality symposium. My remarks framed the massive effort to have our region’s waterways reach “swimmable and fishable” status.
Ruth Patrick introduced herself later, in what was her signature command of the English language, asking, “Your efforts are important and laudable, but have you thought about restoring the benthic deposits in the Delaware Estuary?”
Benthic deposits at the river bottom are home to the billions of critters that captured Ruth’s lifelong curiosity and the basis for the scientific and iconic career she built. Indeed, I had not yet worried much about these deposits.
Forty years later I think fondly of my friendship with Ruth. She was no less comfortable trafficking in life’s simple pleasures as she was advising world leaders on the use of diatoms – those single cell tiny animals that could be used as a marker for water quality. One infamous story is how Ruth supported the Allied Forces in World War II by analyzing the diatoms in the barnacles of captured enemy ships to determine their port of origin.
When she called me, she would be just as inclined to ask about the appropriateness of wearing white to her second wedding ceremony as she was debating the pros and cons of water filters on kitchen sinks. Members of the same congregation, we often challenged each other about the meaning of certain sermons and the role of religion in science.
You can watch the story of her life any time on WHYY at WHYY.org/video as part of the series Hometown Legends. Like so many other Philadelphians today, and in our city’s rich past, Ruth was indeed a legend – a homegrown one at that!
William J. Marrazzo
President and CEO, WHYY