A NOTE FROM DIANE ASSEO GRILICHES TO PARTICIPANTS IN THE CONFERENCE IN MEMORY OF ZVI GRILICHES, BETHESDA, MARYLAND, SEPTEMBER 19-20, 2003


Ernie Berndt invited me to say a few words during the final session of the NBER/CRIW panel, “Reflections on the Contributions of Zvi Griliches”, September 21, 2003, in Bethesda, and so here they are.  I am happy to have them read by him in lieu of my presence there.


In the four years since Zvi has been gone, I have been working slowly, intermittently, but carefully on the material that is going into the Harvard Archives.  Probably 75 percent has gone there already, “uninspected”, coming from the huge files in his Harvard office.  But some professional and much of the personal records, correspondence, articles, tributes, and family material I did review and have been putting in some sensible order before giving them over.  And of course I Xeroxed and kept some portion for the family.  Xerox is a wonderful invention.


A significant amount of material came from his files at home.  As most of you might know, Zvi never threw anything out.  His office at home was a work-in-progress.  Iain Cockburn and Ernie Berndt spent three days slogging through a dozen leaning four-foot piles on the floor, Iain shaking his head again and again:  “Zvi, oh Zvi, and why did you save this?”


But in another way it is really fortunate that he was a pack-rat.  Besides a 55 year-old vaccination certificate, there is the earliest official document with a photo of a 17 year-old Zvi from Atlit, the transit camp in Palestine where new immigrants were brought to be sent then to kibbutzim.  And there is a diary in Hebrew (now translated) from a year in one of the kibbutzim, in which he laments the fact that he doesn’t have enough time to read: “It’s been a week since I held a book in my hands after work”.


And there are the official grades from exams given to enter the Hebrew University in 1950, having taken correspondence courses to make up for not having attended high school.  These must be the lowest grades he ever got: “good”, “almost good”, “fair” and “fair minus” (this last in mathematics yet!).  After that in his university career, with one exception, they were all A’s.


It was in 1947 that he stepped off the boat in Haifa coming from Cypress, where he learned English from the Brits who held him there for eight months.  He spent one year at the Hebrew University, three years at Berkeley and three years at Chicago.  By 1957 he had learned to write excellent English, earned a Ph.D., written a remarkable thesis (the original typed manuscript will go to the Archives), and became an Assistant Professor.  Strangely enough I do not think I really appreciated this remarkable accomplishment until I myself had gone over the documents and it struck me what he had managed to do in those ten short years.


Zvi was very fortunate in his mentor, who incidentally himself never went to high school as he needed to help the family on the farm during World War I when labor was scarce.  Some of the richest correspondence is between Zvi and T. W. Schultz, personal and professional, and also with Lester Telser when Les was in the army.


There are also letters to the Chicago Maroon and the Harvard Crimson defending Milton Friedman, Al Harberger, and Otto Eckstein in separate instances, against young hot heads who had “causes” but not much perspective.  And in a personal letter he attacks Milton for supporting the Reagan budget cuts.  There are many public letters of Zvi’s protesting these budget cuts to the social sciences during those years.  And not less significantly a letter to the head of housing defending the morals and behavior of our cat, Kisya, against the calumnies of our University of Chicago housing janitor.


Since the University Archivist, Harley Holden, told me they were interested in the “whole person”, I have also included material relating to Zvi’s great uncle’s medal engraving for the Tzar, and Zvi’s own collecting of those Griliches medals, as well as material concerning his genealogical work on his family.  He managed to finish work on these during the last year of his life.


It is a rich archive, and will be available to those who would make good use of it in his memory.  It will be located in the Pusey Library Building in Harvard Yard.  The complete material will not be included for another half year or so.


But I have to report sadly that his work-in-progress-office can now be walked into without fear of stumbling.


Diane Asseo Griliches