Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

One more tale of Tingye Li

The September 2013 issue of Optics & Photonics News contains my feature article on Tingye Li, a pioneering optical scientist and beloved member of the OSA community. (Sorry, you need to be an OSA member in order to read the full text of the article.)

I wanted to include one more anecdote that came from Li’s two daughters, but I thought it might be a bit too risqué for the magazine. Besides, if I put everything into the article, I wouldn’t have anything to blog about, now would I? 🙂

Here’s the story. Since Li, who died last December, spent his entire post-doctorate career working at Bell Laboratories, he lived with his wife and children in Rumson, N.J. According to Wikipedia, Rumson is quite the upscale town, and it was that way in the 1960s and 1970s as well. Still, Li and his wife, both naturalized Americans who were born in China, found it a good place to raise their daughters.

One of Li’s hobbies was gardening, sometimes with his daughters and sometimes all by himself. He always wore his oldest, shabbiest clothes to mess around with the dirt and fertilizer.

One evening, he was working alone in the front yard when a car pulled up and stopped. The driver, who looked like a prosperous businessman, rolled down his window and told Li that he was doing an excellent job on the landscaping. Li thanked him for the compliment.

Then the businessman, in a tone of voice that suggested he was thinking of hiring Li to do his yard work, asked him what sort of compensation he was provided for his toil. With a slight smile and twinkle in his eye, Li promptly responded: “Oh, I get to sleep with the lady of the house.”

The businessman, who apparently still hadn’t figured out that somebody dressed in ratty gardening clothes could actually be a married Bell Labs executive and homeowner, mumbled some sort of farewell and could hardly roll up the car window fast enough. One can only imagine the look on that guy’s face as he drove off!


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