Richard D. Shields

June 17, 1942 - February 15, 1998


If you wish to contribute stories, memories, comments about the life of Richard D. Shields, please contact me at:

Gifts of a Life - Richard D. Shields

Rick Shields was one of the most complex, challenging, and memorable people I have ever known. We had many differences of temperament and opinion, which ultimately made it impossible for us to remain a couple, but the gifts of his life, the memories, skills, and changed perspectives will be part of my being until the day I die.

To honor these gifts, I am gathering stories about how he contributed to the lives of those who knew him and will be distributing copies to those who contribute, as well as to others who want to have a concrete record of the spectrum which was his life. If you would like to contribute to this document, please let me know after the service.

Some of the gifts he gave me and memories I will treasure include:

He was the first man who ever valued me for my mind. From the first day we met at the Principles of Objectivism lectures at Bob and Mary Ephron's house, we pushed each other intellectually. He encouraged me to challenge, probe, and question, and by his unstated assumption that of course I could, taught me that I indeed could.

On our first unofficial date - he was tutoring me in Physics - he introduced me to the Richard Feynman lectures and encouraged me in my questioning of the standard explanation about the nature of potential energy. This gave me the intellectual courage that supports my current research activities.

On our first official date, he wanted to take me to a good French restaurant and was broke, so he earned the money for it by being a subject in a medical experiment that required him to have a tube leading from his stomach to a bag in his shirt pocket while we were eating dinner at the restaurant. He honored me by knowing that I would find that admirable, and I did. From this I gained confidence in my understanding that appearances didn't matter - substance did.

He was a wonderful violinist, and taught me to hear music in ways I never had before, even though I had studied piano for years. On our second date he taught me about overtones by playing five versions of the second movement of a Paganini violin concerto, starting with Ruggerio Ricci, the worst, and working up to Zino Franscecatti and Yasha Heifetz. It was an extraordinary teaching technique, one which I use to this day when I teach students how to appreciate good indexes by having them analyze a series of indexes I call the "Horribles Parade".

He was a scientist in all that he did, including French cooking. He loved Escoffier because it was organized like a subroutine library and used that approach as a model when we started to work with Julia Child's books. For him stock making was a science and an art, and the techniques we developed then I have been able to carry over to vegetarian cooking with little modification.

When I think of cooking, however, the most memorable images come from the time when he decided to learn how to create boneless roast chickens and turkeys that looked as if they still had their bones in them. He delighted in the looks he got when he drew out his carving knife, ceremonially sharpened it, and then proceeded to slice the bird as if it were a loaf of bread.

He loved fine craftsmanship, particularly delighting in beautifully made knives and guns. While we did do some target shooting, he collected guns primarily for their esthetic craft appeal. When Digital sent me to France to teach, he met me in Amsterdam and we traveled around Europe in a VW camper van for eight days, going from Holland, through Belgium, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany and back to Holland. The highlight of the trip for him was the tour of the Browning factory in Belgium. We drove up to the factory, with no advance arrangements, and the manager of the factory gave us a tour of the facilities, including their museum, after Rick described his love of the craftsmanship and the beauty of their guns.

The souvenirs we brought back from Europe included an incredibly tiny set of trains from Germany - each engine was about 1 to 1.5 inches long and each was slightly different in the way it worked and the speed it ran at. He loved it for the elegant craftsmanship - you could take a magnifying glass and read the words on a freight car that was less than an inch long.

That year was 1975, and we spent many happy hours chasing bicentennial activities, starting with a pre-dawn walk into the Concord bridge in time to see the reenactment of Paul Revere's ride (actually it was William Dawes who made it to Concord) and the battle at the bridge.

Cats were a part of our life from the beginning - the second day back from our honeymoon, we obtained our first kitten - Kisa - and at one point had a total of nine cats. Both of us loved animals of all kinds and hoped one day to own a Samoyed dog - Rick called male Samoyeds Sammies, and females Little Missies.

Tropical fish were also an important part of our lives together - at one point it seemed as if they were taking over our lives because he was selling tropical fish wholesale, developing anti-ick medicines that really worked, raising cyclids - we had 200 Egyptian mouth brooders at one point, and enjoying the nine tanks of other types of tropical fish.

Another love we shared was gardening - flowers, tomatoes, beans.

Our deepest shared passion however, was books. We loved them for their content and for their physicality and we shared a sense that books were refuge, protection from the world.

But I think that the dominant legacy that I will always carry with me is the courage to question, the refusal to accept an opinion just because a famous authority said it. This courage and integrity characterized him most deeply, and is a gift I will forever be grateful for.

I'd like to close with the refrain from Bob Franke's song which Bob sang at my mother's funeral. I won't attempt to sing it, but the words I would say to Rick now are:

"Hallelujah, the great storm is over - lift up your wings and fly!"©

from "The Great Storm Is Over" by Bob Franke
Copyright © 1982 Telephone Pole Music (BMI)
Used by permission