Memorial Service Comments

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Comments for the Alan S. Manne Memorial Service October 30, 2005


I've been asked to speak about Alan Manne as a departmental colleague.
Some may wonder just what department I am talking about, so let me be
quite clear about this. The department in question is Operations
Research. I'm sure that several of my colleagues could fill this role
with distinction, and would have been proud to do so. It is an honor
for me to have been asked to represent the OR faculty today.

I suspect that for many attending this memorial service, the
term  "operations research" will be somewhat unfamiliar; for their
sake I'd like to relate a definition that I learned from Alan himself.
I once asked him how he answers the question "what is operations
research?" particularly from someone having little or no technical
background. Without hesitation he replied "it's about doing the best
you can with what you've got." I've used this explanation several
times with good results.


I turn now to my recollections of Alan as a member of the OR department.

My wife, Sue, and I arrived at Stanford in 1966 having first met
Jackie and Alan Manne four years earlier at Paul Dantzig's Bar Mitzvah
in Berkeley. We were immediately attracted to the Mannes, so getting
reacquainted with them here at Stanford was delightful. I think it is
safe to say that our acquaintance grew into a durable friendship, one
based on shared tastes and values as much as on academic considerations.

I remember that as a very green junior faculty member I had a doctoral
student who was interested in network capacity expansion problems.
Neither of us knew much about the relevant literature, so I asked a
former colleague at Bell Laboratories for a list of papers on network
capacity expansion. The reply I received included the embarrassing
remark that I should consult Alan Manne since he is an expert on the
subject. Even though Alan and I were housed (or, if you prefer,
stabled) in the same small office building, I was unaware of his
expertise on this topic. It was a valuable lesson.

I soon came to appreciate Alan's prowess as a premier mathematical modeler.
This was evident from his research activity and from his teaching.
Among the courses he offered were:

  • Economics of Industry
  • Applications of Operations Research: Case Studies and Fieldwork
  • Models and Applications of Operations Research in Society
  • Energy, environmental and economic modeling
  • Projects in Operations Research
  • Sectoral and economy wide modeling

The existence of these courses, especially as taught by Alan,
helped shield the Operations Research Department from accusations of being
totally theoretical.

Computation was a regular component of Alan's work in modeling. He
was among the first in the department to employ a personal computer
for number crunching, not just for manuscript preparation and
electronic mail. He always had the latest and the best computers and
printers. When the optimization software product called GAMS came
along, Alan made it part of his teaching and research programs. He
was also in the forefront of departmental users of other optimization
packages, and he relished the opportunity to pass his enthusiasm to
others.

Alan's research program always seemed very strong and well funded.
Like so many aspects of Alan's style, it was highly focused. The
success of this work may have been due in part to Alan's
characteristic way of handling research assistants and doctoral
supervisees. He made a clear distinction between a student's
dissertation research and work that needed to be done for the research
project supporting the student. Some students, viewed this as a
rather tough way to get a Ph.D., but I believe that ultimately, the
students derived enormous benefit from this approach. Without a
doubt, Alan produced many outstanding Ph.D. students with whom the
ties of collegiality remained very strong. I saw this clearly at
Alan's 70th birthday party which many of his students attended. Much
of this loyalty is attributable to Jackie and Alan's warmth as a
couple. Their hospitality toward students, colleagues, and friends
was always outstanding.

Alan was a person of high intelligence and had a great sense of
self-awareness. I still marvel at the fact he graduated from Harvard
at the age of 18, especially since I first entered that institution at
the age of 19. Alan knew his strengths and weaknesses, his likes and
dislikes. With this knowledge, Alan managed (one is tempted to say
optimized) his life in an orderly way: completely free of clutter---
either mental or material.

In addition to economics and applied operations research, Alan loved
music, art, and history and literature. In each of these areas,
Alan's tastes had definite boundaries, but the tastes were present
nevertheless. Alan had a distinct love of languages: French, German,
Spanish and Italian were the modern languages he knew best. It seemed
to me that he remembered quite a bit of his Latin as well; he would
enjoy uttering an appropriate Latin phrase when the opportunity arose.
Years ago he had also studied a bit of ancient Greek, but he was not
content with his knowledge of it. He expressed this to me about a
year ago at one of our monthly lunch meetings. He said he would like
to learn enough Homeric Greek to be able to read The Iliad in the
original language. Innocently, I said that sounded like an
interesting thing to do, whereupon he invited me to join him in that
enterprise, and I agreed. We both stocked up on books, one of which
was a text on Homeric Greek. We arranged a lunch meeting with a
retired Stanford professor of Classics and sought his advice. Our
lunch guest must have thought we were daft, but was kind enough not to
say so. And so we plunged into The Iliad, using a bilingual edition
with Homer's Greek on the even-numbered pages and an English
translation on the facing pages. As I recall, we got through about a
line and a half before concluding that this was not going to work. We
then prudently switched to a different English translation and went
through all 24 books of The Iliad, taking turns reading aloud, one
book per week. Alan had a tendency to pronounce some of the Greek
names with a "Latin accent", and he had plenty of reservations on my
pronunciation as well.

On Thursday, September 22nd, 2005 we finished The Iliad. Thanks to
Alan's cheery determination, and a little help from Homer, it was a
stimulating experience, even if we didn't learn much Greek. Knowing
all too well of Alan's equestrian interests, I found it especially
significant that the last line of The Iliad reads "And so the Trojans
buried Hector \ breaker of horses." Later, over a celebratory lunch,
we decided that---for a change of pace---we would next tackle Dante's
Inferno, in Italian. Unfortunately, that, will have to wait.

On appropriate occasions, such as department meetings,
Alan would sometimes break into a recitation of Oliver Wendell Holmes's poem

"The Deacon's Masterpiece Or, The Wonderful 'One-Hoss Shay': A Logical Story"
which begins:

Have you heard of the wonderful one-hoss shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to the day,
And then, of a sudden, it --- ah, but stay,

About a hundred lines later, the poem ends saying:

You see, of course, if you're not a dunce,
How it went to pieces all at once, ---
All at once, and nothing first, ---
Just as bubbles do when they burst.
End of the wonderful one-hoss shay.
Logic is logic. That's all I say.

And that's all I have to say, but for this: I'm sure that every member
of the operations research faculty shares my view that Alan Manne was
a superb colleague. He was a leading authority in his fields of
study. He had an active command of a broad range of topics. He was
disciplined, yet generous, fair-minded and friendly. In short, he was
sui generis, one of a kind. We will miss him greatly.


Richard W. Cottle


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