A peculiarity of my profession is that we first meet our colleagues on the page before we meet them in person. It was in this way that I first met Mort Kamien. A class on optimal control in which lectures were sporadic, and when offered, were delivered in a whisper, was the spur. To compensate, I trolled the library and chanced upon a copy of Kamien and Schwarz’s Dynamic Optimization. Not once did it cross my mind that I would one day become Mort’s colleague.
The path from the Warsaw ghetto to Evanston cannot have been a straight one and I count it a particular honor that it crossed mine. Escaping with the remnants of his family from the grasp of Mr. Hitler, he ended up in New York. This was followed by stints in an orphanage, experience in the rag trade, City College, Purdue (which Mort insisted was just like New York), Carnegie Tech and then Northwestern. An eventful life that ended November 18th, 2011.
Mort will be remembered by others for his contributions to the study of innovation and the value of patents. Also worth recalling is his role (with Stan Reiter) in founding a community devoted to economic theory here at Northwestern. In the decade or so I served as a colleague with Mort, I learnt many useful things from him about people, institutions and academic politics and the recent history of economic ideas.
It is a custom in certain British institutions of learning to hold a founder’s day. On that day, the memory of the founder is recalled and celebrated by a reading from Ecclesiaticus, chapter 44. I can think of no more fitting tribute:
Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us.
The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning.
Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies:
Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent are their instructions:
Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing:
Rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations:
All these were honored in their generations, and were the glory of their times.