Deaths in the Family

Author: Notre Dame Magazine

JAMES T. CUSHING, a physicist and philosopher of science who was among the world’s leading experts on the philosophical implications of quantum mechanics, was found dead at his home in late March. An illness forced him to discontinue teaching in the middle of spring semester, and he had announced he was retiring at the end of the term. He was 65 and had taught at Notre Dame for 36 years. Cushing’s grandfather, John T. Cushing, funded the building of the Cushing Hall of Engineering out of gratitude to the University. The elder Cushing didn’t have enough money to pay for tuition senior year, but the president at the time allowed him to enroll anyway and graduate in 1906. His grandson’s successful early career focused on a particular theory of nuclear particle scattering, but when that area faded from popularity in the 1970s he turned most of his attention to the history and philosophy of science. A renowned dissertation director and gifted teacher, he taught undergraduate courses in physics for many years, helping students understand the historical context in which scientific discovery took place. His most influential, and controversial, book, Quantum Mechanics: Historical Contingency and the Copenhagen Hegemony (1994), argued that the sociology of a scientific community can play a major role in how scientific theories are accepted or rejected. Cushing was believed to be one of perhaps five faculty worldwide to hold simultaneous appointments in physics and philosophy. He developed what is thought to have been the only undergraduate course anywhere that could be taken for humanities credit by physics students and for physics credit by humanities students. For someone of keen intelligence, he could be diffident in pressing his own views. One time at a conference in Oxford, for instance, he was greeted by laughter when he kept prefacing his remarks with the disclaimer: “Of course, I can’t claim to be a philosopher. . .” On the other hand, he was uncompromising in his moral and social commitments. He was active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s and served on the board of the local chapter of the Urban League. Yet he agonized over injustice and misery, giving him a generally bleak view of the way the world was going. In his memory, friends have established the Cushing Memorial Prize in the history and philosophy of physics.

DAN DEVINE, the football coach who never won the hearts of Irish fans despite leading the Irish to a national championship in 1977 and winning 75 percent of his games, died in May after a year-long illness. He was 77. Devine came to Notre Dame after four seasons as coach of the Green Bay Packers, a tenure that included a divisional title in his second season. But in both places he suffered from comparisons to more colorful and quotable predecessors. In Green Bay, it was Vince Lombardi; at Notre Dame, Ara Parseghian. His public image only worsened in later years when the movie Rudy showed him as heartlessly refusing to let plucky walk-on Dan Ruettiger ‘76 realize his dream of dressing for a game. In reality, it was Devine’s idea to let Rudy play in the final home game. The facts were changed because the screenwriter told Devine the story needed a villain. He agreed to go along with it as a favor to Ruettiger. If Devine’s private nature and detached demeanor didn’t fit well in a program with legions of emotional fans, there was no doubting his coaching ability. His final college coaching record, including stops at Arizona State and Missouri, was 172-57-9. In six seasons at Notre Dame, from 1975-80, the Irish went 53-16-1. One of his most memorable games came during the 1977 championship season. Prior to a home game against fifth-ranked USC, the Irish warmed up in their traditional blue jerseys. But when they returned to the locker room, he surprised them with new kelly green jerseys he had secretly ordered. The Irish won 49-19 and continued to wear green for the next three years. Rarely mentioned about the Green Jersey game, his son, Dan Jr., said, is that his father had talked all week before the game about how important green was to the Irish, how it represented pride and the underdog and not giving up.

Notre Dame Magazine, summer 2002