I just learned that one week ago today, Dr. Harry Markowitz passed away from a combination of pneumonia and sepsis. He was 95 years old.
I had the rare privilege of interviewing Dr. Markowitz in 2009. I was developing an online course at a local university with the objective of creating an efficient frontier model in Excel. I had met Dr. Markowitz the previous December when he was the guest speaker at our CFA society’s holiday dinner. I thought that a video interview with him would be a nice addition to the course.
He told me that I had to send him my questions beforehand, that we would have only one hour to meet, and that there was one question that I had to ask him at the end of the interview.
When we (the videographer and I) arrived, the first thing he said to me was, “Is that your real hair?” He said that he liked my hat and wanted to get one like it so that he could go to Balboa park, play the violin, and have people throw money into the hat.
The interview lasted about 2½ hours, after which we all went to lunch, then chatted about all of the people in finance and economics whom he knew. It was an incredible experience.
The question: “If you could be any person in history, at any time in history, who would you want to be, and when?”
He said, “James Clark Maxwell.”
“I believe that it’s James Clerk Maxwell.”
“Yes, you’re correct: James Clerk Maxwell. He was a Scotsman.”
“He was, indeed.”
“I once made the mistake of referring to David Hume as an Englishman. The person to whom I was talking said, ‘David Hume . . . was a Scotsman!’”
“Yes, the Scottish are quite proud of being Scottish. And when would you have wanted to be James Clerk Maxwell?”
“When he was doing his calculations on the speed at which electricity moves through a wire, and he did all his calculations . . .” [mimics madly punching buttons on a hand-held calculator] “. . . and stops, and says, ‘My goodness! That’s the speed of light!’ That would have been a moment.”
“That definitely would have been a moment.”
You can read the New York Times’ obituary of Dr. Markowitz here.
Rest in peace, Harry.