I first met Marvin shortly after I asked his de facto step-daughter Karen on a date. Karen had accepted my invitation to attend a B.B. King concert the week after I met her at a
party. On the night of the concert, I arrived at the Blues Club; Karen never appeared. Instead, Karen went to spend the weekend visiting with Marvin and her mother Phyllis in New York City . Few men were any competition for Marvin. (As Karen later explained, it’s important to stand-up a man at least once to let them know who is boss.) I wound up trying to sell my extra ticket to the concert at the door of the Blues Club. I let it be known that I would part with the $35 dollar ticket for $20. A homeless man, smelling faintly of Night Train Express, offered me two bucks and that’s how my first date with my future wife involved attending a concert with a homeless person while Karen visited with Marvin. Philadelphia
With my courtship off to a good start, I knew the biggest challenge would be getting Marvin’s approval. Marvin was too kind to openly express his disapproval, but I knew I had a high bar to hurdle because a lawyer is a real step down from a Mathematician and Marvin had a long-standing policy of setting up Karen with his students. Pretty soon the Marvin-Tilly Life Exam/Boot Camp was administered. None of Karen’s prior boyfriends had passed this test, let alone survived it. It involved a visit to the home of Tilly: Karen’s then 90-year old grandmother, with Marvin presiding.
Marvin’s first pitch was high and inside. “I assume you have heard of my very good friend legal historian Lawrence Friedman?” was his first question to me. “Oh yes, I read Professor Friedman’s History of American Law with great interest and in fact found it to be on a par with Professor Morton Horwitz’s Transformation of American Law 1870-1960 as one of the most important books in American legal history of the last half-century” I answered. I hit that one out of the park.
“What’s your favorite movie?” asked Marvin suspiciously. “
’ I said without hesitation, partly because my family traveled through there when they fled the Nazis in 1940.” (Second pitch over the fence.) “I think Tilly needs some help with the crossword puzzle”, said Marvin probing for weakness. “Great, I love a challenge.” (Only later would I learn that Tilly finishes the New York Times crossword by noon everyday and still does so at age 97.) I wasn’t as good as Marvin at this endeavor but with a few clutch assists like “Nawab” and “Quisling” I hit some solid singles. Marvin remained wary: “I bet you’ve never been to Wrigley field.” “Well actually, Professor Knopp, I attended games at Wrigley, but the key is you have to get the obstructed seats or bleachers; those are the real bargains.” Marvin loved a deal almost as much as he loved the Cubs. Grand-Slam walk-off home run. Casablanca
Now that I had Marvin’s approval, I was in the clear and only had to get Karen to agree to actually show up on a date with me. Tilly grudgingly gave her approval, based on Marvin’s reluctant say-so, but to this day she thinks all lawyers are useful primarily as fish-bait. That first afternoon and evening with Marvin, we discussed, in no particular order, the history of American Jazz, theories of physics, the Chicago Cubs, the best diners in
New Jersey and , the Black Sox scandal, the history of the Fox-Trot, and the origins of the Yiddish language. Marvin was a consummate teacher, both in and out of the classroom. Pennsylvania
To borrow a phrase from his chosen profession, Marvin was an extraordinarily congruent person. There was no artifice or malice to him. He sought truth and beauty in his mathematical research and he strived to bring those same qualities to his family and collegial relationships. Marvin was uncommonly devoted not only to Phyllis but to his three children – who he raised to become unique and compassionate individuals – and to Karen and her brothers. Those that give more to the world than take from the world are a distinct minority, and Marvin was among them.
Marvin had the M’s all sewed up. Mensch. Maven on Life. Mathematician. It is fitting that M is the 13th letter in the alphabet. The number 13 has particular significance in Judaism; there are said to be 13 attributes of G-d and the philosopher Maimonides formulated his 13 principles of faith. Anyone who met Marvin could pretty rapidly discern at least 13 qualities Marvin possessed that made him a righteous man. The Talmud says that the greater the loss, the heavier the heart. Many are of heavy heart since his passing.