Deceased July 13, 2019
Bruce was a fine student at Amherst who became a well-known and successful neurosurgeon in Philadelphia. He was for a time president of the Pennsylvania Neurosurgical Society and of the Cervical Spine Research Society, but he was most proud of his work instructing young neurosurgeons. His wife, Francesca, reported that while teaching neurosurgery in Italy, he once performed an entire operation while speaking to his students in Italian and even asked for the instruments in Italian after learning the medical terms overnight.
That he would become a doctor, like his father and grandfather in Ohio, was no surprise, for that was always his ambition. That he succeeded immensely is likewise no surprise, for he was smart and alert, not only with respect to intellectual and scientific matters but also with respect to human beings, whom he took seriously (though not without finding their quirks and oddities of interest).
Both of us were part of a small group of good friends who came together in our freshman year, including Bruce, and Roscoe Lewis ’60, and one or two others. We all joined DKE and kept our friendship alive there. Our adventuresome trip to Havana the spring of freshman year was a real bond.
Ohio-born and bred, Bruce had a unique way, even as a callow college kid, of slowly turning a statement around and around, in his mind, to examine its validity and possible importance—as Bruce himself might have said, it was reminiscent of the way raccoons reportedly do the same when given a sugar cube, often ending up dissolving it entirely after deciding to cleanse it in a nearby river or pond. It was wondrous to watch.
Bruce always seemed to us utterly sincere in what he thought and said, a fact that gave him an inherent dignity. On the other hand, no one really knew for sure what was going on with him, or where he would come out on a particular issue. But we did know there was always something attractive and intriguing and honest at work in him.
And he could surprise you, as we were surprised when we learned of his role in a Vatican court investigating a candidate for sainthood. Bruce testified to a miracle, in the form of an otherwise inexplicable cure of crippling pain in a 14-year-old patient when she was prayed for in the name of the saint-to-be.
Bruce was scarily powerful physically and, if required, totally fearless: a good man to have at your back.
Some years after graduation he came to visit Jim in Colorado, who remembers two striking aspects to the trip. One is that Bruce had a Colt 45 he took with him into the mountains, in case of bears. Much more important was the opportunity to meet his lovely wife, Francesca, obviously a person with a real heart and a real mind. Stephen and his wife, Barbara, also had the pleasure of socializing with the Northrups a couple of times in New York.
As retirement came upon us, Bruce talked with Stephen and Jim occasionally by phone. He said when you retire the first thing you feel is that you are at the beginning of the longest vacation in the world, but then, rather quickly, you discover you need something meaningful to do and have to go find it. He got that right and took classes in Italian and mathematics, began skeet shooting and learned how to garden.
If we were to try to sum up what we know of Bruce, it would be to say that he was always deeply engaged with the question of meaning: what a book meant, what a particular remark or gesture meant, what a relationship meant, what a career meant. We think he found real meaning in all these aspects of life and more.
Stephen Baldwin ’60 and Jim White ’60