Deceased January 7, 2017
I met Paul Salmi on the first day of classes at Amherst, a fortuitous encounter indeed. Physics 11 required four-man lab groups, and I found myself in the august company of Paul, Happy Manstein and Peter Canaday. It was a very good start for me.
I think Paul was particularly brilliant. He always wrote in elegant script using an Osmiroid italics fountain pen. Much to my annoyance, his math assignments were always submitted in ink, rarely with a correction, and usually with the elegant proof that eluded most of us.
Paul had a reserved demeanor most of the time, though he was certainly not shy of opinion when pressed. This was perhaps a reflection of his Finnish heritage.
Being a Finn probably explained his intense love of skiing, regardless of the outside climate. One could always tell the outdoor temperature from Paul’s attire: a sweater (but no jacket) meant 10 degrees. Gloves meant zero; and an added scarf suggested minus 5.
Once I had the pleasure of sailing with him for two days on Narragansett Bay in his family’s sloop. He handled the boat alone, with grace, dexterity and pure pleasure; I was in awe.
Paul was an outstanding musician, a gifted cellist. His commitment to music was an inspiration to me as an amateur violinist. Orchestra rehearsals allowed us to stay in close contact throughout college, and also kept us both near the women we would ultimately marry. How lucky we both were! (Let it suffice that we all found Marietta Cheng, Smith ’74, that dazzling pianist and conductor, to be as talented, charming and extraordinary as Paul!)
During our senior year, Paul and Greg Hayes ’73, a superb pianist, agreed to have me join them to play chamber music—for course credit! This was perhaps the very high point of my Amherst experience; I still prize the recording of our recital, which will forever remind me of Paul’s humanity and the joy of shared music making.
For several years after graduation my wife (Debra Caplan, MHC ’73) and I shared dinners and BSO concerts with Paul and Marietta. The two of them (and also Greg) were kind enough to perform the music at our wedding, a particularly cherished gift. Every time we hear Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, we are reminded of them.
Although I know that Paul had medical problems, he was very private about his health. I can only guess what toll those medical problems may have exacted over the decades. It cannot ever have been easy for him.
We thank Paul for having enriched our lives with his friendship and humanity and for sharing the perpetual joy of music making. Paul will be keenly missed.
Our entire class offers its deepest condolences to Marietta.
David J. Levenson ’72