Reds Wolman Memorial

Remarks by President Ronald J. Daniels
Homewood Museum

Thank you, Nick, for welcoming us here. As the President of Johns Hopkins, it’s a privilege to speak today of someone who, by anyone’s estimation, was Johns Hopkins.

I met Reds for the first time at last year’s Alumni Weekend at the Crab Cake Lunch where Reds was speaking to a group of alumni from the classes of 1929 through 1958. It was not surprising to me that the alumni had asked Reds, who so completely embodied Johns Hopkins, to speak. What was remarkable was that as steeped as Reds was in the incidents and accomplishments of 60 years ago, he was equally conversant with the events – both mundane and profound – occurring today.

In that sense, he seemed to me very like the rivers he studied: always there, as much a part of the landscape around him as the land itself, yet also always new, always moving on to the next great idea, the promising next student, the next daunting policy challenge.

As photographer Laura Gilpin wrote, “A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.” It is at once stable and ever changing, historic and current.

Reds was a magic, moving, living part of Hopkins.

And like these rivers, he transformed the landscape, not only of this university, but of our world.

From his seminal textbook Fluvial Processes in Geomorphology to his Wolman Pebble Count method, his work changed the way the science of rivers is understood, with ripple effects on the study of urbanization, water and land use and environmental education.

He championed interdisciplinary education as a way of solving the world’s most complex problems, changing the lay of the land here at Hopkins when he played a key role in combining our Sanitary and Water Resources and Geography departments into the groundbreaking, interdisciplinary DoGEE we know today.

His joy and commitment to teaching inspired countless students and those students’ students, who are out in the field and in the classroom, living Reds’ legacy on a daily basis.

Reds flowed through all parts of this university – as student, scholar, and administrator and, of course, outstanding lacrosse player.

And his reach and his impact touched us all from students to Presidents.

A story President Emeritus William Richardson asked me to share today exemplifies this. He wrote that as he commenced his presidency, the university faced some challenging times, and it soon became clear that if he would do it, Reds was the perfect person to become provost. This was not only because of the precision of his questions, his perspective on the university and his own embodiment of, as President Richardson said, “the breadth and heritage of all that was good about our academic community,” but also because he could make anyone feel that they had always been a part of this university community and that there were no challenges they couldn’t successfully surmount. This is a wonderful gift.

Before I close, I want to share an interview Reds gave after a flood washed through the Gwynns Falls and Jones Falls valleys. In it, Reds reflected on the need to plan for a 50-year – or even a 100-year – flood. He observed that once you’ve had a 100-year flood, it’s unlikely that you would have another one for a long time. Then again, ever the pragmatist, Reds noted, “We could have a 100-year flood tomorrow.”

Would that we were so lucky as to have a force as powerful as Reds again so soon.

There is little doubt that Reds has bequeathed to all of us at Hopkins a landscape that is indelibly linked to his work, his life, his passion and his humanity.

For all this we are grateful to Reds. And thankful to his family – his wife Elaine and his children, Elsa, Abel, Abby, and Ricka – for sharing so much of his time with us.

And while we acknowledge the possibility, probability suggests we are unlikely to see Reds’ unique and extraordinary combination of excellence and humanity again anytime soon.