Oliver Wolf Sacks (1933-2015) was born in London to Jewish parents who were both doctors. His mother came from an Orthodox family and was among the first female surgeons in the UK. Following in his parents’ footsteps, Sacks became a doctor in 1960. He completed his residencies in neurology in San Francisco and at UCLA, then worked as a neurologist in New York. Based on his work at the Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx, Sacks wrote the autobiographical book Awakenings, which became a bestseller and was adapted to the Oscar-nominated film starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. In addition to his neurology practice, for nearly fifty years Sacks was a neurology and psychiatry professor at a number of schools, including Columbia and NYU. He has written over a dozen books and countless articles and publications – all by hand or on a typewriter. His writings, translated into over 25 languages, have won numerous awards. The New York Times described him as a “poet laureate of contemporary medicine”. He contributed immensely to the field of neurology, and is credited with inspiring many of the today’s top neuroscientists. Interestingly, Sacks himself suffered from a neurological disorder called prosopagnosia, an inability to recognize faces. Despite being well-known for his great love and compassion for others, Sacks never married, and was celibate for 35 years. He spent time as a bodybuilder (at one point setting a state weightlifting record by squatting 600 pounds), nearly died while mountain climbing solo, held 12 honorary doctorates, and had a planet named after him. Sadly, Sacks passed away last week after a battle with cancer.
Words of the Week
I love to discover potential in people who aren’t thought to have any. – Oliver Sacks
Janet Louise Yellen (b. 1946) was born to a Jewish family of Polish descent in Brooklyn. Though initially interested in studying math, science, and philosophy, she ended up majoring in economics, and eventually earned a Ph.D in economics from Yale. She went on to teach economics at Harvard, The London School of Economics and Political Science, and UC Berkeley. In 1997, Yellen chaired President Clinton’s Council of Economics Advisers. Between 2004 and 2010 she was president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, and following that, the vice-chair of the US Federal Reserve. Last year, she became the Fed’s chairwoman, the first woman in history to hold that position. Yellen has been described as a “dove” in economics, focusing on relieving unemployment and keeping inflation in check. She has been hailed for redefining the Federal Reserve, and has stated her objective as helping “Main Street, not Wall Street”. In 2014, Forbes ranked her the second most powerful woman in the world, and more recently the 6th most powerful person on the planet.
Words of the Week
In this world there is no beauty without ugliness, no joy without sorrow, no pleasure without pain. You cannot invent a thing that will provide benefit without threat of harm. Neither is there a human on this earth who does only good without fault… Therefore, do not reject any thing for the harm it may render, nor despise any man for the ugliness you find within him. Rather, use each thing towards the purpose for which God conceived it, and learn from each person all the good they have to offer.
– Tzvi Freeman, based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Donald George Fisher (1928-2009) was born in San Francisco to a middle-class Jewish family. Soon after graduating with a business degree from UC Berkeley, he married Stanford graduate Doris Feigenbaum (b. 1932), one of the first women to be granted a degree in economics. In 1969, Donald had a hard time finding a good pair of jeans, and decided to open up his own clothing store where shopping would be both easy and cool. His idea was to sell jeans and music, and he wanted to call his store ‘Pants and Discs’. His wife suggested to call it ‘the Gap’ (short for “generation gap”). The couple raised $63,000 and opened their first store in San Francisco, selling Levi’s jeans and music records. An instant hit with young people, they made $2 million in their first year alone. By 1973, they had expanded their merchandise, opened up 25 stores, and went public. In the 80’s, the company bought out other brands like Banana Republic, and started a new value store, Old Navy. The Fishers are credited with inventing the “specialty retail” store concept, and Gap remains the largest specialty retailer in the US. It now has nearly 3700 stores in 90 countries, with over 150,000 employees. Donald and Doris maintained tight control of the company for four decades. In 2009, Donald sadly passed away after a battle with cancer. That same year, Doris stepped down as director of the company. She has since served as a director of Stanford University, is still the major shareholder in Gap, and has a net worth of over $3 billion. She has been ranked third in Forbes’ list of America’s Self-Made Women. More importantly, the Fishers are noted philanthropists, with their foundation donating over $20 million each year to educational organizations like Teach for America and KIPP (‘Knowledge is Power Program’), which directly benefits over 32,000 low-income children. The Fisher family are members of Congregation Emanu-El, one of California’s oldest synagogues.
Words of the Week
Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. – Mark Twain