Joe was the rare kind of leader who is able to make big, important things happen and make it look effortless

In 2005, I was relatively new at the college as director of public relations when Joe stopped by my office in Thomas-Garrett Hall and introduced himself. Having worked for five years at Claremont Graduate University in the ’90s, I knew about Joe’s incredible legacy at Mudd and The Claremont Colleges. However, I didn’t know until that moment what a kind, self-deprecating, warm, and genuine man he was.

At the time, I was taking guitar lessons and kept an old beat-up guitar in my office to practice on during lunch and after hours. Joe’s eyes lit up when he saw it and said, “Do you mind?” I told him it was probably out of tune, but that he was welcome to play it. “No matter,” he said and started to strum.

He proceeded to regale me with the full, eight-verse (with choruses) version of Art Roberts’ physics song, “It Ain’t the Money” (which I notice a lot of people have quoted in their memories of him here). I can’t express how honored I was to be in his presence and to have him personally share with me the bit of physics history he had been part of. This man who rubbed elbows with the most important physicists of his generation (including a Nobel prize winner) was sharing the experience with me. I was blown away.

The words of the chorus of that song ring true in many ways:

It ain’t the money,
It’s the principle of the thing,
It ain’t the money,
There’s things that money can’t buy.
It ain’t the money
That makes the nucleus go round
It’s the philosophical ethical principle of the thing.

I have spent most of my professional career in higher education advancement and think it applies there as well: If you put the institution’s mission and your philosophical ethical principles first, money (i.e., success) will find its way to you.

Over the years, I have worked with many people and observed many different styles of leadership. Joe was the rare kind of leader who is able to make big, important things happen and make it look effortless. I can’t think of anyone who accomplished as much as he did while giving the credit to others.

Among the people he credited was his wonderful wife Jean, whose love for him was evident every time I saw them together. I send my best wishes to her and to the Platt family, along with a deep appreciation for how much time with Joe they sacrificed for the benefit of the Harvey Mudd College.

Don Davidson
UC Riverside, CA