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In 1992 I traveled to Spain for an award ceremony honoring the best science communications projects for that year. A few months earlier, in a move of unabashed optimism, Mark and I submitted our very first video project, "Hubble: Report from Orbit" for consideration of a committee of judges based at the Casa de las Ciencias in La Coruña, Spain. We figured that even if we didn't win, maybe we'd get some valuable feedback on our project. Months went by and we didn't hear anything.
Then, one morning we got a fax from a gentleman in Spain inviting us to come, at their expense, to La Coruña for the awards ceremony. They said we were among the finalists! Mark couldn't get away, but I had some time (even though I'd just begun graduate school) and could get away.
So, off to Spain I went. First time I'd been to Europe on my own, and I figured my rusty grade-school Spanish wouldn't get me too far, but heck. I could always try French, right? I got there by midday and a driver from the museum picked me up and delivered me to a lovely hotel in town overlooking the bay. My room was filled with flowers and was beautiful. I walked around a little bit before dinner, had an early supper, and then went to sleep.
Next day I had a message waiting for me from the front desk that my escort to the awards ceremony was waiting for me in the lobby. I went down and was greeted by a gentleman who introduced himself as Albert Baez, and introduced me to his wife Joan. She looked very familiar to me, but I couldn't figure out where I might have met her before. We hit off immediately.
We all sat down for a cup of coffee and he explained that he was the head of the committee on judging and that it was his pleasure to inform me that our video had won the grand prize. I was completely amazed and more than a little emotional about it. He and his wife were very charming; their job was to take me anywhere I wanted to go, translate for me, and see that I had a nice time in the town. Since we had a few hours before the ceremony, they offered to drive me around the town and see the sights.
So, we piled into a little car and as we drove around, he told me about the region, and the science center. He asked about my background, what we did with Loch Ness Productions, and about my graduate studies. Very kind, very generous with his time. Eventually I got over my dazzlement about the prize and asked him about himself. He said he did some work in x-ray physics, had worked to develop x-ray reflection technology (that is still used today in both microscopes and telescopes). He described working with the United Nations in spreading more information about science and improving science education, which was how he came to be working with the Casa de las Ciencias on the awards for science communication. Then, with a little wink, he told me that I might have heard of his daughters, Joan Baez and Mimi Farina. The light bulb went off in my head and then I knew why his wife Joan looked so familiar! She and Joan looked very much alike, almost like sisters. I was completely dazzled (not to mention still a bit jet-lagged) with the stellar company I had stepped into.
Late in the morning we headed over to the town hall for the award ceremony. On the way, Albert suggested I write an acceptance speech, so we stopped for a small snack and he and Mrs. Baez waited while I wrote out two copies of my acceptance speech for the grand prize. He took a copy and said he'd translate for me as I spoke.
When we arrived at the ceremony site, I joined a procession of richly dressed guardsmen and town and museum officials. We filed into a huge, beautiful room and I was seated in a large, ornately carved bench with Albert and Joan. The ceremony was gorgeous, and when I received the award, my little speech was met with a very warm reception. Albert was with me the whole time, encouraging and kind.
When I got back home I asked around about Albert and learned that he was very well-known, very well-respected for his research and his principled stand against weaponizing his research. He was a Quaker (the first I'd ever met), and I could see where his daughters Joan and Mimi got their political consciousness from. It was a pleasure and privilege to have such a distinguished guide during my short stay in La Coruña, Spain. Even more than the award (which came with a substantial royalty payment for the use of our program in Europe), I treasured the chance I had to spend time with a man of generous spirit and accomplishment. I've never forgotten that experience.
Albert V. Baez died this week at the age of 94. Although I wrote to him after my stay and thanked him profusely for his time and "guide duties," I want to thank him again, in remembrance. Go in peace, Albert. Your inner light showed in everything you did.
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