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Tribute to Arthur Dempster
     at his retirement dinner at the Harvard Faculty Club

Glenn Shafer
May 20, 2005

I met Art and Elizabeth 35 years ago, when I came to Harvard as a graduate student. Art was 40. I was 17 years younger. Just back from the Peace Corps. Recently married. Eager to do well and do right.

Today Art is 75, and 17 years younger no longer looks so young to the outside world. But it is only to others that we look our age. To ourselves, we are a composite age, for we carry within the voices and experiences that have shaped us. For these 35 years, Art has been one of the most powerful of the voices inside me, as I am sure he has also been for many others here.

I speak now not of his steadying and reassuring influence for these 35 years, but of his lasting example during my year at Harvard in 1970-1971.

I speak of his quiet questions, which demanded no immediate answer but could command decades of thought. Ten years after that year at Harvard, Mike Sutherland explained to me how he interpreted Art’s thoughtful silences. Art would think, he said, not only about what he should say but about what you would say then, and then what he would say next and what you would say then, and so on and so on. And soon the conversation would be over. I laughed and acknowledged the truth in this picture, but 25 years later I realize that it was only a partial truth. For my often silent conversation with Art is not over yet.

I speak also of Art’s broad view of his subject, critical but never dismissive, engaged but never opinionated, generous but never gullible. Art’s seminar in the history and philosophy of probability in the Spring of 1971 has defined my intellectual interests for these 35 years, not merely in the topics we examined but in the respect and engagement that he brought to them. Where else would I have seen mathematics so in the service of philosophy, history so in the service of understanding, philosophy so in the service of practice, with so few axes to grind?

I speak also of Art the man, a man who values his family and his students over abstractions. When he looks at you thoughtfully, it is you he is seeing.

Thank you, Art.

Glenn Shafer, Newark


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