Otto H. Schmitt - Advisor and Friend
by John J. Almasi, Ph.D. U of M 1972
March 15, 1998

I had a special and somewhat unique relationship with Otto Schmitt as I was his graduate student but also his friend. I had gotten acquainted with him before I came to Minnesota as he had befriended my family through some consulting work he did for my father. Otto and Viola would stay at our house as they went back and forth to the Gordon Conferences in New England during the summers in the early 1960's. As I considered where to go to graduate school I seriously considered Minnesota but was a bit intimidated since Otto often asked me questions I couldn't answer. But finally I decided on his laboratory since I figured that I would really learn a lot there even though I knew it wouldn't be easy.

Otto had a wonderful ability to clearly separate his roles as my advisor and friend. Thus he could be a hard taskmaster and find many faults with my latest research data and have me redo the analysis one minute, but when I asked him for some help the next minute with my car he would seamlessly take off the advisor hat, put on his friend hat, and help me with advice, or roll up his sleeves and rescue me. The dual roles were mutually understood and I never tried to get special treatment as a student by leveraging the friendship, perhaps because I knew that Otto's integrity would never permit this.

This dual relationship was very special to me - this allowed me to learn Biophysics but also allowed me to have a friend and father figure far from my home in New York. It made for some precious experiences and conversations together. In fact he and Viola "got me to the church on time" in their Jeep Wagoneer for my wedding in Springfield, IL on a freezing day om 1972. Of course they could not help teasing me in the throes of my last minute jitters.

When I finished my postdoctoral appointment and took the job with GE Medical Systems in 1973, I wrote him and Viola a letter thanking for all they had done for me on both the professional and personal fronts. Even though I have stayed in touch with them over the years, now that they are both gone I'm really glad that I wrote that letter to explicitly thank them!

Submitted by John J. Almasi
March 15, 1998

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