Wow! I really thought I was finished with this series. Then, in a recent conversation with friends I happened to mention some work I had done with one of the most famous people of the 20th century. What! They said. And you’ve managed to omit him from your stories of meetings with illustrious individuals. Why, he’s the most famous of all! And so he is, not to mention the fact that his wife is well-known in her own right, as often happens with the mega-famosos. Okay. Brother Reynold. Don’t be coy. Who is this person? None other than Dr. Jonas Salk, discoverer of the first polio vaccine, and his wife, Françoise Gillot, better known as Picasso’s frequent model and mistress...
It happened this way. One day in fall 1978 I got a surprise call from my mentor, Dr. Varindra Tarzie Vittachi, at the time the associate director of UNICEF and later an Assistant Secretary-General of the U.N. itself. In his UNICEF role he led its Ambassadors Program, which recruited well-known people to speak on behalf of the world’s children. Among them were Italian film director Roberto Rossellini, Swedish film actor Liv Ullmann, and Dr. Salk. Given the latter’s signal role in saving the lives of countless kids worldwide, I guess he was an obvious choice. Long story short, Varindra, one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever met, and Dr. Salk became buddies. Dr. Salk, housed at the time at the Institute named for him in La Jolla, California, had just created a new nonprofit called the Epoch B Foundation. We were currently living in what Salk called Epoch A, an era characterized by individualism, nationalism, racism, greed, win/lose politics, religious sectarianism, and disrespect for the Earth. Unless we moved to Epoch B, an era characterized by the opposite of these attitudes, he didn’t extend humanity or the planet itself much hope. Anyway, Dr. Salk was organizing a small week-long meeting for a select group in a castle in Surrey, England, to discuss an education program to get us to Epoch B, and thanks to my mentor, he was asking me to attend as an American “educationist.” Others would include true worthies like Jim Rose, the London-based publisher of Penguin Books, and the then young publisher of Harper’s Magazine, among others. My lovely German wife, Simone, was also invited so long as I paid her roundtrip airfare from Chicago to London. The rest would be covered by the Foundation. At the end of the week, Dr Salk was very complimentary about my participation and invited me back for a follow-up conference at his Institute. There I spent an evening with him at his home, where his charming wife, Françoise, complimented me on my French. Having written a biography of the artist Matisse, whom she knew well, and being no mean artist herself, she was currently organizing international meetings for women leaders though San Diego State University. For my part, I’d written an article, “The Educated Person—What’s That?,” which the U.N. had published. Dr. Daniel Goleman, who later brought out the bestselling book on Emotional Intelligence, in fact called me for permission to use the term which he had first found in my article. And, most importantly, it was Dr. Salk who told me that it was my mission to help the people of the world grow in wisdom. A close encounter plus!