I know Austin mostly from when he was young. I did not see him often in his teenage years, but only when my travels took me to Albuquerque and an overnight stay with the Hudson-LaPores. More often, I would keep up-to-date with Austin’s parents – the usual “checking in” between friends.
There are not that many people on this planet with a mind for numbers, statistics, geography, chemistry and biology. Very few indeed. I would count Austin among this rare group. Even as a little guy, Austin was “keeping track”. Charting baseball stats, race car stats, geography … I think he knew the capitals of all the states in the U.S. as a toddler! If I am exaggerating – it is not by much. His mind was a sponge for facts and numbers and unlike the rest of us – there was no leakage – he kept track of data long term. The older I get, the more appreciative I am of this impressive talent.
But brilliance by itself is not the special thing. In my opinion, what made Austin stand out was that he had these gifts of brilliance and in equal measure, kindness, openness and gentleness. It is one thing to collect facts and stats and remember them for a test or a project. But it is another to be curious about the facts, to communicate them to friends or students, and to care about the people around you. Again, my most frequent interactions were when he was younger, but I am pretty sure the openness, caring and gentle parts of his personality continued to define him as a college student.
One small, little, and seemingly insignificant memory I have of Austin is on a mid-week school morning. Everyone is milling about in the kitchen. I have just flown in for some scientific meeting and am jet lagged. I join the adults in a mission to seek out kitchen-coffee and its special properties and Austin and Aidan are putting their school lunch boxes together. Austin wasn’t particularly with the program that morning. He was a little wanting in the department of organization, being more interested in this and that (I think at this point it was maps). His patient parents issued gentle, but urgent herding behaviors to get him to refrigerator-forage his lunch box together – something about peas – did Austin love peas as a kid? That would be unusual – but not surprising. I don’t remember anymore (see aforementioned “leakage” above), so there isn’t much else to tell; time has worn off the edges of everything else that happened that morning. But I just remember this as a practical family moment trying to get Austin out the door to school. And I remember his reaction as a bit dreamy and gentle, and his family as loving and warm.