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My brother, Richard: Brother and sister relationship


My brother, Richard: A sad love story
Joan Feynman Scientist
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My brother when he was still quite young used to say to me all the time, 'Women are no good, women are no good, women are no good'. So one day I had done something stupid in my opinion. And I said to him, 'You know Richard, you're right. Women are no good'. He got this glassy look in his eyes. He said, 'No, I met a wonderful woman last night'. So okay, all right. Well, that was Arline. And if you would walk down the beach in Rockaway, you would see Arline sitting with braided hair. So they met and were attracted to one another. And by the time Richard was going to MIT... When he left for MIT, my mother and father had invited her to his graduation from high school and then he was leaving for MIT. And so she was at our house, she left from our house. And when Richard left, he kissed his family around, including Arline who must have been about 16 or 17 at the time. But it was clear they were going to get married. And she was accepted as part of the family at very young. For example, she played the piano, so she was hired to teach me to play the piano. She... she and I went for long bike rides together. She went painting with my father because she liked to paint and she went to cooking classes with my mother. Now, that's the whole family, you understand. So she was beloved by all of us.

And then we had some trouble one year when all of members of my family got pneumonia. So when we all got better, we thought it would be nice if we took a vacation. So we went to Atlantic City and Arline came with us. And Arline and I shared a room. My brother and Arline would walk on the boardwalk behind me singing in a loud voice, 'She walks...' – to me, behind me – 'she talks, she crawls on her belly like a reptile'.

That visit to Atlantic City... my father noticed that Arline had a bump on her back of her neck and she wasn't feeling well. The doctors didn't know what the bump was. But she got sicker and sicker.

And then Richard felt that she wasn't getting the proper care and that the only way she could get the proper care was if he married her and therefore became responsible for what care she would get. But by that time, we knew she had tuberculosis and also at the time there was no known cure for it. They're actually... they were close to it, but it wasn't general knowledge. And my mother was afraid she was going to lose her son to tuberculosis and so she was very upset.

But after a while, she came to realize that nothing else could be done. So she gave her and my father's permission and they took Arline out of bed in her home, put her in an ambulance and took her to the river between New York and New Jersey where there were ferries going across. The ferries have captains and captains can perform marriages. So they went to New Jersey and were married on the ferry and then she went directly into another hospital.

She was a lovely girl. She was very sweet to everyone. She was very careful with people. I mean, she didn't insult anybody. Everybody loved Arline.

They moved to Albuquerque where Richard was in Los Alamos. And she had all kinds of lovely ideas despite of being so sick. For example, she thought it would be nice if they had a barbecue when Richard came down on the weekends. So she bought him a barbecue outfit with all the trimmings and a barbecue. And he had to barbecue the supper outside her window of the hospital and then they had the barbecue. And she also ordered for his birthday a bunch of pencils. Now his pet name for her was 'pootsie', and the pencil says, 'I love you, pootsie'. And she gave him that and insisted he not take that off but use it.

So they did the best they could but she did die of tuberculosis. Richard, her father was there but her mother didn't want to go. And I was a freshman in high school... in college. And I was very, very sad because she was so much a member of the family. She wasn't just his fiancée. She was a member who had a strong relationship to every member of our family.

Somebody – a friend of Richard's – got the idea that there should be memorial steps to great scientists. So they worked on it and worked on it, and finally the United States government decided okay, so they took four great scientists, I think it was. My brother, of course was one of them.

Joan Feynman (1927-2020) was an American astrophysicist. She made important contributions to the study of solar wind particles and fields, sun-Earth relations and magnetospheric physics. In particular, Feynman was known for developing an understanding of the origin of auroras. During her career, Feynman was an author or co-author of more than 100 scientific publications. She also edited three scientific books. In 2002, she was awarded NASA's distinguished Exceptional Achievement Medal.

Listeners: Alexander Ruzmaikin Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Richard Feynman, Arline Feynman

Duration: 9 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2019

Date story went live: 05 November 2019