Connect with us

Harvard University Memorial Service for Richard Pipes


Harvard University Memorial Service for Richard Pipes

Daniel Pipes

Unfortunately, the requested recording by Harvard Event technicians was not made. I thank Robert Chung for recording nearly the entire service on his smartphone, with the exception of the musical prelude and the first talk, by Prof. Evelyn Higgenbotham. The recording begins with the welcome by Prof. Rawi Abdelal.

For the memorial service program, click here.

For a booklet with the tributes by the nine speakers, click here.

Evelyn Higginbotham, History Department:

As the chair of the History Department at Harvard, I bring greetings and speak for my colleagues when I express sincere sympathies to Mrs. Pipes and the entire family of Professor Richard Pipes and when I say that we are grateful to be able to celebrate his life with you today. His was a life long-lived and well-remembered.

Richard Pipes earned his doctorate in history at Harvard in 1950 and afterward joined the faculty of the History Department, where he enjoyed an illustrious career for nearly four decades. For Richard Pipes, the History Department was his academic home and family. I say this because the History Department can be likened to the long lineage of a family and, like all large families, the Department has members in the past and present with different interests and talents, with different regional identities, different political affiliations and cultural values. Yet all share a unifying identity that goes from generation to generation over centuries at Harvard.

Richard Pipes was a great scholar who taught masterfully, wrote brilliantly, and spoke influentially about Russian history. Through his scholarship he enlightened not only students in the classroom and his colleagues in academia, but also military experts, foreign policy analysts, and even presidents of the United States. He studied history as well as made history at a particular time—the Cold War era— in our nation’s past. He was a true public intellectual.

In the current academic year 2018-2019, the Harvard History Department will initiate a faculty seminar in which students and faculty will come together to hear speakers on the theme “The Historian as Public Intellectual.” I will think of Richard Pipes each time the seminar convenes.

The History Department will remember Richard Pipes for his commitment to the role of the historian. He believed that the historian must look backward and forward. He characterized the study of history as addressing never-ending, to quote him, “fundamental philosophical and moral questions.”

I’d like to close by quoting from my colleague Michael McCormick who asked me to share his remembrance of Richard Pipes. Mike was one of the younger generation of History faculty members during Richard’s latter years in the Department. He recalled Richard’s kindness to him as a junior colleague, writing:

One time, shortly after his retirement, we were walking through the Old Yard together in an early fall evening. He looked around us, as the lights were going in the Yard houses, and sighed a quiet, happy sigh. He turned to me, his eyes still on the houses, with a kind of serene happiness, and said, ‘Look at this. Isn’t it wonderful here?’ I felt that, in some way, he was expressing a verdict on his own life, and I was quietly moved. He had invited me to shift from my busy-busy-busy professorial concerns to some deeper appreciation of the moment.

The History Department is thankful for Richard Pipes, and will always remember his love of Harvard.

Rawi Abdelal, Davis Center:

My name is Rawi Abdelal. I am the faculty director of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies here at Harvard; what was once the Russian Research Center. I would like to share a few reflections the meaning and legacy of the Russian Research Center’s overlap with the extraordinary career of Professor Pipes.

I will call him Professor Pipes, because that is who he was to me. I did not know him. Other than by his legend, already well established when I joined the faculty twenty years ago.

Here is the stuff of that legend: Professor Pipes was a man of great passion and conviction. A man of forceful will and a sense of personal destiny. An iconoclastic scholar who changed the field. And then also engaged directly with the wider world. As an author and a public intellectual.

But also as someone who derived the policy implications of his intellectual work and then sought to put those ideas into policy practice. Washington, D.C. is filled with stories of scholars who failed to navigate the politics of the capital to pursue an idea. Professor Pipes succeeded in putting directly into policy practice the policy derived from his scholarship more than any other scholar of whom I have heard.

I cannot recall another time during which the Russian Research Center or the Davis Center has had in its community such an extraordinary combination of achievements both inside and outside the academy. It is hard even to imagine that we will see his like again.

Until this year I had read all of Professor Pipes’ books except one, his memoirs. And I would like to share three brief thoughts about what I learned from them.

First, it seems that the Russian Research Center was there for him at an important moment: “We returned to Boston in September 1957 without my having any commitment from the university: my appointment as lecturer in History and Literature and research fellow of the Russian Research Center for one academic year came through only in October.” (p. 90)

Second, Professor Pipes was there when the Russian Research Center needed him. As was well known, and reflected in his own memoirs, Professor Pipes did not enjoy the work of running and administering the machinery of the academy. Yet he did, for the sake of our community. “In 1968 I began a five-year term as director of the Russian Research Center: in this capacity, too, I did not distinguish myself, though I did raise some funds from the Ford Foundation.” (p. 94)

So, okay, it wasn’t his favorite activity, but it was a pivotal moment in the history of the Center. And more importantly, I wonder if he underestimated his contribution. The Russian Research Center is not a place, however, that needs necessarily the institution-building efforts of all of the members of its community. The Center, now the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, exists to help members of its community do their best work.

As he was doing before, during that time, and after. So we are deeply proud to have been part of the story of this extraordinary man. Team B. But also Team RRC. And now, for us, Team DCRES.

Finally, I was in Moscow two days ago. In a café with Professor Pipes’ memoirs, taking notes, and preparing my remarks. The young Russian waiter who brought my tea noticed the book and asked: “Oh, you are reading Pipes.” I said yes and asked his age and educational background. Perhaps, I thought, he is a budding historian. The waiter told me that he was 26 and studying business administration—and that he had not studied much history but knew that Professor Pipes was the most important American historian of Russia. I imagine that Professor Pipes would have appreciated the story.

Daniel Pipes, Son:

I shall continue this service with a review my father’s life of drama and accomplishment. Please indulge me as I do what historians do and divide his life into eras, four in his case: Poland, building a career, public intellectual, and senior scholar. I will then conclude with an appreciation.

  1. Poland, 1923-39: Richard was born in 1923 in the small border town of Cieszyn at the very south of Poland, right on the Czech border. His father, Marek, was a 30-year-old businessman. His mother, Zosia, was a mere 21 years old. Richard was an only child.

Many pictures survive from his childhood and they suggest a modern life that we would recognize almost a century later: Work in an office, elegant social life, car excursions to the countryside, skiing and boating, trips abroad for work or pleasure.

The smiling faces and happy activities from that period are the more poignant knowing how, just a few years later, the merriment would come to a tragic end and many of those so cheerfully pictured would be murdered in cold blood.

Indeed, the Pipes family’s pleasant life ended abruptly on Sep. 1, 1939, with the German invasion of Poland. But thanks to Marek’s initiative and contacts, the three escaped Poland by traveling through Germany on forged papers, ending up in New York precisely on Richard’s 17th birthday.

  1. Building a career, 1940-69: Coming to the United States meant plunging into a very different culture and language, both of which my father adopted to with remarkable speed.

He served his new country as a soldier, as an intelligence specialist in the Army Air Force, and then plunged into academics. The two were related because the army taught him the Russian language, taking advantage of his cultural knowledge and linguistic skills, setting him on the path that would frame his entire professional life. It also sent him to Cornell University where he met Irene Roth in 1944.

On his army discharge in 1946, Richard married Irene, went to graduate school, and had a child – me – in 1949, followed by a second son, Steven, in 1954.

Immersing himself in Russian studies, he published his first article in 1950 and his first book, The Formation of the Soviet Union, in 1954. He won tenure in the history department at Harvard in 1957 and become a full professor in 1963.

  1. Public intellectual, 1970-91: The third phase, beginning in 1970, had two dimensions. One was scholarly, leaving behind the specialized studies of the previous two decades and embarking on an epic three-part history of the transformation of tsarist Russia into the Soviet Union.

These three volumes constitute his chef d’oeuvre, his greatest contribution to the field. They also reached a larger audience and, along with his articles in such publications as Commentary, gave him a public presence.

The other dimension was political. In 1970, Sen. Henry Jackson invited him to testify before Congress, beginning his engagement in the high politics of U.S.-Soviet relations that included developing an expertise in arms control and chairing the “Team B” exercise to assess the CIA’s understanding of the Soviet threat.

His political role culminated with a two-year stint in Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council, 1981-82. There, he helped bolster the president’s instinct to see the USSR not as an eternal enemy but as a vulnerable dictatorship that could be bled dry and caused to collapse. The issuance of National Security Decision Directive 75 just as he left government memorialized and perpetuated my father’s influence.

  1. Senior Scholar, 1992-2018: When the Soviet Union collapsed in late 1991, my father, then 68, saw his nearly 50 years in the field culminate in an extraordinary vindication of his view that the USSR needed to be not contained but defeated.

The end of the Soviet Union permitted him to follow his interests in other directions. He continued to write until the publication of his final book came out in 2015, 61 years after his first one. His very last article, “The Sad Fate of Birobidzhan,” appeared in the New York Review of Books in 2016, fully 66 years after his first article. Fittingly, his final published words were “the Communist regime’s many failures.”

At that point, aged 93, he finally retired and indulged a passion for acrostic puzzles. He remained lucid, if increasingly short of memory, until the exact turn of 2018, when an exhausted body and mind gradually failed him. He died on May 17.


I should like to add some observations to this sketch.

First, in a memorable passage in his autobiography, Richard wrote about his future as he crossed the Atlantic to the United States, aged 16:

I did not know at all what I wanted to do, but I knew with absolute certainty that it was not making money. I felt that God had saved me from the hell of German-ruled Poland for some higher purpose, or an existence beyond mere survival and self-gratification.

As this suggests, his life was a most serious one, filled with purpose, devoted to a higher calling.

But, second, this seriousness should not be confused with somberness. Having defied Hitler, he felt he had a “duty to lead a full and happy life,” and so he did. My father cracked jokes with almost a comedian’s timing, he was a movie buff and a connoisseur of the arts. He traveled widely and lived well.

Third, Richard was very much a married man, living almost exactly one-quarter of his life a bachelor and three-quarters as a husband. That 72-year marriage provided him with security, stability, and satisfaction.

Fourth, despite spending 78 years in America, he remained a perpetual European. Appreciate the freedom and individualistic spirit of the United States he did, even if, for him, food, wine, music and friends were better over there. Indeed, my parents jointly cast so critical an eye on their adopted country that I once, at about the age of 12, righteously castigated them: “If you don’t like America, why don’t you go back to Europe?”

Finally, my father was religious in his own way. Raised in a secular Jewish home, a combination of wrenching experience and deep reflection brought him to a strong but private and non-ritualistic form of Judaism. To explain his faith, he borrowed an oxymoron coined by the great Harvard scholar of Judaism, Harry Austryn Wolfson, and called himself “a non-practicing Orthodox Jew.”

Jay Nordlinger of the National Review has warmly recounted what this meant. I quote:

As 1999 turned into 2000, [National Review] published a millennial issue, which included an essay by [Richard] Pipes. In it, he cited the 1948 book by Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods. He had the “g” in “gods” down, i.e., in the lower case. I put it up, because that’s what you do with nouns in a title, no matter what. No, said Pipes, the “g” had to be down: “I am a Jew, and there is one God.” With smiles and admiration, I gave in. We published Frankfort’s title as “Kingship and the gods” — which was wrong but, at the same time, right.

My father titled his autobiography Vixi, Latin for “I have lived.” I now say vixit, “he has lived.” In all, his was a life well and fully lived, enriching those he encountered while contributing to the world. And, partially defying death, he lives on in his works.

Gerald Holton, Colleague:

Welcome to the celebration of the life of Richard Pipes. Others here will speak of his brilliance as a scholar; I was asked to comment for a few minutes on our friendship of well over 70 years.

To some here, this friendship may have been surprising, because Dick and I were politically and openly very much in opposite camps. He was a believer and aid to the Reagan Revolution, I was working on Cold War detente and arms control treaties.

But in all those years Dick and I never spoke about this essential difference. Rather, at Dick’s and Irene’s invitation, Nina and I went skiing with them, swam together in the Caribbean, and of curse met in our homes. Indeed, Dick went so far as to try to amend my state as an unbeliever, by inviting us to his family’s Seder at Pesach—the long version.

I feel sure that our friendship was secured by an unusual element. As the Roman philosopher Cicero said, “a friendship is, at it were, as second self”; and in our case our life experiences traced out parallels to an astonishing degree—although again, that was never discussed.

For look: We were born just a year apart. We both became refugees from Nazi terror. We both arrived in America as boys in the same year, after each having actually had to see Hitler celebrating his triumphs back home.

Dick found his love and married Irene in the same year as I did with Nina. We both spent our whole careers at Harvard, where each found key inspirations from distinguished scholars who also were immigrants, Michael Karpovich for him, Philipp Frank for me.

In fact, in those days the culture here was in good part quite cosmopolitan. Thus one day, when I was ordering something at a shop to be delivered home, the sales lady said: “Well, you live in Cambridge. And you have a foreign accent. That means you are a Prof at Harvard.” There was no place to hide.

After all, there were at this university about 30 Professors who had come as distinguished scholars and who were immigrants, from Rudolph Arnheim, Konrad Bloch, Grete Bibring, on and on to Harry Wolfson. And also a good dozen of young ones who found refuge here, sometimes referred to as the cohort of Stanley Hoffmann.

In short, the friendship of Dick and myself was undergirded by both of us living and working in a congenial atmosphere, and above all by those remarkable parallels of our two selves—that could have astonished Cicero.

So, dear Dick, thank you once again for your treasured friendship. And farewell.

Roman Szporluk, Colleague:

My first encounter with Richard Pipes took place close to sixty years ago – in 1959 or 1960, after I arrived in England from Lublin, Poland in September 1958—on a British Council scholarship for study in Oxford.

One of the first books I read there was The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism 1917-1923 by Richard Pipes, published in 1954, second printing 1957. Needless to say, I had never before heard about the author and I certainly did not imagine I would ever meet him personally.

But in 1972-1973 I was a visiting scholar at the Russian Research Center of which Dick Pipes was Director, and soon thereafter I wrote a chapter on Ukraine for a volume to which Pipes wrote the Introduction – Handbook of Major Soviet Nationalities.

Almost twenty years later, I became his colleague at Harvard’s history department. Owing to this, I had the pleasure to serve with him on various committees and student examinations, not to mention our meeting at departmental coffee hours.

Shortly after our arrival to Harvard, my wife and I had the honor attending a moving event—the celebration of the fiftieth wedding anniversary of Irene and Dick Pipes.

There were two occasions when we met—coincidentally—in Warsaw: once at the Hotel Europejski’s breakfast room, and several years later, when we met coincidentally, while browsing through books in the “Prus” bookstore at Krakowskie Przedmiescie.

Back to my first intellectual encounter with Pipes: I was impressed by the story the book told – there was something special in the Pipes book. What intrigued and impressed me was his treatment of the period of 1917 to 1923 as the story of the interaction between the Communist successors of the Russian Empire and the Empire’s former nations as they were striving to become independent of both White and Red Russia.

Covering the period of 1917 to 1923, his book was “the history of the disintegration of the old Russian Empire, and the establishment, on its ruins, of a multinational Communist state: the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” in 1923. The USSR “was a unitary, centralized, totalitarian state such as the tsarist state had never been”—but it was also “a compromise between doctrine and reality.” The Communists gave constitutional recognition to the multinational structure of the Soviet population—every republic retained the right of secession from the Union.

Pipes’ book was a fascinating story and I was especially intrigued by its conclusion: “this purely formal feature of the Soviet Constitution may well prove to have been historically one of the most consequential aspects of the formation of the Soviet Union.” Little did I imagine in 1960, that its author—and I too—would live long enough to see the Soviet nationalities exercise their constitutional rights and become independent states in 1991.

Dick wrote many books—important books, great books—about Russia and the Soviet Union, cultural and intellectual history, foreign policy, international relations, and other subjects. But he always remembered that he was dealing with human beings. He dedicated The Russian Revolution, the monumental work he published in 1990, zhertvam—”to the victims.”

In another of his great books, the biography of Petr Struve, he cited—and agreed with—Struve’s description of the 1917 revolution as “the political suicide of a political nation.” He had been predicting the fall of Soviet Communism—he called it a “utopian fantasy”—and he was criticized for this in Moscow. In 1991 Pipes witnessed the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He continued to write on Russian and Soviet history and on current politics for twenty-five years after its fall.

The dissolution of the multinational Soviet Union and the collapse of communism did not bring the resolution of the problems inherited from the past: such as the conflicts with Chechnya, Georgia, and Ukraine or the question of Russia’s identity, as demonstrated by Putin’s autocracy and Russia’s relations with the West and the world at large.

In his Inaugural Lecture on the Study of History, Lord Acton said: “I would justify the stress I am laying on modern history … by the argument that it is a narrative told of ourselves, the record of a life which is our own, of efforts not yet abandoned to repose, of problems that still entangle the feet and vex the hearts of men…. Its study fulfills its purpose even if it only makes us wiser … and gives us the gift of historical thinking, which is better than historical learning.”

In Pipes’s works we find the historical learning and historical thinking that creates historical wisdom. A month ago, I asked a British specialist in the history of Russian literature, Gerald Smith, for his assessment of Richard Pipes’s work. He replied: “Consistent. And right.”

Marvin Kalb, Student:

When I arrived in Cambridge in early September 1951, I imagine there might have been a graduate student here at Harvard more inexperienced, intimidated, insecure than I, but I doubt it. By the time I was graduated from City College, where I had done quite well, I still did not know specifically why I had entered a graduate program at the Russian Research Center. Was it a first step towards a PhD in Russian history, life as a Harvard professor? Or, did I really want to be a journalist, like my big brother, who was a reporter for The New York Times?

I wandered from one classroom to another, talked to one professor after another, but seemed to be getting nowhere, until one day I stumbled upon a young professor (maybe he wasn’t a professor quite yet, I’m not sure) who quickly understood my professional dilemma, and proposed a way of marrying scholarship to journalism. His name was Richard Pipes, and he was to become one of the nation’s and the world’s most pre-eminent scholars of Russian history.

Pre-eminent in another way too—he had the wit and foresight to meet and marry the redoubtable Irene Roth—for 71 years, she was the wife and colleague of this renowned scholar. She has never lost her deep interest in Poland, where she and her husband were born.

Let me at this time read a paragraph from a memoir I wrote last year, humorously called The Year I was Peter the Great.

A teacher of remarkable instinct and academic accomplishment,” I said, “Pipes produced a proposal for a one-on-one course (one professor, one student) that would be devoted to a subject undiscoverable in the Harvard syllabus—undiscoverable because we were constructing our own course, never seen or taught before. Pipes suggested that I research and write New York Times Magazine-type pieces about current developments in Eastern Europe. It was a serious game of make-believe: I’d be the reporter, he’d be my editor. I’d suggest a theme, he’d approve or disapprove. Then I would be essentially on my own, meeting with Pipes once a week to discuss my progress. My deadline was the end of each month. Four months per semester, four articles. My final grade would be determined by his judgment of my magazine pieces.

I’m happy to say, his judgment was an A.

Pipes, shall we say, adjusted Harvard’s normally procrustean rules to satisfy my interests and needs while at the same time maintaining a very high standard of research and scholarship. I was always indebted to him, not only for his flexibility but for his wisdom and kindness in seeing through to a student’s needs.

A year or two later, Professor Pipes would occasionally ask me to do his Russian history class, when he went off somewhere to do a lecture, or go to Washington to educate a president or a senator. So, it was no surprise, when, in the mid-1970’s, Dick Pipes got a call from the then CIA director George H. W. Bush to lead what was called Team B, a group of experts summoned to assess Soviet military strength.

Dick was never a romantic about Russia. He had studied too much, written so much about Russia, he distrusted Russia profoundly. His study ended on a somber note—Russia, he believed, did not really favor détente, in fact would even risk a nuclear war with the West, unless it was confronted with superior American military might. And this was the message he brought to the White House when President Reagan appointed Dick to be his personal Russia expert on the National Security Council.

Though I was NBC’s diplomatic correspondent, when Dick worked in the White House, I didn’t call him once to ask for information. It wasn’t timidity on my part—it was rather friendship. I didn’t want to trap or corner Dick into saying something he might later regret. I could—and did—observe him from a distance, with pride. He was my professor, I would recall. Occasionally, his reputation as a hard-liner would lead to a nasty column. But, whether at the White House or years later back at Harvard he never changed his basic attitude towards Russia. I daresay He’d be appalled by President Trump’s naïve approach to President Putin’s Russia.

I didn’t always agree with Dick, but I never challenged him. What he had forgotten, I haven’t learned yet. He was a giant. I think in conclusion that each of us ought to go back and read or reread his works on the Russian Revolution. We have many problems with Russia now, avoidable and unavoidable, and we still have so much to learn about that country, and Dick, even after his passing, has so much more to teach us.

Jonathan Daly,Student:

For over forty years, Richard Pipes trained many successive cohorts of budding Russian historians. He gave us all consistent advice. Master the requisite languages. Read everything. Get deeply into primary sources and let what you find in them guide your research. Try to conduct research in the Soviet Union, in part to get a better understanding of the Soviet system and the Russian people and their culture, but do not allow that foreign power to shape your research agenda.

That’s right. He really did use the phrase “foreign power”—not “academic establishment” or “censorship apparatus”—but “foreign power,” as though I were preparing for a career of espionage. I think it is safe to say that no other PhD advisor in America ever thought to issue such a warning.

He also offered a lot of advice about writing. Always have a writing project. Try to write every day. Type out and file away any good ideas for future use. When you draft a book or article, put away your notes and write from memory. As he wrote me in 1996: if possible, do “not rush the book. It is better when a bit aged, like wine and cheese.”

The ideal at Harvard among Europeanists was absolute devotion to learning, to the Western intellectual tradition, to high culture. And in his persona, Dick upheld for us this ideal. But professional training and employment were the necessary condition for enjoying a life of the mind, and professional training is what Dick gave us.

Dick advocated no “methodology,” in the sense that this term is thrown around nowadays, which he would presumably have considered a social scientific conceit. History, he believed, was a humanistic endeavor. One needs to seek to understand the language, culture, and history of a people through a creative intellectual process, not at all unlike the work of an artist. Indeed, history for him was above all an art and not science. Concepts could be borrowed from other disciplines, but just as likely from philosophy as from sociology and from Aristotle as from Weber.

Dick was apparently not convinced that works by Foucault and other recent radical thinkers had anything to teach him. He was, in fact, an Aristotelian realist. As he wrote to me in 1996 in regard to Aristotle: “the more one reads him, the more respect one gains for his genius.” Of course, he far from naïve in his realism. Interpreting motivation can be difficult, because human beings are complicated creatures, but there are no possible philosophical insights enabling one to see “behind the scenes” in all cases, such as those advanced by Marxism, which posits hidden structural forces.

Above all, Dick provided an example of extraordinary scholarly dedication, painstaking revision of written work, single-minded attention to detail, and exhaustive research.

His student Ted Taranovski admitted that Dick “taught me to demand clarity of thought and precision of expression in myself and others … He was remorseless in demanding readability of prose, and he insisted on the need for proper documentations of any claim. Whether one agrees with his views or not, he was a scholar’s scholar.” Or as Linda Gerstein put it: “Work, be scrupulous, devote everything to it.”

Dick mentored us in the manner of his own advisor, Michael Karpovich, by offering us a lot of leeway, or as Eric Lohr later recalled, “he did not try to mold, shape, or replicate, but encouraged us to find our own selves.” As a result, we PhD students wrote over sixty dissertations on an extraordinary range of subjects. Eleven of us focus primarily on intellectual history, eleven studied institutions, and another eleven investigated political questions. Four worked on diplomacy, five on national minorities and Russia as empire, and seven each on social and cultural topics. Dick even supervised one dissertation on the Soviet military and one on Imperial Russian economic history. We did good work, too. Taranovski recalls Dick “proudly proclaiming that the theses of his students were such that they could be relatively easily transformed into books.”

Dick had among his PhD students thirteen women, none of whom claims that he treated her differently than his male students and nearly all of whom considered him an excellent mentor. Linda Gerstein even called Dick “a feminist.” I don’t think there are many PhD advisors in Russian history about whom one can say this, and it speaks very well of ours.

Richard Pipes was an extraordinary scholar and person who had a huge impact on my life. He was my Doktorvater but also a genuine father figure. His brilliance and intense scholarly focus were intimidating. He was also deeply caring, kind, and even warm, in his own way. He wrote me dozens of letters and scores of emails before I ever thought of writing his biography. In them he expressed earnest concern for my well-being and my success.

From hundreds of letters to his other students, I judge Dick to have cared a lot about all of us. Going back through my correspondence with him, I find endless requests from me for letters of recommendation and other forms of support and constant and absolutely reliable fulfillment of those requests by Dick. He reminded me of my father: not terribly demonstrative but absolutely dependable.

Training in Russian history at Harvard under Dick’s direction was without a doubt one of the great privileges of my life. I am grateful to him, and I cherish his memory.

Sarah Pipes, Granddaughter:

I’ve spent the past few months reflecting on Richard’s extraordinary well-roundedness. In some areas he was recognized global expert; in others only we at home likely were aware of his interests and hobbies. He nurtured skills in sketching, art collecting (especially Japanese woodcuts), gardening, storytelling, cooking – he specialized in spaghetti sauce. He was in many ways a household Renaissance man.

He was also known in our family for his wonderful sense of humor. My favorite was when he would laugh uncontrollably at shaggy dog jokes as he told them – and we would all be sitting around the table waiting for the punchline. Those were his only jokes that didn’t land though, and often we would end dinner with Irene prompting him to tell some favorites (and nearly delivering the punchline in the process!). He knew the importance of finding joy in life and shared that with family and friends.

He loved his work, such that it was often the subject of conversations at the dinner table. As a kid, I remember being regularly confused as to why Richard disliked Lenin so much – of course I only knew about one Lenin then – John Lennon! Everyone but Richard seemed to think “Lennon” was great, but I knew never to put it past Richard to have his own opinion. He was thought-provoking, even when it was way over my head.

I have also recently re-read his memoir Vixi, and one major point I took away was that life in Washington DC did not make him happy. He learned endlessly from it, worked doggedly, and had a huge impact while there, but was relieved to come back home to Harvard afterward. It was truly a service to his country to go to DC, and to dedicate himself to getting US policy and actions right. This is something I admire in both him and Irene – they care earnestly about the state of the country and hold it up to a standard which I think my generation has lost sight of.

They have seen what we are capable of as nation, and rather than rail against failures, took part in the effort to make things right.

One interesting aspect of life in DC was Richard’s relationship with Ronald Reagan. He admired Reagan for his strong moral compass, which led him right even when he lacked a deep understanding of the issue at hand. It makes sense that Richard recognized and celebrated this aspect of Reagan as they shared this unwavering sense of right and wrong. He was unafraid to let others know when he believed they had strayed, relying on an unshakeable combination of morals and deep knowledge to guide him.

Having escaped near certain death as a child, and spending a lifetime studying terrible abuses of human life, Richard had a realistic approach to our time on earth, which enabled him to see past the quotidian. He used this perspective to shape a life of courage and rightness. Richard had a quiet confidence and lacked fear of rejection, not due to an outsized ego but to a view of the bigger picture. He was rightfully proud of his accomplishments and humble at the same time. He knew himself and lived his life fully true to that self, shaping pain into strength. These are qualities I, and I think most of us, can only aspire to. He wrote that he saw death as great a miracle as birth, and I try to remember that in my grief for him.

The other speakers have considered his legacy in the wider world. I’d like to consider his legacy within our family. As I look at my sisters and myself, I see him in our strong work ethic, our appreciation of a good happy life. He encouraged Anna’s interest in painting and illustration and would be delighted by Elizabeth’s interest in many areas as she starts college, including international studies. I was a history major, and though I didn’t join “the family business,” this perspective and training informs my work in data privacy and security.

Richard’s motto “everything in moderation, including moderation” has been a guide as we balance work, family, friends, and other interests. Most of all, he leaves us an aspirational gift: to figure out the life we are meant to lead and continually stay true to it. I hope our generation represents him well.

Anna Pipes, Granddaughter:

I think of my grandfather as a set of matryoshka dolls, or Russian nesting dolls, three stacked within each other. As a child, I first got to know the smallest, most hidden doll at his core—a side known to few. As I grew into a teenager, I came to know the middle layer, the Richard Pipes known and loved by friends and colleagues. As an adult, I have come to understand the largest, most exterior doll that faces out towards the world.

The small doll at his core was sensitive and imaginative, an artist who took pleasure in life and never abandoned the wonder of childhood. Ours was a grandfather who doled out magic in succinct, regular doses. I remember so fondly our after-dinner routine. Once we granddaughters cleared the table, he would give us each exactly one square of chocolate, which we would savor. Then, in pajamas, we would meet him in his room for a story. Lying on our backs, with an arm under each granddaughter’s head, he would start to unspool his own original fairy tales. He was able to create wonders on the spot. Sometimes he would tell the tale of how he and Irene met — a double blind date at Cornell which both remember with reservations, but evolved into a friendship, then a romance and a joyful marriage — an unconventional fairytale.

As a youth, he had a passion for the arts. He considered careers in music, painting and art history, but ultimately chose to channel his creativity into historical writing. In Vixi, he commented “The difficulty in being a historian lies in the fact that it calls for two incompatible qualities: those of a poet and those of a laboratory technician— the first lets you soar, the other constrains.” But when he told us stories, he would soar.

As we became teenagers, the stories tapered off, and we got to know the next matryoshka doll. This Richard was a bit more reserved, but very well humored. Smiling, with kind watery blue eyes, he would greet us with a hug and a kiss at the door and then retreat back to his study. He was a man of routine, sitting down to lunch with a sandwich and exactly half a glass of beer, humming all the while. Whenever he spoke, it was to say something of quality, whether a comment on the state of politics or an elegantly delivered joke.

Of course, I knew growing up that my grandfather was a highly esteemed historian, but it wasn’t until adulthood that I came to grasp who he was in the world. The most exterior, outward facing matryoshka doll was tough, strong-willed and fearless, a proud Cold Warrior.

However, he was anything but brutish. He fought with immense sensitivity and moral clarity. Escaping the Holocaust and enduring the murder of family at the hands of the Nazis did not shake his conviction that life was worth living. Rather, it affirmed his need to protect it. He used his intellect to, in his words, “spread a moral message by showing—using examples from history—how evil ideas lead to evil consequences.”

A few years ago, I had the idea to conduct an interview with him, to better understand how the three dolls fit together. Unfortunately, I did not anticipate how little time I had left to interview him before he passed. Truth be told, I couldn’t quite believe that he could ever die, he was so strong and stable, it seemed impossible. It’s fitting that Jonathan Daly’s book of his letters with Marc Raeff is called Pillars of the Profession. When speaking to friends, I have used just this word —”pillar”—to describe my grandfather. He was a pillar of the profession but also of my life and of our family.

As this country and countries in Europe again take up ugly and dangerous ideologies, it is that much more disconcerting to lose a pillar such as he, who stood for reason, decency, and morality. But even though he is gone, we can live by his example. In his memory, we can be strong and stick to our convictions, even if they are difficult to have. We can use our intellect, or whatever gifts we may have, to fight for good, as he did.

It was a blessing to have known him.

Blitz’s Editorial Board is responsible for the stories published under this byline. This includes editorials, news stories, letters to the editor, and multimedia features on BLiTZ

Click to comment

Leave a Comment

More in News

To Top
%d bloggers like this: