Don Howard
University of Notre Dame
On Saturday, August 26, 1893, thirteen-year-old Edith Low Babson was swimming in her favorite swimming hole on the Annisquam river in her home town of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Though she was a strong swimmer, something went wrong, and she drowned. A tragedy like all such. But this drowning had unusual consequences. Edith’s older brother was Roger W. Babson, who grew up to become one of America’s most prominent businessmen of the early twentieth century. A statistician, prolific author, philanthropist, founder of Babson College, in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and the Prohibition Patry’s Presidential candidate in 1940, Roger Babson was deeply affected by his sister’s death, as he was again many years later, in 1947, by the death of his grandson, Michael, who drowned while saving the life of a companion who had been knocked off of a sailboat in Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire. But Roger Babson was a man of action, not one quietly to acquiesce when confronted by suffering inflicted by a seemingly impersonal and uncaring nature. One year after his grandson’s death, Babson dedicated a significant part of his vast personal wealth to the establishment of the Gravity Research Foundation in New Boston, New Hampshire, which thereafter awarded an annual prize for theoretical research on gravitation, a prize whose winners include the likes of Stephen Hawking. Why? As Babson explained in a pamphlet published by the new foundation, “Gravity: Our Enemy Number One” (Babson 1948), the goal was to alleviate the suffering for which gravity was responsible, the gravity that seized his sister “like a dragon and..
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