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Margaret Norman’s Interview

Margaret Norman’s Interview


Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly, Atomic Heritage
Foundation, and it is October 27, 2017 in Washington, D.C. I have with me Margaret Lawrence Norman, and
if you could say your name and spell it. Margaret Norman: Okay. It’s Margaret, but I go as Margie. M-A-R-G-I-E, but officially my father always
called me Margaret. M-A-R-G-A-R-E-T, Lawrence, L-A-W-R-E-N-C-E
Norman, N-O-R-M-A-N. Kelly: Can you tell us when you were born
and where, and begin describing what your parents were like and what you remember from
your early years? Norman: I was born on September 17, 1936 in
Oakland, California. My home was to be in Berkeley, which was right
next door. I grew up as the oldest girl, and it turned
out to be six children. I have an older brother, who has since passed
away, Eric, John Eric, named after my Uncle John Lawrence. Then I came, Margaret Bradley. Then my younger sister, Mary, Mary Kimberly,
and she has passed away. And then my brother Robert Don, and Don comes
from Don Cooksey who was one of the members in the laboratory, my father’s first-hand
man. Then there was a big jump, about eleven or
twelve years, and surprise, surprise, so Barbara came into this world. Because there was another spot left, they
figured, she needed somebody that she ought to play with, so we had another one, and that
was Susie. So there was six of us all together. As the oldest girl, I was kind of the typical
oldest girl. I was the responsible one and followed the
rules, and all that kind of stuff. Then as the kids came on, they all took their
positions in the family. We ended up being a pretty happy family and
a pretty boisterous family and a pretty noisy family. Kelly: Tell us about your mother, let’s
start with her. Norman: As I told you just a few minutes ago,
my father always said, “Your mother is far more intelligent than I am.” She was indeed a very brilliant woman. She started out to have a career in bacteriology. She was getting her advanced degree, her PhD,
and Dad whisked her away. They had known each other since she was sixteen. Mom grew up as the oldest daughter of four
girls, and my grandfather, her father, was the Dean of the Yale Medical School. He was quite often bringing home young men
to introduce his daughters to these young men. That wasn’t supposed to be the purpose,
of course. They were just people he really thought were
very interesting. But obviously, when you come to have dinner
at somebody’s house and there’s four girls, you’re going to be introduced. He brought Dad home one time, and Dad was
about—I think he was nine years older than Mom, so she was maybe sixteen, so he was in
his early twenties, I think. Apparently, he took one look at her, and I
guess probably had some conversations with her or something too. Not a lot, because she was very shy, and apparently
just said, “This is the person I really like.” She was not feeling the same way. She was a sixteen year-old girl, and she was
on her way to Vassar, and she wasn’t really interested in the man at that juncture. He was this older guy, tall, skinny guy, she
didn’t think he was that attractive or anything. She would sort of try to stay out of the picture
if he came. When Grandpa would bring other people home,
and he was one of them, she would try to stay away from the situation. But he tried to seek her out, and he would
keep coming. Finally, I guess, one day, she was out on
the bay fishing for clams or something, I don’t know what they do in Connecticut. But anyway, she was out there doing that. She had on this big floppy hat and looked
absolutely terrible. All of a sudden Grandpa’s out there, “Molly,
come on in, come on in, Ernest Lawrence is here.” And she just was absolutely petrified, because
she didn’t want to go again and see him, and particularly how she looked. She looked just like a scullery maid or something. She tried to stay away that time too, but
I don’t think it worked. She had to come in to say hello, but then
she made an excuse, she had studies or something to do, so she would sort of retreat, I guess. It was an interesting kind of a dance between
the two of them, Mother trying to stay away from him and Dad apparently trying to get
her. Well, finally he won, obviously. When she finished Vassar, she had been also
having classes at Wellesley because she was taking premedical stuff, too. At that time, doing that was a very difficult
chore for a woman because they didn’t really want women in those kinds of courses. She told me the story once about how what
they would do is there were two women, and Dr. Zinser was this very, very difficult professor
– he was high expectations and very strict. But she was a very good student, but he didn’t
like women being in the class. When it came to the time at the end of the
semester or whenever it was for finals he says, “I want you women to go upstairs.” The two of them, apparently, they went upstairs,
and he shoved a microscope in front of them—I guess it was a bacteriology class—and he
started putting slides in there. He says, “What’s this? What’s this? What’s this?” And they were to tell him what the slide was. Mom got one slide, and it was just all black,
and you couldn’t really see anything. She thought, and she thought, and she said,
“What is that?” She said it was a blastoma. Then she guessed that was what it was—and
I’m not using the proper words for it. But that’s what it was. He looked down at her, and she said, “He
gave me a look that made me feel I am finally accepted, because I guess nobody else had
gotten that right.” She felt she had done a very good job. So when Dad said she was brighter than he
was, I think he really felt that was true. When we would have to have help with our lessons
or anything like that in junior high and high school and stuff like that he would say, “Go
to your mother,” if he were home—most time he wasn’t. We got used to going to Mom. We thought Mom was much more smart than Dad
was, except we found out, “Well, I don’t know about that, because everybody seems to
think he’s so smart.” We felt we were privileged because we had
two very intelligent parents. Kelly: That’s great. Great story. Tell us something about your dad’s upbringing. Norman: Dad grew up in a Norwegian family. His father was the son of my great-grandfather,
who came to this country from Norway in the late 1800s because they lived on a very tiny
farm, which we visited, my husband and I visited five years ago. It was essentially about two or three acres
of grassland up high on the hills of Norway. To get there, you had to climb for probably
about an hour. This was after wintertime, so it was full
of slush and water and creeks and all that kind of stuff. They were doing a play in honor of my father. It was written to describe how his grandfather
had left Norway, and what the circumstances were. The circumstances were that this was a very
small farm, and it could not support the family, and they didn’t have any money. Somebody had to leave, because they couldn’t
keep enough food on the table to have everybody make it. My great-grandfather, left with, I think it
was his—was it his cousin? I think it was his cousin or his brother,
I can’t remember which one. But they left and went to America. His mother was absolutely devastated. She was not feeling very good anyway, and
she died within the year after he left. Grandpa had a very Norwegian upbringing and
passed that on to my father. The Norwegian upbringing basically teaches
you that it’s very, very important to be a person who is useful. Dad kept saying, “For whatever you want
to do, whatever you want to be, just be sure you’re being useful.” That was the chore that we were all supposed
to follow, not that we did it very well, but he certainly did. He ran his whole life, I think, based upon
not money, not status, not power, but on the fascination of science and what he could do
with science to be useful. Whenever he was asked to do something, by
whether it was a nonprofit or a corporation or government or whatever, if he felt that
was something that would be useful, that was something that was important, he would do
it. Now the good of that was, he was a person
who did a lot. The bad of it was, he did too much. Because what he did is, he died way too early
at a young age. I remember one example of that when, I think
it was Monsanto Company, wanted him to be on their board of directors, and he was on
lots of boards of directors and things like that. He said okay, he would because it was a chemical
company and he felt that he could do a lot of good things for them. I was talking to Mom about it, and I said,
“Oh yeah, Dad’s going to [join the Monsanto board], he said yeah.” She said, “I wish he wouldn’t do it.” I said, “Why?” She said, “Because he’s just doing way
too much.” He said, “Oh, well, but Molly, it’s going
to pay $15,000.” In those years, that was a lot of money. Mother just looked at him. Mother was the bookkeeper. Mother looked at him and said, “Ernest,
you don’t need that $15,000, because the government is going to get ninety percent
of it!” In those days, that was true, literally. Then he said, “Well, that’s not the important
point anyway.” He just felt that he needed to do things that
were going to be useful and important, and to help people, and to help the government
and the help the United Stated of America. That was one of the sort of basic tenets of
his life. Another one that was often seen in the family
situation was that the one thing that was just absolutely prohibited was lying. Lying was the biggest evil possibly thing
you can do. If you lied, he would never—it was just
like, he would look at you as if—he would just look at you like that. So very few people in our family are liars. It stood us in very good stead, actually,
it really did. That’s a tenet that I’ve tried to keep
living by. Growing up with him as a father was not easy,
because he was a man who never saw greys. He saw blacks and whites. “This is good. This is bad. This is right. This is wrong.” There was very little movement in behavior
that he understood that you could look at in more than completely right or wrong or
good or bad. If you did something that he felt was not
appropriate—an example would be, I remember when I was a teenager, and I was having boyfriends. Mom and Dad came home in the car when I was
sitting in my boyfriend’s car in front of the house. We were necking, which means kissing, nothing
else, just kissing. I saw the car, and they pulled into the driveway,
and I just panicked because I knew my father would not approve. I jumped out of the car and ran over and said,
“Oh, hi, you guys!” He looked at me, and his eyes just – he
just looked at me and said, “Margaret, we are not guys.” I went, “Oh,” you know, I was so nervous. But that’s how he felt about things, that
you must be upright, you must be honest, you must carry your responsibilities, you must
do all these musts. He never spoke of them, but you knew. My poor younger sister, Mary, who was a rebel,
she was always getting in trouble. She stood up to him, though. Me being the oldest girl, I kind of knew,
“Oh, okay, how do I handle this?” What I would do is, I just wouldn’t let
him know some of the things I was doing. Mary, unfortunately, she would do things,
and he would find out. I remember one time, she had a bottle of wine
underneath the seat of her car from a party she had gone to, and it rolled out from under
the car when he got in to drive her car. Well, all holy hell broke loose, except for
that was the other thing—no swearing. He never used bad language. He would say “Oh, golly gee.” “Oh, for heaven’s sakes.” I find myself saying the same kinds of things
now—not that I didn’t go through a period when I was younger, where I was saying much
worse things. But anyway, that was another no-no. It was kind of tricky growing up when he was
home, but in a certain way, because he wasn’t home very often. Mom was kind of the opposite. She was somebody who really could empathize,
and she understood each of us in our own age as we were growing up. She could respond if we wanted to do something
or if we got in trouble. She would let us explain what we had done,
why we had done it, etcetera, etcetera, and we would work through it. But Dad, no. No. You knew, you either behaved or you didn’t
let him know it, or you went to Mom and you hoped he didn’t find out. That was difficult. But at the same time, he was so much fun. He was a wonderful father, in the sense that
when he was home oh, did we get spoiled, oh my gosh. He would take us skiing, or he would take
us to the fair, or he would do all kinds of really kind of fun things. It was like money was—we didn’t even know
about money at all, because we never—you know, when you were kids in those eras, twenty-five-cents
was a big deal. We would go with him, and we would say, “Oh,
we want one of those, or we want one of those,” and he’d get one. And we had no idea. Then apparently, he would come home, and Mother
would see what he’d done, and she would say, “Ernest!” Because then she would get a bill coming in
for like twenty-five, thirty dollars, or something like that. She would say, “Ernest!” Then one time, it was hysterical. He had been to Yosemite. He was on the board of directors of Curry
Company in Yosemite. Mom rarely went to a lot of the places that
he was going to, she had her hands full at home. He comes back, and two or three days later
this odd-shaped package arrives in the mail. And she said, “Ernest, there’s a package
here for you.” He says, “Oh, oh yes, oh yes.” I can’t remember whether he opened it, or
she opened it. But anyway, by the time it had been opened,
this thing was put on top of the piano. I said “Mom, what is that?” And she said “It’s a—it’s a—I don’t
what you would call it.” But it was a wrought iron strange-looking
thing where you had a bowl stuck up in it, and then you pushed the bottom lever and wine
would come out. I said, “What is it?” She told me and she explained it, and we went
and worked it and saw how it worked. I said, “Where did this come from?” She said, “Your father bought it in Yosemite.” [Laughter] He was a little kid in many, many ways. He was just a little kid. He would see something, “Oh, that’s neat,”
and so he would buy it. Not that he ever spent lots of money. He was very good with money, too. But he’d come, and he’d say, “Molly,
what are the finances? How are things?” She would pull out her book, and it had every
penny was listed as to where the money had gone. And the checkbook, every check had its thing
here. She could tell him day by day, month by month
everything that had been spent and gone out. He would go, “Oh, my goodness.” He had no idea. Then he would go, “Oh,” he said, “I
guess I better not spend money.” And he would. That was another one of his characteristics,
that he was always very rational. Rationality is another important thing in
our family. When you know something, you know it. Like he told me one time, when I was in early
high school or something like that. Because there’s so many of us in the family
we didn’t travel much at all. We were all just Berkeley-ites, and San Francisco
maybe a little, but we didn’t go anywhere. So I was really pretty much unaware of where
things were in these United States of ours. He was always going back to D.C. or something
like that. I said, “Where is Washington, D.C.?” He gave my one of those looks again, and he
said, “Margaret, Washington D.C.—” and then he sort of pinpointed it by states about
where it was. He said, “Now I’ve told you where it is,
never ask me that question again.” Because he was surprised that, at my age—I
was probably fourteen, fifteen years old—I really didn’t have a clue where it was. His thing was, you can always ask a stupid
question once, but don’t ask it again. That was another lesson that we had to learn. Life was interesting. But now I look back on it and I realize, he
was really kind of an extraordinary person and had the ability to shift from where maybe
I was really afraid of him in certain times to being the best father in the world. To being fun, to being giving, and to being
accepting and all that kind of stuff. He was a good person. Kelly: When he was not with you, at least
from accounts, he was going a hundred miles an hour. He was so intensely involved. How did he shift gears? Was he able to come home and put all of the
frenetic energy that he— Norman: We really didn’t even know what
he was doing. For instance, all during the war when they
were working on the Manhattan Project, and even before and after that, we didn’t know
what was going on. We had no idea. We did know that something was secret, because
one of our favorite things to do with him was on Friday nights, every Friday night when
he was home he would take the older one—most of my childhood was of the four older ones
of us, because Barbara and Susie came so much later. With Dad, it was the four of us and Dad when
he would come home. He would take us all down to the Telenews
[Theatre] in Oakland which was, basically, a television news program now. You would say that’s what it was, and of
course, it was all about the war. It was about the war, and then they had short
subjects and stuff and things like that. That was a really a fun outing. Every Friday night, we really enjoyed that
with him. He wanted us, though, to understand what was
going on in this world. That was one of the best ways to do it, because
you were seeing visually. You were seeing the war. I’ll never forget some of the visions of
the Nazi war camps and the crimes and stuff that were committed that you saw when the
war was over. It was so horrifying that we really had a
picture of what this whole war thing was all about and realized how horrible it was. He had a funny sense of humor too, because
they would also show sports clips. For instance, I remember this one where it
had high jumping skiing, where they would come down these long ski things, and then
they would go out. It was absolutely amazing. It was embarrassing, though, because when
somebody would come down and go way, way out and then fall and go splat, and Dad would
go, “Ha, ha,” he would just start laughing hysterical. Then everybody else in the theater would turn
and look at us, and here was this man there laughing. He thought it was hysterical. And I was thinking, “Dad, don’t you know
that poor guy probably hurt himself?” But he just looked at what was happening. He thought it was so funny. So he did have a very kind of boyishness about
him. People would comment about that. He always had a twinkle in his eye, and he
always was up to something. Of course, just totally into science. Into science to the point where he couldn’t
relax. He didn’t know how to relax. He would come home—we had a house down in
Balboa, and he would come down for a couple of days, and he was itching to get back to
the lab. I mean, you could just tell. He didn’t know how to relax. I remember one day, we were out on the beach. Dad actually got out on the beach, which was
interesting. And what did he do? He cleared the top sand off, pushed all the
sand back like this, got it down to the damper sand, and started writing formulas in the
sand. I went, “Dad, you know, come on.” He said, “No, Margaret, leave me alone,
leave me alone.” He just loved it, absolutely loved it. He could not stay away from it. As Mom said, she said, “I realized when
I met him and when I married him, finally, I knew that science was first, and family
and me would be second.” She accepted that, and that was always true. Anytime he needed to do something or be somewhere
or meet with somebody, off he went. When he came home, he was there for a while,
but then, boy, you could see he was itching to get back up to the lab. It affected our lives too, because when we
were kids, when we were old enough, when we went to the Telenews? Sometimes we never got to the Telenews because
he would drive up to the lab to check in before we drove down to Oakland. We would get up to the lab. We didn’t mind it too much because he left
us in the guard’s gate, in the little room where the guard was. The guard would be there, and we would talk
to him, and he would play with us, and we had a good time. But we would look at our watch and say, “Where
is Dad? Where is Dad? He [the guard] would say, “Well, you know,
he’ll be back.” He would leave us there for like two hours. And then by the time he would come out, of
course, Telenews was too late. Then he’d take us all out for ice cream
or something, so that was okay. But we spent I don’t know how many hours
up in that guard’s room outside the cyclotron. But we knew that we couldn’t go in. Eventually, it sort of dawned on us later
that, “Something’s going on in there that we’re not supposed to know about.” Before the war though and after the war, we
used to go in, we used to go in with him. He would talk to all the students. I was there when the put the Bevatron on up
to—they broke through I don’t know how many millions of whatever it was that they
were doing, but they broke, and they had a big celebration and stuff like that. He included us in everything that we could
be included in. But he wasn’t home that much, and when he
was there it was, “Watch out what you do. Be careful, and then have fun.” Kelly: He was plagued at the end of his life
by colitis? Were you aware that he was suffering from
an illness? Norman: Yes. I knew. But you know, you don’t ever really know
serious something is. You don’t know what colitis is. You don’t know what kind of pain that causes,
or what that does to your life. He was an expert at ignoring pain or denying
pain, or didn’t want anybody to know that he was not well. Again, wanted to be able to do everything
that he felt he should do that was useful, that would help the country, that would help
the nation. He, I’m sure, was doing things that were way
far more than his physical ability was to do them. He would just deny to everybody that there
was any problem, until it got so bad that he was on death’s bed really, and he had
to get out of there. At the very end, when he was negotiating for
the arms treaty with the Russians, they had him locked in to a room where you had to go
through doors to get to this central room, the negotiation room. It was all very secret and all very tight. I think there were three or four, I think,
on the American team. There was Dad and there was this guy from—GE,
was it? One of the contractors, I think it was. Anyway, they were doing the negotiations for
making arms control. He, clearly now, I know, was extremely ill,
extremely ill, and his colitis was just inflamed like that. Probably by the time he finally died, Mother
insisted upon looking to see—she, being a bacteriologist and everything—she wanted
to see what his colitis looked like, I mean, how serious it was, whether there was a reason
he had died. She just came home, and she told me, she said,
“Oh, Margaret,” she said, “There was nothing left of his colon. Just nothing. It was just all gone.” He was playing tennis even sometimes, when
apparently the doctors just said later they didn’t even know how he could play tennis
because there was almost no circulation to his legs. He was in very, very severe health problems. I remember, I graduated from Stanford in 1958,
and that was not long before he died, about six months later. It was a blistering day, and he was home,
and he and Mom came. I graduated cum laude, so they wanted to come
and see too. Then they did, but they had to sit way up. He never pulled rank. He never wanted to be given special favors
or special anything. They were sitting way up on the hill at Stanford,
and the sun beating down. I know now, he was miserable. We made it through the ceremony, and he never
complained. He never said anything. But I felt so awful because he was dead three,
four, five, six months later. I know that was a terrible, awful thing that
he had to go through. He had dedicated his life to service, and
died because of it. Kelly: He went to Geneva, didn’t he? Norman: Yeah. It was well known in the medical community
and in the Berkeley community that he was so dedicated to what he was doing, so interested
in it, that nobody could stop him. It wasn’t like that he was stoppable. As a matter of fact, when I was in high school,
a man by the name of Fallis, he was the head of Standard Oil, and Dad was on the board,
I think, of Standard Oil too. This gentleman was Mr. Fallis. I never met him until this particular event. He decided that Ernest had to get away, that
unless we could get him away he was going to just keep on going and going and going
and going. So he organized an around the world trip for
him, for he and Mom. It consisted of going on one of the oil supertankers
from New York across to the Near East, docking at Bahrain at the end of the Mediterranean
Sea. I think it was about three months. Fortunately for me—I felt very guilty, with
the rest of my brothers and sisters. But in that case, I was a senior in high school,
so I must have been fifteen or sixteen. I had a hot boyfriend at that time. I was a very good student and all that kind
of stuff, but I kind of was coming late into the boy/girl thing. That was probably my first steady boyfriend,
because I was always athletic. I was a tall drink of water, tall and skinny,
and played all four sports. The boys weren’t too cool about a tall,
skinny gal playing sports. This was my first kind of main boyfriend. In the house in Berkeley, it was four stories. We kept having to turn everything into bedrooms,
because as the kids—got more kids. It started out being like a two-bedroom house,
and it ended up being a six-bedroom house. We didn’t add any outside space, we just
kept taking any room we could find and made it into a bedroom. My bedroom used to be the top deck, and it
was turned into a bedroom. Outside my bedroom, the other half of the
deck was still there, and that’s where the ping pong table was. We used to go up there, groups would go up
there, and play ping pong right outside my room. One time, Dad came home, and we were up there. Roger and I were kissing on the bed, sitting
on the bed. We weren’t in bed, we were sitting on the
bed. We were kissing, though, and the other kids
were out playing ping pong. He took, again, one of those looks at me where
he just looked at me as if I—oh, I knew I was in trouble. He just told Roger to get out. Out he was to go. Didn’t even know his name. Never knew names of our friends. He knew the names of everybody else in the
world that he was interested in, but never know the names of our friends. So he just said, “Out,” and he never wanted
to see him again. Then the next morning, after he left, Mom
said, “You know, your father thinks you might come on this world trip with us.” I went, “What? What?” I was a senior in high school. I said, “Yeah, but—.” She said, “Well, would you like that?” I said, “Well, sure, I’d love that.” The idea that Dad was going to leave me behind,
knowing I was now becoming a woman in the sense of having a boyfriend and stuff, he
was afraid to leave me at home. He decided that I was going to come with them. Well, my younger sister was furious, absolutely
furious. That was quite an experience. I got the whole wardrobe of clothes, and Mother
took me down to Magden’s, and oh, we had a wonderful time. So we went on the trip, and it was a very
interesting trip, and it was a great trip. He really did relax. He was forced to. But never relaxed in the sense of what a lot
of people would call relaxed, because he was always doing something. Any place we got to, you know, out to a city
or a place, he was always going someplace. He said, “Okay, we’re going to go to dinner,
and now we’re going to do this, and now we’re going to do that.” All day, the day would be packed with activities. We didn’t have any spare time. That was an interesting trip. I saw that though he did become, I think,
a little bit disconnected from some of the science that was in his life constantly, I
think that he was able to turn loose of it a little bit, but not a lot. But they took him out of it completely. That was probably in the beginning, more the
middle, of his colitis situation, so it wasn’t as serious at that time. But I think it helped. I think it probably waylaid things for a little
bit. Kelly: That was four plus years before he
died. Did he learn from that trip that he needed
to pace himself? Norman: No. Kelly: The next four and a half years were
back to normal. Norman: Yeah. Yeah. That was him. He couldn’t be any different. But the other thing too is that he was a family
man, in the sense that he just thought Mother was the cat’s pajamas. She was a Connecticut, Eastern, reserved person. A shy person, basically, really. Very intelligent, very empathetic, very humanistic
in many ways, too. But I think he just felt he had gotten the
best woman in the world. He kept saying, “Your mother is a handsome
woman.” If you would look at her, you—I’m not so
sure what people would think. With today’s way we look at women, I don’t
think she would have been considered pretty or cute, but I think she was a handsome woman. She had a lot of character in her way of being
and in her looks. I think she did stand out, and everybody loved
her. Everybody liked Mom, even though she was quite
reserved and stuff. But she was so good. She was such a good person that I think he
felt that he had been the lucky one, that he went after the right one. I think she loved him, too. I think she was a little overwhelmed by him
at times. She would say, “Now, Ernest, you don’t
need to do that, you don’t need to do that. Now, Ernest.” But I think she really loved him and respected
what he was doing, and was very proud of him. Kelly: How long were they married? Norman: Well, let’s see. They got married, it must have been 1933,
maybe, ‘33, ‘32. I’m not sure when. Eric was born in ’34, so I hope it was ’33. Then he [Ernest] died in ’58. Actually it wasn’t that long in terms of
years, but gosh, it was a long time in terms of—of course, maybe because I was a child. You know how when you’re a child, you think
you’re growing-up period from zero to twenty is probably half your life? So that may be that because my recollection
as a child, it seemed like forever that they were married. When he died I was in New York on a training
program, and I was shocked. I didn’t know. I cried all the way back on the airplane. Kelly: It was sudden? No one was expecting it? Norman: I think the kids weren’t expecting
it. I think a lot of people may have known. I think Mother knew that he was really seriously
ill. Well, the other problem was, you see, he couldn’t
follow the medical advice, which was dietary primarily, a lot of it. He was a meat and potatoes man. He loved the big full dinner and drinks before
and maybe something after. He certainly wasn’t an alcoholic at all
or anything like that, but he liked his drink. He would come home for dinner, and before
dinner they would have a drink, and that was it. And then he would have dinner, and then he
would go back to the laboratory a lot of times at night. So, where was I? Kelly: I asked whether anyone expected him
to die so quickly. Norman: Oh, yeah. I think I knew he was really ill and all of
that, but you never think your parent is going to die. It’s almost like you know, but when it happens,
you’re not ready. I think that’s the best way to say it. I probably knew, but I wasn’t ready. I immediately flew home, of course, and there
we were. He was too young. Kelly: How long did your mother live after
that? Norman: Oh, she lived years and years and
years. She died in 2003. She was ninety-two. She kept saying, “I want to live through
the millennium.” He was nine years older. He was born in 1901. She was born in 1910, so she was ninety-two
when she died, and was pretty darn healthy up until the last year or two. She, unfortunately, fell and broke her hip,
and that kind of led down the bad road. But she had a good long life, and I think
they both had interesting and good lives. I think they both felt good about themselves
and their lives. Kelly: If they could stop to think about it
[laughter]. If your siblings were sitting where you’re
sitting and were recollecting, do you think they would have the same image of your dad
and mom? Norman: No. Probably not. I think it has a great deal to do with the
personality of the child. My younger sister, Mary, who had since passed
on, she was the rebel. She and Dad sort of had a contentious relationship. She would probably say he was dogmatic, he
was harsh, he wasn’t fair. She might say a lot of things like that. But that’s a different relationship, really. The two younger ones, they wouldn’t have
much to say because they were too young. Let’s see, I think they were six and eight
or something when he died, something like that. My older brother Eric, he had kind of a tough
time in the family because he was—I don’t know how you would describe it. But he was the kind of person that just didn’t
quite know how to act in a way to get positive reinforcement. He would say things or do things that would
give him sort of, “Oh, come on, Eric, do this, or don’t do that, or no, that’s
ridiculous.” He wasn’t very sensitive to other people’s
impressions. I also think he probably suffered from being
Dad’s oldest son. I think that was difficult, because Dad’s
expectations of him were quite different than Eric’s desires for himself. I think that created a real problem. Dad, of course, would have wanted him to be
a scientist, and that’s the last thing that Eric wanted to be. Eric wanted to be a photographer. So that created dissention there. But at the same time, Eric, I think, felt
probably more than any one of us the importance of being his son. In other words, he lived his life, I think
Eric did, in reflected glory. You know what I mean? He didn’t really feel that he had done much
himself, but he would tell everybody about his father. So that was a difficult situation. Kelly: Did he become a photographer? Norman: He did photography and did some newspaper
stuff, but as a contract worker, not as that. He did some elementary school teaching. He never really did find out how to do something
that I think he felt he would be rewarded for. I think he spent his life trying to please
Dad, and therefore really couldn’t because he didn’t like to do the kind of things
that Dad wanted him to do. He ended up doing what he wanted to do, but
never taking it to the level which would have given him his own self-satisfaction. It was kind of difficult. It was really kind of difficult for him. The rest of us—Eric just was not quite with
the rest of them, the next three. He had a different set of friends that were
kind of the same way he was. But myself and my next sister Mary and Robert,
the three of us, we were all kind of the bumpy, running up and down, keeping the place noisy,
having all kinds of friends over. The rambunctious, the Lawrence kids. We were known all over as “the Lawrence
kids” because we were very active and running around doing things all the time, and collecting
friends and collecting people and just doing what we want. Mom was great in the sense that her idea of
raising children was allowing them to do what they wanted to do, unless there was a real
reason that they shouldn’t do it. We would say, “We’re going to go downtown,
we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that.” She would say, “Okay, when will you be home?” That kind of thing. I don’t think she ever said no. But of course, that was another funny instance. I forgot about that instance of growing up
with Dad. Because he didn’t come home that often he
really didn’t know what our life routines were, because he wasn’t there so much of
the time. One Sunday morning we were down in the kitchen
asking Mom for—I think it was a dime or fifteen cents. We were going to walk downtown and go see
a movie. Dad came down to the kitchen, saw what was
going on, and he said, “Margaret, you’re not going to the movie today.” I said, “Why not?” “It’s the Sabbath.” I said, “It’s the what?” “It’s the Sabbath.” He grew up in a very strict religious family,
but he didn’t follow the religion in his own life, but he expected us to. I never knew it at that juncture, but Mom
always had to get all of us up and go to Sunday school, get us down to Sunday school on Sunday
morning. He didn’t go, but we had to go. I finally got fed up with it. I think I was about nine years old, and we
had to go to Sunday school, and then you could go into the church afterwards. We were Episcopalian. They were telling a story about the Bible
and about Jesus parting the ocean, and Jesus doing this, and Jesus doing that. I said, “You can’t part the ocean.” She said, “Well, Jesus just parted the ocean.” I said, “No, no, no, no, Jesus didn’t
part the ocean.” This is the rationality of the Lawrence family. We just said, “No, that’s impossible,
that’s not scientific, that’s not possible.” She said, “Margaret, you have to have faith.” I said, “No, I don’t. That’s impossible.” Well, that was it for me and Sunday school. I said, “Forget about this,” and I didn’t
even tell Dad. But about that time I think it was that he
finally decided that Sunday school was enough, we’d had enough Sunday school. We wouldn’t have to keep on going, and Mother
wouldn’t have to keep getting up early and making breakfast and taking us down there. That was another thing, that he still had
that Norwegian traditions in his sense of what the world should be like and how people
should act. Not that he was following them, but he felt
that children should go to Sunday school, children should have religion, children should
do all these things. We had to go by his wishes. Then he left, and we didn’t have to go by
his wishes. We had the best of both worlds, I guess. Kelly: When you say he wasn’t there much,
what was he up to? Was he at the lab? Was he traveling? Norman: He was traveling. During those prewar and war years, he was
going from place to place. Then you read the books, and now I know where
he was going. He was going to D.C. He was going to Los Alamos, Tennessee. He was going to all those different places
during the war, of course. But then we also had some connection with
a lot of that, but didn’t know what it was all about because Mom and Dad would often
have cocktail parties. They were always of lab people and scientific
people. Any scientist who came to the lab, Dad would
call—if she [Molly] knew about it, she would know that he would set up a dinner or do something
at the house, and she would do it. Though every once in a while, she would get
the phone call at 5:00. “Oh, Molly, so and so is here. [Hans] Bethe is here, or so and so is here. I’m bringing him home to dinner.” “Oh, okay, right.” She would always come through. It was amazing. I don’t know how she did it. But she would figure out some really nice
dinner that she would cook and get it done. So we met and knew most of the scientists
and most of the people. We knew the Russians. When they came, they came to our house for
dinner, and we went out with them, I think it was over to Redwood Woods, or something
like that. We were involved—only in a social way—knowing
all those people. My childhood was populated with the people
in the books. But we were totally unaware until—well,
that’s kind of an interesting story. The first A-bomb that was dropped—we, of
course, didn’t know this was going on, had no idea. It was on August 8, I think it was. August 6? August 6. Dad’s birthday was August 8. If I can remember the gentleman’s name—Reg
Tibbetts. Reg Tibbetts was a gentleman who was quite
wealthy, had a house in Orinda, California, which was about a forty-five minute drive
from Berkeley. You would go out through the tunnel and come
out the other end, which is east in Orinda. He had a really lovely house with a pool and
a bunch of kids. So we loved to go out and see the Tibbetts,
because they had a lot of kids too, and we would all go swimming. So Dad said, “Molly, I’d like to go out
to the Tibbetts house for the evening—for the day, for whatever it was. The kids can come. We’ll all go.” We all went out there. One of the fun things about the Tibbetts place
is that this gentleman had communication systems for all over the world. He had clocks all the way along the top of
his work area, which was quite a large room on the outside of the house, another area
almost like where the swimming pool was. It had clocks from every country you could
think of, all the main: Japan, China, France, England, Russia, showing what the time was
in these places. The rest of the room was filled with electronic—well,
it wasn’t electronic then. I don’t know what you want to call it, but
it was machines, communications machines. There were not only telephones, but ticker
tapes things—what did you call those things? I can’t remember what you call them. But there was always, “Tst, tst, tst, tst,”
where news comes in over a ticker tape thing. He would get news from all over the world. He would send news all over the world. He had all this equipment there. I think it was all amateur type stuff. But then he had a huge antenna outside the
house, so he could communicate worldwide. We went out there. I guess it was the sixth of August. The kids were in the pool. I used to like to go in and sit and watch
all the stuff going on in Reg’s room where the men were. As a matter of fact, I always used to like
what was going on where the men were, because I figured they were where all that interesting
stuff is. I would go in, and I’d ask Dad questions:
“What’s this, and what’s that, and what’s this, and what’s that?” All of a sudden, there was a “Whoopee!”
and a screaming and a yelling and a jumping around and stuff. The news had just come in over the ticker
tape that the bomb had gone off, and that it was a success, and stuff like this. We still had no idea what in the world they
were talking about. I can’t remember how it was all explained
later as to what it was. Oh, I remember. Somebody asked Dad, “My God.” Maybe it was a reporter had called. Oh course, the reporters were after him like
crazy as soon as that bomb was dropped. I don’t know if it was on the phone, or
whether it was out at the Tibbetts place or what, but they found him, and they said, “How
many do you have?” He said, “Well, that’s one.” That’s all he said, because of course they
didn’t want people to know if there was more than one. So that was Hiroshima. He said, “That was one.” Of course, we all know now there was another
one. But the whole point was, that there were not
a lot of stored bombs waiting to be blown off. The hope obviously was that that first one
would end the war. That was the other thing that Dad was very,
very clear about in this later period, when we knew about the atomic bombs and stuff like
that. Because I asked him, because I was going to
Stanford, and there were a lot of people at Stanford who were opposed to the whole idea
of what had happened. I really didn’t know what to think. I had to feel that it was good, because my
father was so involved in it. But I remember having discussions with him
when I could come home from school, Stanford, a couple of times. I said, “Dad, how do you feel about this?” He said, “You know, Margaret, this is the
kind of energy that really have a positive effect in this world. The bomb,” he said, “It took a long time
to figure out what to do about it. There was a lot of discussions.” Oppie [J. Robert Oppenheimer] was his best
friend. Oppie was his best man at my parents’ wedding. He said, “There have been a lot of discussions
about whether this should be dropped, whether there should be a test of it, what we should
do.” I said, “But all these people got killed.” He said, “I know, that’s the hard part.” But he said, “I think this will end war.” He really did believe that those bombs would
make it so clear to the world that we just can’t have war any longer. Unfortunately, it’s probably he wasn’t
right. But we haven’t had a nuclear war, but it
doesn’t seem to me that we have solved the problem. It was a tough time for all those us people,
I believe, that were in on trying to make that decision. I think it was an awful decision to have to
make. I felt ambivalent about it myself, and I still
wonder, maybe we shouldn’t have done it. I don’t know. Kelly: That’s one conversation you can remember
on point with your Dad. But then after the end of the war, there was
the question of the hydrogen bomb. Do you remember how he felt about that? Norman: I’m trying to remember. We knew [Edward] Teller quite well, the kids,
we did. He was a funny guy. But we didn’t know any of the politics of
that situation, I don’t think. We really didn’t realize the politics of
the situation. But by that time, we were, as I say, in college. I was college age, so I knew there was a lot
of politics going on. Then I began to learn about the politics of
the situation, and who’s who in the zoo, who’s on which side and who’s on one side
or the other side. I think I became more and more convinced that,
we don’t want to keep going on with bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. I think there was a reticence among a lot
of the community, that we shouldn’t develop the hydrogen bomb. To be honest, I don’t remember whether Dad
was still alive during some of that. I’m trying to remember the timeframe. But I remember something about him saying
that what Teller was up to, and I think he put it in that term. Something, “Teller being up to this, this
hydrogen bomb.” I don’t think he felt terrific about it,
but I can’t swear to that. But I don’t think he was necessarily in
favor of it. I don’t know if he was against it, but I
don’t know if he was in favor of it. My memory’s not good enough to say one way
or another. But I know it was very controversial. Kelly: Describe Teller. You said you got to know him as a child? Norman: Oh, yeah. He used to read Dr. Seuss stories. Oh, that was hysterical with that accent that
he had. Heavy, heavy, heavy accent. We laughed and laughed, because he was so
funny telling those—he would tell those stories. It was a riot. He was this kind of frumpy, chunky guy who
would come down the chair and plop down and sit down and talk, and half the time it was
hard to understand what he was saying. But he was kind of like a munchkin, you know. An interesting guy. You had no idea how intelligent some of these
people were. They were just people. It’s only when you start reading the books
you went, “Oh, my God. Oh, this and that and the other thing.” Growing up, I think we kind of knew Dad was
famous. We knew he was a physicist, and we knew that
was really pretty complicated stuff. We knew all of that. But we really didn’t take it to heart in
the sense of saying—we didn’t think he was famous. I don’t think we thought he was famous. We thought he was well known, certainly, in
the community. When we went to school and stuff, we knew
that the teachers knew who our father was. But I don’t think many of us ever traded
on it. Except for Eric, he kind of traded on it. But the rest of us, we were too independent. That’s another thing too, was that we were
brought up to be independent. The other thing about Dad was—I forgot about
this, because it’s so true—he was not at all a decision maker who made decisions
based upon who he was talking to. In other words, if you were a woman, if you
were Chinese, Japanese, Russian, whatever you were, if you were a graduate of Harvard,
if you graduated from elementary school, whatever, if you didn’t, it didn’t make any difference. It’s what you were as a person, and what
you knew, and what you could offer. If you had intelligence and he felt that you
were a good person, he would treat you just as well as he would treat the most famous
scientist in the world. In other words, he respected people for their
abilities and gave them credit for anything that they did. But he didn’t suffer fools. He did not suffer fools. As I said, if you asked a stupid question,
don’t ask it again. During the hearings, the Communist hearings,
he went to bat for everybody when they tried to rack people over the coals. Martin Kamen was brought in front of the committee,
and some of the other scientists were. Dad was appalled, absolutely appalled. He just defended his people like crazy. Oppie, oh, my God. That was the saddest part of the whole story,
when Oppie and Dad kind of split a little bit on a lot of the issues, the political
issues. That was sad because they were such good friends,
and they both respected each other. I don’t know, at the end, whether or not
things were mended or not. I wasn’t that close to what was going on. But I hope that was amended, because they
were really best friends and both brilliant people and different people, very different. I thought Oppie was strange, really strange,
when we were growing up. He would be in the house too a lot, and he
was just this kind of eerie guy. You would look at him. He’s tall, skinny, and sort of hunched,
and his hands in his pockets and kind of looking around. I thought, “He scares me a little bit.” But apparently, he was really a nice person,
but brilliant, I guess. Dad was a country boy, in many ways. He was not a terribly sophisticated person
but that was part of his charm, because he’d ask you any question that he wanted to know. He’d say, “Why are you wearing that?” He wouldn’t say something like this, but
I’m just saying from the point of view if I— he would say, “Well, why are you wearing
that scarf?” If the scarf he thought was interesting, he
would ask you that. For some women, that would be like, “You’re
not supposed to ask me that, you know.” I never heard him being denied. I know at the lab too, he would not feel reticent
to ask questions of people who you would think that he wouldn’t want to suggest to, that
he didn’t know the answer more than they did. For instance, when we were up at the lab one
time, we were walking to the control room and Tom Ypsilantis, I think was there, one
of the most intelligent of the graduate students. They were running some kind of an experiment. Dad said, “What are you doing, Tom?” Tom started explaining. Every time he would say something that Dad
didn’t get, Dad said, “Wait, wait, what do you mean by that?” Here Tom was educating Dad, but that was fine
with Dad. He didn’t have any problem with not knowing
everything. But his real goal was to keep learning, to
keep knowing. He would put that in his brain, and there
it would be, and it would stay. It was amazing, I think, how much he had in
that brain. He remembered. Now, that’s scientific stuff. On this other part, no. He didn’t remember our birthdays, he didn’t
remember our friend’s names. But he really did have a flair about not worrying
about being not knowledgeable about things. If he didn’t know, he’ll ask. I think my husband would say I inherited that,
but it’s probably true. A lot of those things come down through the
family. We all tend to be a little assertive, aggressive—assertive,
not aggressive. Assertive people. We’ll ask questions that sometimes people
maybe didn’t want to answer. I’ll say, “Well, if you don’t want to
answer, don’t answer, but where did you get that scarf ,or where did you do this,
or how did that happen?” Kelly: It’s interesting, because he had
the rule for you, you could ask a question once. Of course, he had a steel trap mind, and he
would always remember the answer if you asked once. Is what I’m getting here? Norman: Well, I’m assuming he would. See, I don’t know that. I really don’t know that. I’m just assuming that. He didn’t ask of others things that he wouldn’t
do himself. That was true too. But his expectations of others—for instance,
colleagues—were very, very, very high. When he was developing a color television
tube, we had a house out in—what was it? Now I can’t remember the name of the place. Kelly: Diablo? Norman: Diablo. They built this little lab there. He was having these engineers come out there
all weekend, from 8:00 in the morning until whenever they were finished with what they
were working on. When he was working on something he wasn’t
working, he was playing. He loved it, absolutely loved it, and he assumed
that everybody else that was working there was similarly in love with everything they
were doing, and they didn’t have any families. They didn’t have any people who wanted them
home for dinner. They would be loving to stay out here all
night working on this darn color television tube, or whatever it was. He was absolutely opaque in his understanding
of what other people, what their lives were really like. He just assumed that everybody would be fascinated
with the things that he was fascinated with. Kelly: Did you mother try to gently remind
him that they may not be as enamored of this? Norman: She didn’t have much control. She didn’t have much opportunity, because
she really didn’t put herself in a situation. She never went up to the lab with us. It was always Dad took us up to the lab, so
we don’t know what Mother would have said. I think she probably got the break, “Oh
good, Ernest is taking the kinds, whew. I’ll have half an hour.” I don’t know whether she tried. I do remember one of her sayings, “Now,
Ernest.” I do remember that as being one of her sayings
and one of the things that she would talk about, and how she would tell him to slow
down and things like that. But they had another sort of thing between
the two of them about child rearing and that was, you don’t discuss it in front of the
children. I have no idea whether there had big fights. They certainly didn’t have big fights, in
the sense that you didn’t ever hear any. They never used bad language. They never criticized in front of us. If there was any kind of criticism or any
kind of disagreements, they were keep behind closed doors. We didn’t know what their relationship was
in that sense. I really don’t know how she handled him,
or whether she could handle him. She couldn’t, in the sense of any visible
reduction in the things he was doing. We used to try and sneak and find out what
was going on, because we knew things that had to be going on with Dad, because he wouldn’t
tell us where he went, he wouldn’t tell us what he did. I remember one time, I opened the top drawer
in his dresser drawer, and there were two brand new women’s watches. I was old enough—I probably was four—I
thought, “Uh-oh.” I thought, “Uh-oh.” So I pull these watches out. I said, “Dad, what are these watches, women’s
watches”—because he had given mother a really nice watch—“What are these for?” Turned out, he had bought them when he was
on the aircraft carrier on the way, I think it was, to see some test or something. I don’t know what it was. But he had bought them there, because he had
thought they were pretty or something. Never even thought about what he was going
to do with them. I found them. I said, “Dad, you got two of them. One’s for me and one’s for Mary, right?” He said, “Oh, I suppose so.” Once he got them I don’t think he cared
what happened to them. So I said, “Hey, Mary, we got two watches!” He was just funny about that stuff. But the other thing too is, I also must say,
he was totally faithful to mom. I remember the book that [Herbert] Childs
wrote, on the biography of Dad, where he told Mother, very purposely told Mother, “Mrs.
Lawrence. I want to let you know, your husband has been”—I
don’t know what the words were, what he said. But the indication of what he was saying is,
he could find no evidence of any kind of dilly-dallying ever in his life. I think that he definitely was that kind of
a person too, that he just did not countenance any kind of being funny around with women. Not at all. He was black and white. This is right, this is wrong. This is right, this is wrong. No grey. No greys. He really was a very interesting person, who
had, as we all have, flaws. But I think that his personality and his abilities
and his ethics served him well. I really think that he is an example of success
that is based on a very strong foundation—moral foundation, ethical foundation, intelligence
foundation. I think that’s a model for success, and
he did it quite well.

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