Reflections by Richard Bleil
His wife Judith had invited me to dinner. I’d spoken with her before when she interviewed me, but I hadn’t met her husband. She was a very successful professor of biology at a highly prestigious university, and the two of them had two children. The older of the two suffered from cerebral palsy, and just a year earlier was put into a home for continuous care, a difficult decision for them to make but one that reflects their love since it was becoming too difficult to keep him home for a good quality of life. Their other son was in middle school, and they were looking for somebody to watch him after he got home in exchange for room and board.
Kosta walked into the kitchen, having just gotten home from a business trip. He walked past me without so much as an acknowledgment of my presence, and proceeded to give his wife a passionate, deep and long kiss. I felt a little bit uncomfortable, in fact, and as I began to wonder if I should just let them have their privacy and leave, he broke, turned to me and introduced himself. He was tall, swarthy, with an exotic Greek accent and worked as a nuclear physics professor at another prestigious university. I guess I should have felt intimidated by him, but he had a very open, warm and inviting demeanor and immediately made me feel welcome and significant, something that, frankly, I rarely felt in my life.
I had no idea who he actually was, but I learned quickly. I was living in a house with ten other roommates when this opportunity arose, and that night they offered the position to me. As a theoretical chemist, I didn’t need to spend the long hours in the lab that most chemistry graduate students needed since a pencil and piece of paper was sufficient for my work. That night, back in the house, I was talking about it with one of my favorite roommates and good friend Linda. Another of my roommates was within earshot when she asked me his name. “Kosta” I replied (with their last names which I’m omitting for privacy purposes). This other person spun around, and said, “THE Kosta???” “I don’t know,” I answered, “but I doubt there are many people with that name.” Shortly afterwards, they invited me to dinner, and I had to ask. “Are you ‘THE Kosta’?” I asked. “Yes, I am ‘THE’ Kosta he answered with a grin. As it turns out, he was the national top civilian expert on nuclear arms policy, the one that senators would turn to for advice on legislation, and that news stations would turn to for an alternative perspective on nuclear developments.
He had remarkable insights, and frankly, I’m sure the FBI has a large file on me for having lived with him. For example, in the ‘80’s a news story broke that US spy satellites had a resolution of ground images of at least one square inch. Basically, they can read (except the angle is off) license plates, a fact that was exploited in the comic strip Bloom County as a joke on Opus the Penguin and his nose. Kosta broke the story, and as soon as it hit the news, the FBI was at his door ready to drag him in. They said that was a national security secret, and the only way he could have known it was to have information, but standing in his home, he managed to talk them into letting him grab a publicly available nuclear arms treaty the US had just signed with Russia. In the very long treaty, he pointed out two lines, and explained that the only way those two lines could be enforced is if, yes, US spy satellites had a resolution of at least one square inch. They agreed, and left, without their target.
Kosta was a brilliant man and celebrated Greek Easter with guests who were Nobel Laureates, politicians, models, and just dozens of people any one of which would intimidate nearly anybody. In Greece he started a policy institute, and was friends with the nation’s Prime Minister, with whom he would walk through the streets of Greece meeting the Greek people with the same reverence he had for the Prime Minister. He had a warm and open manner that made everybody, high and low, feel welcome and important.
The academic world is a far cry from the one in which I grew up. In my family, I was the first person to get a degree beyond an Associate’s degree. Kosta took on the role of father-figure to me and introduced me to a whole new world. He was my friend, my mentor, my father figure and so much more. This past Saturday, the world lost him. The days are much darker than they were just a week ago.