My Grandfather, GrandDoc: Remembering George H. Weiss

Written by Edan Friedman on . Posted in Features

My grandfather, George H. Weiss, fondly known as GrandDoc, was an exceptional person who was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather, and an incredibly accomplished mathematician and physicist.

His unique name was created when my mother first learned to speak and would call him by his first name, George. As that felt inappropriate to my grandparents, my mother was given several different options, such as Daddy and Abba, but she chose to call him Doc — my grandparents had jokingly suggested he could be called Dr. Weiss (he had a Ph.D. after all), and the name stuck. Eventually everyone in the community knew him as Doc.

After my older brother, the oldest grandchild, was born, my grandfather’s name evolved and he became known as GrandDoc.

When my siblings and I were younger, he returned the favor and gave us nicknames befitting our personalities. As kids who liked to make messes and not clean up, we were called Cyclone, Monsoon, and Hurricane. As we grew up, our nicknames also evolved: for instance, I was dubbed Shorty after I surpassed my grandparents’ refrigerator in height. GrandDoc possessed a unique sense of humor and had a contagious laugh. He loved puns and jokes, and was always ready with a witty retort.

When my grandfather was young and deciding on his vocation, he considered journalism and mathematics. Ultimately, he settled on the latter because through his work he would be able to help more people. As he once quipped, “I would rather be making the news than reporting someone else’s.” Nevertheless, he did not seek fame or go out of his way for accolades, despite completing his PhD at the University of Maryland in record time (two weeks) and conducting post-doctoral research at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel. Although he was offered prestigious positions at highly respected universities, he chose to work at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where he felt he could conduct more impactful research.

He worked there and at other government agencies for nearly 55 years, and served two years in the U.S. Army. He wrote over 550 papers, including a number of landmark works in the field of Random Walks; and he authored a seminal book “Aspects and Applications of the Random Walk,” in addition to co-authoring others. Along the way, he received awards for his advancements in mathematics and physics.

Despite his many noteworthy professional accomplishments and awards, the only thing he liked to brag about was his grandchildren. On Shabbos, my siblings and I would go to my grandparents’ house, make kiddush with GrandDoc, and discuss many subjects over some delicious homemade cake. My grandfather’s sweet tooth made kiddush and dessert with him extra yummy. As GrandDoc wisely taught, dessert is the most important part of the meal.

When my siblings and I learned to read and swim or achieved other childhood milestones, he would treat us to Ben Yehuda Pizza or Baskin Robbins to celebrate our accomplishments. He made sure to attend all of our birthday parties, where he took photos he would give to our friends, a habit he started at my mother’s and uncles’ birthday parties. He was a gifted photographer, and we were his favorite subjects.

One of my grandfather’s special traits was his modest personality, yet people would seek him out, even if they did not know him well, sometimes seeking his professional advice in mathematics or science.

Aside from his devotion to family and work, my grandfather was a religious Jew who meticulously kept Shabbos and Yom Tov (holidays). In fact, he was at the second minyan of Young Israel Shomrai Emunah (YISE) in Silver Spring before Rabbi Anemer zt’l became the rabbi. For many years, my grandfather led a popular shiur (class) on Shabbos.

In daily life, my grandfather was thankful for the many things people did for him and he always made sure to tell them.

My grandfather left behind a wonderful legacy: His wife, Delia; daughter, Miriam Friedman (Steve, Matan, Edan, and Merav); son, Alan (Shira, Jake, Ben, Noah, and Ari); and son, Danny (Liora Greenberg, Judah, and Raphael Dean). He told me on multiple occasions that he felt he had accomplished a lot, often saying, “I had a great life.”In such a hectic time, he knew how to live life to the fullest. My grandfather’s first yahrzeit (anniversary of a death) was Sunday, February 4, 2018, the 19th of Shevat. Yehi zichro baruch — may his memory be a blessing.

By Edan Friedman

 Edan Friedman is a senior and captain of the volleyball team at the Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Maryland. He attends Young Israel Shomrai Emunah (YISE) and the Kemp Mill Synagogue (KMS) in Silver Spring, Maryland, and serves as gabbai at the YISE Youth Minyan. After graduation he will be attending Yeshivat Har Etzion (Gush) in Israel, followed by the University of Maryland.