Today we are celebrating the 100th birthday of a very special man and it all started with a fax to Mich Mathews, our SVP of Marketing. I’ll admit it was a little strange – it came from a man named Dr. Richard Bing who said he was 99 years old and would love to do something with us since we “used his name for our new search engine”. Mich routed it around to Carver and I and we both said, “huh, this is interesting.”
Within days we were on a plane heading down to LA to go visit Dr. Bing and see exactly what he was all about. Carver kept insisting it might be some sort of prank pulled by a competitor to get us to an undisclosed location and put sugar in our rental car’s gas tank until I reminded him that I’m pretty sure that was a bit paranoid.
When we arrived there was no sinister plan, just a man in a house near LA. To be fair, to say he is “just a man” is probably an understatement. You see before I went down, I did a little Binging on him. And I found out some interesting things…
Dr. Richard Bing was born in Germany on Oct 12, 1909. In Germany, he went on to get a degree in music and composed a couple hundred pieces of classical music, some of which is still played today (indeed, on his birthday across Europe there are symphony orchestras playing his music). That, to me, is a pretty accomplished life. Classical composer, recognition around the world – many of us would be happy with that.
But not Dr. Bing. He decided maybe he’d try medicine and got his M.D. Then at the urging of Charles Lindbergh (yes, “the” Charles Lindbergh) he came to America to work on pioneering medical procedures. He published his first paper in 1938 in the journal of Science and went on to study and work with some of the most preeminent cardiologists in the world. He is widely recognized as one of the fathers of pediatric cardiology – pioneering non-invasive catherization in children to diagnose and correct heart conditions in kids. Indeed, a congenital malformation is named for him – the Bing-Taussig Complex. He co-opted Ford Motor’s big iron machines in the 1960s before positron emitters really existed to try computer imaging. He started an international organization of heart surgeons that is still active to this day. He authored over 350 journal articles. He’s run medical departments, and he’s still on the faculty of CalTech. I could literally go on for pages – his Curriculum Vitae was over 9 pages long.
Done, right? That is a pretty cool life. Oh, except he is also a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army (Ret. Obviously) who served for the United States in WWII.
Still, we were a little nervous about what we’d find? Dr. Bing is nearly 100 years old after all. Would we find someone who was a shell of his former self? Would we be depressed to witness a great mind dulled by the realities of aging?
It took about 30 seconds after entering his house to realize any fears were mightily misplaced. From his wit, “Sean (Carver), you are skinnier than my granddaughter – have some food,” to his hilarious command of language, “that is about as useful as a eunuch in a house of ill repute,” to his still active work, “I’m just finishing up some interesting research on RNA and mitochondria”, it was inspiring just to be in his presence. And he is about the most gracious host I’ve ever met.
Hanging out with Dr. Bing, hearing his stories, and reading his funny email missives to me and Sean does certainly cause one to question one’s place in the world. His very presence, his accomplishments, and his contributions to the globe certainly dwarf anything I have done. Dr. Bing makes me, at least, want to do better. If nothing else his story serves as a catalyst to consider an expansion of a lifetime’s canvas of the possible.
Sean was down there on Saturday for his birthday celebration with his family and today for his actual birthday members of the LA Philharmonic are in attendance to play one of his concertos. For his birthday we gave him a killer Bing-branded laptop, but it seemed like we could do a little something more.
So…Carver called in a little favor from our friends at CAA. We wanted to let other people meet Dr. Bing and maybe find a sliver of inspiration to do more. We’ve spent the last few weeks interviewing him on camera to get some of his little secrets of life. You’ve got to think about what he’s seen: two world wars, a great depression, jet travel, space travel, the internet, the integrated circuit, the globalization of the world, over five decades of marriage – there has to be some magic in there for everyone. We’re still shooting but we hope to have something in the can that everyone around the world can see by November.
Happy 100th birthday, Dr. Bing. And at least for today, go ahead and tell everyone we named the engine after you. I know I am.
Stefan Weitz – Director, Bing