My recollections on Michal Życzkowski
As one of numerous post-graduate students of professor Michał Życzkowski invited to participate in the publication of a special occasional bulletin of the Museum of the Cracow University of Technology on the 80th anniversary of the professor’s birthday, I will allow myself to add several authentic episodes to his vast achievements in the domain of science. They may be insignificant, yet they showed his sense of humour that seemingly did not befit the wisdom, knowledge and solemnity of a professor.
I first met the professor, when I was a student at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering. It was at the beginning of the ‘50s. As a junior lecturer, he was giving classes on material strength. As is known, nature had gifted him with the so-called French “r”. My first recollections are related to this characteristic feature. I belonged to a group of students, where 80% of surnames contained this speech sound. Students’ name happened to acquire different sound already at the moment of taking the roll. In some cases, the new versions started to function as nicknames. To save time when reading the results of a test, the professor read them like that, quote: Mr. No”h”ski – 4.0, Mr. P”h”age”h”- 3.0, etc. … and suddenly: Mr. Wildne”h” – see Mr. No”h”ski. But Mr. Wildner was not listening for the mark of his colleague half-list up. Why should he? Finally, the list of results had to be put up in the Faculty. (I hope my colleagues will not mind that I used their surnames).
After graduation, I was employed as a university researcher and teacher at the material strength research unit, where I used to meet the professor every day, often taking advantage of his knowledge and didactic aid. I also had the pleasure of participating in bridge tournaments involving awards that were periodically organized in the milieu. From this period, I remember the professor’s self-criticism. While playing a contract with his wife, after an unsuccessful finesse, he said: “I've taken a look to see who is down in the ditch and whom do I see, but myself”. I use this phrase until today, not only at a bridge table.
When he became the supervisor of my dissertation, he always offered his knowledge and time to help me, in spite of his numerous activities. He was said to have an uncommonly divided attention, which I personally experienced to be true. When I was meeting the professor in the institute and asking him after greetings, when he would be able to devote some time to me, he usually looked at his watch and I often heard: “I would be able to do it even now, as I have three spare minutes at the moment," and he was opening the door of his office and inviting me cordially. I have to confess here that I withdrew twice, as I did not want to disturb him and did not believe a three minutes’ conversation was going to have any effects. Yet, I had to dare to take the offer finally, even if out of sheer curiosity. I found out that one could learn more from him within 3 minutes than from someone else during an hour.
He used to have on him a microscopic-sized calendar, where he took down everything in an extremely tiny hand. How was he able to write all this? Not to mention reading such hand. He did not wear glasses at the time. He could still help many people and not only in the domain of research. Those who knew him and who are still with us - they know he was a wonderful person and that he left us too soon.