Love is Not a Zero Sum Game

Ninety-three year old emeritus chemistry professor Milt Orchin is researching and writing a new tome, unlike any he has authored before. Well-known in the field of organic chemistry, Milt is engaging his intellectual curiosity in a new direction.

Two years ago, after closing his laboratory at the University of Cincinnati and having just co-authored the second edition of an organic chemistry textbook, he was reflecting on how he should next be occupied. He decided to turn to biography, that of Israel’s reputed “father of the atomic bomb,” Ernst David Bergmann, with whom he had worked in 1947 as a Guggenheim Fellow.

Adept at collaborating with experts whose knowledge complements his own, he arranged with William Jensen, University of Cincinnati chemical historian, and Henry Fenischel, a physics professor fluent in Hebrew, to be his co-authors. Every day for the past two years Milt has rigorously worked on the project.

Together with spectroscopy expert Hans Jaffe, Milt has written five books, including organic chemistry textbook “classics.” He insists he has no intention of writing any more chemistry books -- that is, of course, unless he comes across a useful concept.

Milt has a special gift for connecting meaningfully with people and making lasting friendships wherever he lives or works. Many former students are his close friends, and one former chemistry student has honored him by funding the Orchin Prize in the University of Cincinnati’s chemistry department.

These days, although Milt says he is “winding down,” he keeps a busy, fruitful schedule, exercising daily on his stationery bike, visiting the university every day, and meeting with his book-writing colleagues twice a month.

He speaks of his loving relationship with his wife, Ruth, who died in 1986. From watching how she interacted with others and how devoted she was to her parents, he learned many important lessons about life. Ruth demonstrated that love can be extended to a number of people without diminishing the love given to each individual – in Milt’s terms, “Love is not a zero sum game.”

He met his widowed lady friend, Midge, two years after Ruth’s death. Over the last two decades he has enjoyed her companionship, appreciating her intelligence, elegance, and style. Interacting with her circle of business acquaintances, so different from his connections in academia, has been a welcome change of pace.

Milt’s three sons are great sources of pride for him: Michael, a skilled outdoor person, is president of the Wildlife Association of Cape Coral, Florida; Morton is a Cincinnati dentist; and Brian is a psychiatrist living in Denver.

Recently, because of increased aches and pains and difficulty walking, Milt has become more aware of his age. But considering that he has undergone bypass surgery, the removal of his gall bladder, three angioplasties, scoliosis, herniated discs, and the loss of eighty-five percent of his hearing, he grants that he’s doing quite well. “I’m actually constantly amazed that I’m still here,” he quips.

Milt is not just here. His drive and determination, the conviction of his ideas and values, and his eternal pursuit of new knowledge confer on him a highly respected presence.

Milt Orchin