In Memoriam: Carl Monroe York (1925-2018)
by Robert John Russell
I am grieved to share that we have lost a wonderful partner to CTNS of over three decades: Carl Monroe York. Carl was instrumental in creating and administering every aspect of the CTNS program, serving as Chair of the Board of Directors and as a weekly member of our informal staff meetings, and he helped guide the transfer of CTNS from being an independently incorporated Affiliate of the Graduate Theological Union to becoming an internal Program of the GTU. Through all of this he was a treasured advisor to me and a true and dear friend. Here I will offer a brief biography of his career that spanned the academic world of research physics and his thorough involvement with CTNS, and then share several personal thoughts about what his friendship and wisdom meant to me.
Carl was born in Macon, Georgia, on July 2, 1925. He graduated with a Ph. D. in physics from UC Berkeley in 1951 and spent a year at the University of Manchester on a Fulbright Fellowship. Following, he returned to the States and took up a two-year post-doc at Caltech. Next, after a year at the University of Chicago, Carl went to Geneva on a Guggenheim Fellowship to do particle research at CERN. In 1960 he was given tenure at UCLA, teaching a freshman physics course, a junior year course in thermodynamics, and a graduate seminar in elementary particles. While at UCLA he commuted to Berkeley to do experiments on the Bevatron. In 1963 Carl became Associate Dean of the Graduate Division in charge of research and fellowships, while continuing to teach and do his own research. In 1965 he was promoted to Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research, a position which took him regularly to Washington, D. C. Carl married Mary Nell Sherman in June, 1969, a marriage which has lasted until his death last December. Carl then accepted an appointment to the Office of the Science Advisor to the President, where he and Mary Nell lived for three years. During his years in the Washington, Carl created a Presidential Initiative to fund the Very Large Array of radio telescopes that were built in Socorro, New Mexico and that have played a vital role in the search for extraterrestrial life!
In the summer of 1972 Carl and Mary Nell traveled west again, where he took up the position of Academic Vice Chancellor of the University of Denver. In 1975 Carl and Mary Nell returned to California, settling in the Bay Area, where Carl accepting several consulting positions in local Bay Area foundations focused on energy conservation and at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. They survived the horrific Oakland Fire Storm on October 21, 1991, although their beautiful townhouse in the Oakland Hills (the Hiller Highland development) was reduced to ashes. In total, 2,843 single-family dwellings and 437 apartment and condominium units were lost, and the Fire Storm included the tragic death of 25 people. They rebuilt their townhouse in Hiller Highlands to even finer specs, and enjoyed living there until moving to elegant senior living at the beautiful St. Paul's Towers overlooking lovely Lake Merritt in downtown Oakland. They have remained happily at the Towers with many old and new friends until Carl's death early Monday morning, December 3.
As Carl wrote in his 2015 Autobiography, "When I met Bob for the first time (in the mid-1980s)... I started off by saying that I had never seen any contradictions between science and religion, and that led to a conversation that has continued to this day".* What a wonderful way for two physicists-Christians to begin a decades-long friendship and collaboration in exploring science and religion!
Carl was raised an Episcopalian and enjoyed being an acolyte in high school. The openness of the Episcopalian tradition to cultural differences certainly contributed to his congenial approach to science and religion. Carl brought to our first meeting a remarkable history of accomplishments in natural science, which I outlined above.
Following our meeting in 1985, Carl sat in on many of my seminary and doctoral courses in science and theology at the Graduate Theological Union (the GTU), and he frequently lectured about topics in physics for my students. And as the saying goes, we often talked about these issues "late into the night". By then CTNS, which I had created as an independent affiliate of the GTU in 1981, was nearly a decade old, and it was time to go after major program funding. Carl played an integral role in every grant we received for the next three decades, beginning with a $435K grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the ethical and theological implications of the Human Genome Project. He continued to advise me on every detail of three major international programs in science and religion funded by the John Templeton Foundation. These included "Science and Religion Course Program" (SRCP, 1998-2002; $12.7M + course awards). SRCP offered up to 100 annual awards of $10K each on a competitive basis for new courses, or improvements on existing courses, in science and religion from faculty in universities, colleges, divinity schools and seminaries around the world. "Science and the Spiritual Quest" (SSQ, 1996-2003; total $5M). SSQ brought dozens of internationally acclaimed scientists from all world religions to offer public presentations on how the practice of science is, for them as religious followers, a spiritual experience. On July 20, 1998 SSQ was featured on the cover of Newsweek magazine, receiving an estimated 50 million hits. Science and Transcendence: Advanced Research Series (STARS, 2005-2008; $1.5M + research awards). STARS brought together small interdisciplinary research groups of scientists and humanities scholars to explore the ways science points to transcendence and the nature of ultimate reality. Grants totaling $1.3M were awarded a variety of STARS team for their ground-breaking research. Carl also helped CTNS raise $1M from a Bay Area foundation that supported our decades long research partnership with the Vatican Observatory, and he and Mary Nell traveled to Italy twice for international conferences that resulted from the partnership and included an audience with Pope John Paul II.
Carl joined the CTNS Board in 1989 and twice served as its chair with insight, vision, dedication and practical wisdom. He participated in weekly staff lunches over all those years, becoming a beloved advisor and 'godfather' to our staff: Bonnie Johnston, Melissa Moritz, Braden Molhoek, Joshua Moritz, and many others. It is thanks to Carl that the CTNS staff has a pension plan and a health plan. Beginning in 2006, Carl helped steer CTNS to create and complete the Ian G. Barbour Chair in Theology and Science, and he oversaw the complex transition of CTNS from an independent affiliate of the GTU to an internal Program of the GTU in 2016, placing the Barbour Chair at the GTU and starting CTNS towards a permanent institutional foundation.
There is so much more that I would wish to say about Carl, but I'll close with two personal comments. The first one is this: I talked with Carl about every major decision I made concerning CTNS for decades. I leaned on him for clarity, wisdom, and guidance in professional issues --- and occasionally on family issues. The bottom line is that I loved him as a dear and treasured friend, indeed, as my surrogate "father." His patience, empathy, and grace, sustained me through times of real hardship; his gentleness, hopefulness, Christian faith and sweetness buoyed me into renewed joy.
The second one draws on Carl's writings, once again, in his Autobiography. He writes in 2015:
"As I near my ninetieth birthday I think about death and whether there is an afterlife. I have always looked upon death as the last great experiment I'll make, and as it approaches,
I'll accept whatever it brings."*
Dear Carl, ever the intrepid experimental scientist, may the last experiment, death, bring you into the immeasurable joy of God's everlasting life, filled with bountiful celebration and unbridled love in communion with all those you love and who love you. Until we all see you again, Dear One, may God's blessings be yours overflowing and without end. Amen.
back to top