A Remembrance by Roger and Carla Levien
In 1997 I wrote a partial history of IIASA for the New York Academy of Sciences. It was for a project on scientific cooperation across political divides. I labeled IIASA a success story with lots of lessons to teach. Peter was a big part of that success story.
I first came to IIASA in 1979, just when Peter was heading back to the States. But in 1982, when I went back to the States, it was right when Peter and some other heroes were in the midst of saving US membership in IIASA. The Reagan White House had decided that IIASA was a nest of Commie spies, and Peter and his fellow heroes were engineering a strategic retreat from the front lines of Washington to the safer haven of Cambridge, Massachusetts where the American Academy of Arts and Sciences became the formal US member in IIASA.
Peter and the other heroes (folks like Mac Bundy, Howard Raiffa, Harvey Brooks, Carl Kaysen and Roger) hustled for money; tirelessly educated and reeducated rotating Washington bureaucrats; rounded up Congressional, academic and industrial allies; soothed impatient Soviets and others at the IIASA Council; appealed to the better angels in all of us; and kept US membership and IIASA alive. I had a front row seat as their main staffer. It was a job to be proud of.
Peter was a point man on several fronts in the 1980s, but especially at IIASA where he represented the US on the IIASA Governing Council and was central to crafting budget adjustments (and patience) when US payments fell short and governance adjustments as the Soviet Union moved into Perestroika and Glasnost.
Right at the end of 1989 there was success in the US as the push to persuade Washington to see the light finally paid off and George Bush Sr. restored White House support.
But then the Soviet Union collapsed, more safely than many of us could have imagined. That was good news. But for IIASA, it sort of removed the Institute’s raison d’?tre. Nonetheless, to folks like Peter, the upside was way bigger than the downside. He was named IIASA’s new Director and negotiated the renewal of IIASA as a global change institute in place of the hands-across-the-political-divide Cold War institute. To someone who knew the place and its people – in Laxenburg and around the world – it was a doable job, if not always straightforward. And he did it. And I, and all those who’ve admired and benefited from IIASA ever since, are very grateful. He was there throughout. It was a perilous ride. He was a star on a team of stars. They wrote a great success story.
I want finally to share my favorite quote from Peter. It’s really from Gold Meir, but, to me, it’s from Peter. I had something self-deprecating, probably hoping to cadge a compliment. And he said. “Don’t be humble. You’re not that great.” It was a mentor’s advice. It was honest advice. It was remembered and appreciated.
Sisela Bok wrote a book on “Lying” in which she offered a number of ways to check on whether you want to go through with a lie that sure seems, at first blush, to be justifiable. One that I always remember is to imagine yourself on stage and presenting your justification to an auditorium full of the people you admire most. One of the people in my front row is Peter. So he’ll be missed for sure, but I plan to keep benefiting from his wisdom for a long time yet.
When Peter arrived at the Institute in 1977 I was working with Staff&Family Services and had the great honour to brief him on the do's and don'ts of life at IIASA. At one point he looked at me his expression saying ' is all this really necessay now?' We both agreed to call it a day. During that moment our life-long friendship began.
When I moved to SDS and after the departure of the Chairman, Michel Balinski, Peter became Acting-Chairman. Working for and with him in his dual role of Senior Advisor to the Management and SDS gave me the greatest of pleasures. At the same time this was very challenging, believe me. Peter always made work, and not only work, fun.....I also came to admire him more and more for his incredible knowledge, generosity, wisdom, and humour. Here are a few examples of his extraordinary sense of humour:
1. Under the Elms, during one of the parties, Peter was wearing a T-shirt on it the full name of IIASA but with a different meaning which, according to his colleagues at the Ford Foundation who gave him the shirt as a parting present, stood for: International Institute Against Social Advancement;
2. One day I found a tape on my desk full of his memorable letters and memos. Next to it a message saying:for your ears only (how can one not begin the day without a smile), or, when I heard him say "when you finished this memo I'll cut your tongue";
3. On another day Peter came storming out of his office asking us: who is your favourite movie star. Mine was Gregory Peck his Ingrid Bergman. The list was completed by other colleagues, but can't remember the exact names of the rest of the stars. Although mystified by his request I kept quiet. It turned out that the Director (Roger Levien) had asked the research departments to provide names of scholars to be invited in the future. So Peter's reply started off with the list of stars and then went on to say that all of these above might be more fun, but on a more serious note, SDS would like to propose X, Y and Z;
4. Then of course, the Punkti memo already mentioned by Ruth, which I remembered well.
To conlude: Peter was a great lover of classical music. But perhaps a lesser known fact of his personality is that in his youth he wanted to be a conductor. It wasn't to be, but he conducted the SDS band with virtuosity!!!
Peter was a MENSCH in the truest sense of the word. Thank you Peter it was a great privilege to have you as a friend for so many years. A friend who will be sorely missed, not only by me, but by all of those whose life he touched.
Peter was one of those rare persons who gave you the feeling he would always be there to listen to you and also help you solve your problems. He was interested in your well-being and gave the impression that your situation and happiness was very important to him . There are very few people who give another person the feeling that they can put themselves in your situation and therefore understand you. As Personnel Officer at IIASA and also afterwards, this was so important to me. You could never imagine him just disappearing one day! Many have given note of his scientific, diplomatic character as well as all of his qualifications and personality.
Another side of Peter that I can never forget was his wonderful sense of humor. I can still hear his laughter ringing down the Schloss corridors.
One of the humorousexperiences I had : He sent me one day a request for reimbursement of medical expenses for an important member of the family who had had an operation.."Could this memo therefore be taken as a request of a 50% reimbursement for up to 1200 AS expenses for medical assistance. The patient seems to be recovering rapidly despite his age, which is 5 ½ cat-years. His name is Punkti " (the Janosi cat).
I will miss Peter, and my heart goes to Monica.
Peter -- thank you for 40 years of a wonderful friendship.
We all mourn a friend we have lost, but I had a special and unforgettable relationship to Peter deJanosi.
He arrived in my life with periodicity of a celestial orbiting comet. First time in the sixties when we speculated how could we involve Czechoslovak research institutions in Ford Foundation activities. In seventies I met him again at IIASA where he led the program on System and Decision Sciences. In `1990 he became the Director of IIASA where I had been working.
The Last e-mail contact we had in early September 2010 when he acquired my e-mail address from Linda to ask as "boni patres familias " how my family and me are doing. I responded that reasonably well except, that in four months I will be 80. He responded that he is already 82 and wrote "you are a young man". The part in parentheses he wrote in Hungarian, we always used to test each other knowledge of Hungarian and Peter did not forget. How could he - he was Peter after all. This all sounded as "don't be afraid I will welcome you to the cohort of 80 years old".
How could I know that destiny will be so cruel to both of us that we will be together in his cohort only four days. I turned 80 on February 8, and he left us on February 12.
During my life I had a privilege to observe Peter´s admirable personality, optimism, knowledge, wisdom, friendship and his crisp crystal clear deep voice. It will cling forever in my acoustic memory.
To work for him was a delight. He never forgot a reword, a positive reaction to an accomplished task even when not fully successful.
In my intimate personal "Face-book" a beloved face turned irretrievable but it till the end of my life remains - unforgettable.
Director of IIASA from 1990 to 1996, and Honorary President of the IIASA Society, died near his home in New York on February 16, 2011. The cause of death was a sudden and unexpected stroke, from which he never regained consciousness.
As the Director, Peter encouraged the development of the IIASA Society. He arranged help for Nathan Keyfitz, who had returned to the United States, but agreed to continue to work on the Society. Asked by Peter to assist Nathan, Linda Kneucker worked with both, and was supported by both at all times. At the Alumni Day in 2009, Peter became the Honorary President of the Society. Until a few days before his death, he carried on correspondence concerning our work, and supporting the plans for the Alumni Day this coming May.
Peter will be missed by many, and for those of us who knew him well, we will never forget his optimism and support.
Last edited: 02 October 2017
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