Bob Boyd coached the University of Southern California to more than 200 basketball victories and three Top 20 national rankings in the 1960s and ’70s. But he was a victim of unfortunate timing.
Boyd was among the most successful coaches in USC basketball history, but when he died on Wednesday at his home in Palm Desert, Calif., at 84, he was remembered as well for having collided with college basketball’s greatest dynasty, the reign of coach John Wooden at UCLA.
“I was at the right place at the wrong time,” Boyd once told the Los Angeles Times. “For the majority of years that I was in the crosstown rivalry, the crosstown teams kept winning national championships.”
Boyd had 11 winning teams in his 13 seasons at USC and sent 10 players to the NBA, most notably the guards Paul Westphal and Gus Williams, both of whom went on to All-Star careers.
He posted a 216-131 record at USC, but his teams went 2-25 against their unrelenting Los Angeles rival.
The first time Boyd’s Trojans faced UCLA, in the 1966-67 season, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor), a sophomore playing in his first collegiate game, scored 56 points. Boyd’s first nine seasons at USC coincided with Wooden’s last nine at UCLA, when Wooden coached eight NCAA tournament champions.
Boyd’s son Bill, who played for him at USC, said his father appeared to have had a heart attack. Boyd is also survived by his sons Jim and John and 10 grandchildren. His wife, Betty, died in 2013.
“I always rationalized the fact that we may not have been beating UCLA,” he told the New York Times in 1983, “but no one else was beating them either.”
NEW YORK TIMES
Dr. Vernon B. Mountcastle, whose studies of how brain cells conspire to process perceptions and movement laid the foundations of modern neuroscience, died last week at his home in Baltimore. He was 96.
His daughter, Anne Clayton Bainbridge, said the cause was complications of the flu.
Mountcastle, known by some as the Jacques Cousteau of the cortex, began his work in the 1940s, when the brain was still very much a black box, as dark as the ocean floor. Scientists knew from studying brain injuries that certain neural regions had specialized functions — for example, to process language. But they had little idea of how brain cells, or neurons, did the work they did.
The mystery seemed especially deep when it came to so-called higher functions like thinking and perception, which are centered in the neocortex, the thin outer layer of the brain.
Mountcastle stumbled on an answer and recognized its importance immediately. In a series of painstaking experiments, he used an electrode to record the activity of neurons in the brains of cats, as the animals responded to being touched — on the fur, for instance, or on the skin. An odd pattern emerged: Neurons that fired together in response to a specific kind of touch were stacked in columns, one on top of another.
Those on the periphery did not fire in the same way.
“These facts support a hypothesis,” he concluded in a 1957 report that became a classic in the field, “that the elementary pattern of organization in the cerebral cortex is a vertically oriented column or cylinder of cells” working together on a single job.
Despite deep skepticism among his colleagues about the hypothesis, brain scientists soon found the same pattern in areas of the neocortex that process vision and other functions: cells working together stacked in columns. The finding confirmed a fundamental property of the brain, namely that it has specialized modules that divvy up the jobs of parsing sensations, making decisions and acting.
“He essentially produced the first functional map of the neocortex,” said Dr. Solomon Snyder, a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where Mountcastle spent his career. “Without that, no one was going to get anywhere.”
At Johns Hopkins, he directed the department of physiology from 1964 to 1980 before finishing his career as a professor of neuroscience.
Three generations of brain scientists knew Mountcastle as a formal, soft-spoken man, elegant in his tan suits, possessing a patience and civility seemingly from another era.
For many years he was in the habit of working a full day, stopping home for dinner at 6, then returning to the lab until midnight. In an autobiography he wrote for the Society for Neuroscience, he described a 1992 lab study, of the motor cortex, that he realized would be his last.
“I was nearly brokenhearted to leave it,” he wrote, “for I found no greater thrill in life than to make an original discovery, no matter how small.”
NEW YORK TIMES
On Dec. 1, 1980, two churchwomen, Jean Donovan and Sister Dorothy Kazel, spent the night at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador as guests of Ambassador Robert E. White and his wife. The next day, the two women and two other nuns, all crusaders for human rights, were abducted, raped and murdered.
White concluded that El Salvadoran government death squads had been complicit in the crimes and conveyed those suspicions to the Carter administration’s State Department. The United States, however, was supporting the military government in El Salvador in its struggle against leftist revolutionaries, and after President Ronald Reagan took office that January, White, who had been appointed by President Jimmy Carter, was recalled by Reagan’s secretary of state, Alexander M. Haig Jr., and forced out of the Foreign Service.
His suspicions about the deaths were later confirmed by the conviction of five National Guardsmen and by declassified State Department documents accusing the Salvadoran military of a coverup.
“I regard it as an honor to join a small group of officers who have gone out of the service because they refused to betray their principles,” White said at the time.
White died Tuesday at a hospice in Arlington, Virginia. He was 88. The cause was cancer, his daughter Claire Kelly said.
White served every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower as a career diplomat rather than a political appointee. After leaving government, he had served as president of the Center for International Policy, a Washington research and advocacy group founded by former diplomats and Vietnam-era peace advocates.
NEW YORK TIMES