Doc Edgerton is known to MIT as a professor of electrical engineering, a leading expert in the development of photography and photographic equipment, and a contributor to sonar and deep-sea photography. But he is also known for his compassion and humility and for regularly opening his home to his students and coworkers. During this time of gratitude, Slice celebrates this man whose presence enhanced camaraderie and collaboration at MIT.
“Doc is one of my heroes,” says Martin Klein ’62, one of Doc’s students and a coworker at the Strobe Lab and EG&G. “With Doc, there was no pretense. He always had time, and he always listened to you.” Doc invited Klein over regularly for dinner, including Thanksgiving. Klein says, “He made you feel at home. He would get out the guitar and sing songs, he would tell jokes, he would take us on the roof to look at the construction. You saw human things—like the notes he and his wife wrote each other on the bathroom mirror.”
Charles Mazel SM ’76 was astounded by Doc’s affability and openness. “He had a basic decency,” he says. When Mazel was looking for work after graduation, Doc contacted him about a professional opportunity. “Somebody had contacted him about doing a sonar survey and he couldn’t go, and he said, ‘Why don’t you take the gear and go?’ I wasn’t an employee, but I knew him well enough, and the next thing you know, I’m the stand-in for Doc. That means something, that someone gives you that opportunity.”
Even after he retired in the 1960s, Doc continued to frequent campus and connect with students. As detailed in a Tech article, Yu Hasegawa-Johnson ’91 recounts that Doc invited her to dinner when he found her walking around campus crying. After that, he continued to support her while she was at MIT. “He told me he was my American grandfather, and [his wife Esther] was my American grandmother,” she said. “He would often ask me, ‘Are you making friends?’ and ask about Japan to make sure I was not lonely.”
Hasegawa-Johnson says she still thinks about Doc all the time. “It’s so comforting, to know that you could be someone so great and still be so warm-hearted, giving, supportive, and loving.” She says his passion for his life and work was contagious. “That’s an ideal kind of life—to love what you do, and, even after retiring, to still be a part of what you love. His love of students and people, and his wonderful wife and children, was an ideal world. It made me think that I could, perhaps, do that too.”
She was in Japan when he passed away, but when she returned to campus, she found a voicemail that Grandpa Edgerton had left before he died, inviting her to dinner. She still has it to this day.
Interested in learning more? Click on Doc’s bio page at the Edgerton Center.