Happy Birthday, Walter Grinder!

I didn’t realize that Walter Grinder and I almost share a birthday! Today is his 75th birthday, and numerous students and professors are writing tributes to Walter, so here’s mine.

Walter Grinder’s history is intertwined with history of the Institute for Humane Studies.  Coincidently, IHS was also born in the same year as myself. IHS was instrumental to my college education. Though I was a computer science major in college, I also minored in economics, and it was an econ professor who first recommended me to an IHS summer seminar. So, in 1981 I fly up to Valley Forge for a week-long seminar (all-expenses paid, at that!), where I first met Walter Grinder. He good-naturedly teased me for being the rare student from the south (most IHS students then seemed to come from the West or East coast), and was even more surprised to find I was a Cajun.

Well, this first encounter with IHS led to many – a week-end seminar in the fall, (can’t remember where), and the following spring a week-long seminar in Chicago, where I met the esteemed Voluntaryist George H. Smith, as well as the legal theorist Randy Barnett, among others.  Then, in the summer of 1983, I head to another IHS economics seminar at New York University, along with my friend Gerard Mildner. While there, we were offered a summer-long research fellowship at IHS. It was quite a special honor, as only 8 to 10 students were selected that summer. So, very excitedly, we make our way back to Houston, Gerard and I pack up our belongings in his car, I strapped my bike to the back bumper, and we make for a 2-week long road trip to Stanford University.

Walter Grinder was the anchor of IHS then, steered our young interests in productive ways, and was an ever-present figure in the Menlo Park office. He still good-naturedly teased me for being a Cajun, living on the bayou or such, but one evening, after reading some essay I wrote, he exclaimed, “Kevin, you are like a diamond in the rough”. As a mentor, I was assigned the esteemed, and very friendly, professor Shudha Shenoy. I was recall that Larry White was there that summer as well – not as an undergraduate research fellow, I think, but in some other capacity.

I biked all around Menlo Park and Palo Alto, and my best days were spent in the Stanford University library, 8 million books strong, as well as the Hoover Institution Library. My only regret was the research paper I finally wrote for that summer – looking back at it, I think it was rather uninspiring and mundane.

Wind forward a few years later, after marriage, the birth of our first daughter, and then her passing away, I felt a little lost, and decided to further pursue my 2nd greatest interest (beyond computer science), and enrolled in the PhD economics program at George Mason University. And, lo and behold, IHS had moved there, as well as Walter Grinder. Of course he still remembered me well, and was a key recommendation for me to get a full-scholarship to school.

Walter has made it his lifelong career in investing in and developing human capital, the creative mind. Happy Birthday, Walter!