A Personal Recollection of Sidney Harman

By Roslyn Bernstein

In May 2009, Dr. Sidney Harman stood on the stage of Madison Square Garden at the Baruch College Commencement, walked away from the lectern, and asked the thousands gathered in the audience: “Do you want to see what a 90-year old man looks like?” As he waved his hands in the air vigorously, the audience roared and applauded. Dr. Harman, who received an honorary degree as Doctor of Humane Letters, delivered an inspiring address on how to live a life that mattered.

If anyone knew the formula for such a life, it was Sidney Harman,who always brought to every endeavor an ability to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. Sidney seized on the idea of endowing the Harman Writer-in-Residence Program in the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences at Baruch College in the fall of 1998 because he believed that the world needed more “poet managers.” A deep reader, he often said that “good writing is revelatory. It is not the transference of fully formed material from brain to paper. Writing,” in Sidney’s words, is “an act of magical creation: writing is discovery.”

As a proud alumnus of Baruch College, Sidney loved the idea of bringing the Harman Residency to the Baruch Campus and he reveled in the distinguished roster of writers –some 24 of them including Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, Lorrie Moore, Paul Auster, Charles Simic, Richard Price, Colum McCann—who came to Baruch as Harman Visiting Professors. Nearly ten of them spoke at the Harman 10th anniversary dinner –their words can be heard on the Harman Program website. Sidney spoke, too. Thrilled by the Harman writers’ praise for their experience teaching talented Baruch undergraduates, he sat at a table, next to Edward Albee, engaged in a conversation about the life of the mind. For the program, he wrote: “The arts should not be treated as decoration, as some extra-curricular activity. They should be intrinsic and organic in the developing life of a creative business person. That is what our Writer-in-Residence program encourages.”

Each new idea at Baruch—a literary internship, student prizes in creative writing-- was met with enthusiasm and support. Baruch was clearly dear to his heart.

Sidney always stayed in touch. An email inviting him to come to campus to speak about his Newsweek acquisition resulted in an almost instantaneous Blackberry response, “Great Idea. Remind me in a month or so, Roz. Swamped right now!”

Sidney was always swamped but never too swamped to remember what mattered. He was a life force, a man who I felt would never die. We, at Baruch, will never forget him. His legacy lives on.