In light of his recent announcement to retire in 2011, the Observer decided to have Larry Bacow take the famous Proust Questionnaire in order to gain some personal insight into the president who has done so much for Tufts University.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Relaxing on our boat in Maine with our two sons and their wives.
What is your greatest fear?
That something will happen to Adele, and I will have to live without her.
What is the trait you admire most in others?
Which living person do you most admire?
Charles Vest, the former president of MIT. He is a man of enormous wisdom, integrity and humility. Not a bad combination.
What is your current state of mine?
I am looking forward to the future.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Nothing really comes to mind.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Moreover” (when I am writing) and “umm” when I am speaking.
When and where were you happiest?
September 9, 1973, Jamaica Plain, MA and every day after. (Hint: Guess what day I met Adele?)
Which talent would you most like to have?
Musical talent. I have none, which is one of the reasons I love to listen to great music. I am in awe of those who can compose it and play it.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Helping to raise two happy, well-adjusted sons.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be?
A bird. Complete freedom and no responsibility. Not bad.
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your most treasured possession?
See previous answer.
Where would you most like to live?
Somewhere in the Boston area. Oliver Wendell Holmes called it the “Hub of the Universe.” All true if you are an academic or a sports fan. I am both.
Who are your favorite writers?
Two of my former professors: Thomas Schelling and Robert Solow. Each writes with bell-like clarity and great precision. Solow is also unbelievably witty.
Who is your hero of fiction?
I really don’t read much fiction. When I have the time I read history, biography, and some science. Truth is more interesting to me that fiction.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I think people who identify with historical figures take themselves too seriously.
Who are your heroes in real life?
K through 12 teachers. My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Chandler, changed my life.
What is your greatest regret?
That my mother never lived to see me become president of Tufts.
What is your motto?
Be prepared. I was a Boy Scout.