Fall 2000 Bulletin

Dedication of the Leo L. Beranek Library

In September, Fellows and guests gathered at the House of the Academy to dedicate the Leo L. Beranek Library, named in recognition of Beranek’s generous gift of $550,000 to the Academy’s endowment. The gift is the first in response to naming opportunities for rooms in the House, instituted as part of the Academy’s commitment to increase its resources to fully realize its mission in the years ahead. Presiding over the dedication, Academy Secretary Emilio Bizzi announced that Leo Beranek has also been chosen as the first recipient of the Scholar-Patriot Award of the Academy, in honor of his distinguished achievements as a scientist, entrepreneur, public servant, and past president of the Academy.

In a prepared statement, President James O. Freedman recalled that during Leo Beranek’s presidency, his colleagues often spoke of him as their “practical visionary”:

Leo saw that the Academy was at a turning point—ready to assume a more prominent place in the intellectual community, yet unable to realize its goal because of financial pressures. He organized the first major endowment drive in the Academy’s history and created the John and Abigail Adams Society to recognize exceptional contributions to the endowment. Yet, while he sought contributions from others, he continued to take the lead through his personal gifts. His enormous generosity reflects his deep and abiding commitment to this Academy.

At the ceremony, Chief Executive Officer Leslie Berlowitz read greetings from the Midwest and Western centers. In expressing the gratitude of the entire staff for “this exciting first step in naming the rooms of the Academy and in increasing its endowment,” she said, “Leo has contributed to the Academy in so many ways, but there has always been one constant: He has worked tirelessly to make this Academy a community. To ‘Dr. B.’ (as we affectionately call him), we express our deep appreciation for his wisdom, his kindness, his patience—and his generosity.”

Reflecting on the meaning of libraries throughout history, past Academy president Jaroslav Pelikan, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University, observed that “in an Academy that uniquely brings together scientists, scholars, and public intellectuals, it is fitting that the Library should bear the name of one who has been all three, and each with great distinction.”

The speakers at the dedication were introduced by J.P. Barger, president of JPB Enterprises, chair of the Academy’s Budget Committee, and a friend and colleague of Leo Beranek for more than two decades. In Barger’s words, “no one has been a more dedicated supporter of education and the arts in the city of Boston, and no one has done more to take the Academy to the new heights it is reaching, than Leo Beranek.”

Kenneth Stevens, C. J. LeBel Professor of Electrical Engineering at MIT, recalled the years following World War II, in which he studied and worked with Beranek on the intelligibility of processed speech— one of the many areas in which Beranek advanced the field of acoustics. Beranek’s scientific work ranged from World War II research on military voice communication to the development of the nation’s first airport noise standards to pathbreaking contributions in the design of major concert halls and opera houses in the United States, Europe, and Japan. In 1948 Beranek cofounded the acoustics firm of Bolt, Beranek and Newman, redirecting its efforts to the burgeoning computer field. He assembled the team that built the first packet-switched computer network, the ARPANET, precursor of the Internet.

Paul La Camera, president and general manager of television channel WCVB, spoke of Beranek’s decision in the 1960s to take on a new challenge to improve the quality of commercial television in Boston. In 1971 Beranek became president and CEO of Boston Broadcasters, Inc, which then operated WCVB. During the next decade, he set about to enrich local programming by strengthening both the news and entertainment divisions of the station with in-depth reporting on political issues, social developments, and cultural events. The new standard he set for local stations across the country was recognized by the New York Times in a 1981 article entitled “Some Say This Is America’s Best TV Station.”

Edward C. Johnson III, chairman and CEO of Fidelity Investments, has worked with Beranek in support of Boston’s cultural organizations, as well as on the Academy’s financial committees. As Johnson noted, “blending his love of music, his knowledge of acoustics—and his natural gifts for understanding the physics of human interaction—Beranek served the Boston Symphony as vice president, chairman of the board of trustees, and leader of the successful fundraising effort that marked the Symphony’s 100th anniversary.” To the Academy, he brought a more effective approach to program development; a younger, more diversified membership; and a comprehensive plan to ensure a sound fiscal future. In summary, Johnson observed that “for over fifty years, in war and in peace, in academia, in business, with charitable organizations, and in our community, Leo Beranek has made a difference.”

Following these presentations, Emilio Bizzi returned to the podium to present Beranek with the Scholar-Patriot Award of the Academy, honoring individuals who share the founding fathers’ vision of “promoting useful knowledge in service to society.” The citation reads as follows:

Leo L. Beranek

Your contributions to society are manifold. Your scientific work strengthened this nation’s defenses in World War II, laid the foundation for the Internet, and enhanced the sound and splendor of concert halls and opera houses throughout the world. Your leadership of Bolt, Beranek and Newman, Muller-BBM GmbH, and Boston Broadcasters, Inc., set a high standard of innovation, excellence, and integrity. Your untiring service on behalf of educational and cultural institutions has earned you the respect and gratitude of all those who value the life of the mind and spirit. Master of acoustics, farsighted entrepreneur, dedicated public servant, steadfast patron of culture, you embody the joyous union of the arts and sciences. Your vibrancy reverberates through everything you do - and resonates in everyone you touch. We honor your outstanding commitment to science, the community, the nation, and the world. Awarded this twelfth day of September, two thousand.

James O. Freedman, President

Expressing his appreciation to the speakers and to all those in attendance, Leo Beranek made these observations about his forty-eight years as a Fellow of the Academy:

I have been fortunate to be exposed to the ways the Academy can serve the national and international community, yet I have also learned how costly it is to carry out studies and to communicate new information in these days of instant publication and the Internet. My gift to the Academy arises from these considerations and comes from my heart. I hope that it will inspire others to join me in supporting its work. I believe that you and I could not make a more worthy investment. In my research and teaching and then in my business activities, I have been fortunate to be able to recruit and manage creative people. But this Academy has given me the even greater joy of working with creative people from so many different fields and professions and with a wonderful and dedicated staff. They have enriched—and continue to enrich—my life immeasurably.

The dedication concluded with a reception and an invitation to view the beautiful plaque mounted above the fireplace in the Leo L. Beranek Library—“a reminder,” as Leslie Berlowitz said, “for those of us associated with the Academy—now and in the future—of all that Leo has accomplished in a lifetime that spanned the past century and of all that he has done to bring us into this new century.”