Senator Claiborne Pell passed away on New Year’s day. The 90 year-old former Senator from Rhode Island is fondly remembered by the tens of millions of students who have been able to go to college thanks to the financial aid grants named in his honor.
Skeptics have their own reason to mourn the six-term Senator. He earned the nickname “Senator Oddball” from Time magazine for his obsession with ESP. The Washington Post‘s obituary explains that he earned the moniker because of:
a 1987 incident when, fearing an extrasensory perception gap with the Soviets, he invited carnival-level spoon bender Uri Geller to Washington to demonstrate his skills. Sen. Pell also attended a symposium on UFO abductions.
In addition, Pell hired a Senate staffer to investigate ESP.
During the 1990 campaign, the aide played speeches by Bush and other high officials on the topic of Iran backward. In doing so, Sen. Pell informed the secretary of defense, the word “Simone” had been discerned, and he described this as “a code word that would not be in the national interest to be known.”
“It sounds wacky but there may be some merit to it,” Sen. Pell commented. He told an interviewer later that the “Simone” issue “had not been helpful in the campaign.”
We will miss him for his steadfast efforts to make higher education available to everyone, for promoting the arts by creating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, for encouraging passenger rail, and for keeping us on our toes with his unskeptical pursuit of ESP and UFOs.