Heinrich Medicus, a nuclear physicist, philanthropist and Renaissance man who supported the arts, collected Egyptian antiquities and took time out to set a light-hearted world record for the distance a popped champagne cork flew, died Sunday. He was 99.
A native of Switzerland, Medicus was known for his enthusiasm for everything he did.
After studying physics in Zurich, he received a fellowship in 1950 to study in the United States where he conducted research at the University of California at Berkeley and MIT where he became an instructor. In 1955 he joined the faculty at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and remained a professor there until he retired.
Medicus moved comfortably among his students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, through the Capital Region's cultural groups and cherished a worldwide circle of friends.
"Heinrich was a great champion of all good things in our region. He was a generous donor to the orchestra and to many other cultural organizations as well," said David Alan Miller, director of the Albany Symphony.
The retired RPI physicist made headlines in 2014 with a $10 million donation to St. Peter's Health Partners in Troy.
"Heinrich Medicus was an extraordinary individual, and I loved talking to him. He was as refined as he was funny. He was fiercely intelligent, and had a very dry wit," said Dr. James K. Reed, president and CEO of St. Peter's Health Partners.
"In regards to his generous $10 million gift, Heinrich was not a hands-off kind of guy. He would tell me, 'I'm keeping an eye on you.' He was very involved, and wanted updates on the progression of our Master Facilities Plan," Reed said.
In a 2014 Times Union article about the donation, Medicus said, "I want this to inspire others to give."
Tammis Groft, executive director of the Albany Institute of History and Art, recalled Medicus' donation of his Egyptian collection, which doubled the museum's holdings.
"It was a spectacular collection and Dr. Medicus said with a twinkle in his eye, 'I thought you might like it and I would like to donate it to you so I can come over to see them on display in your Ancient Egyptian Galleries,'" Groft said.
Medicus' path to becoming a cornerstone of the Capital Region's educational, scientific, medical and cultural institutions led from Zurich, where he was born on Christmas Eve 1918.
While completing his doctorate at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, he discovered "the then smallest known nuclear energy level transition" that proved important in nuclear medicine.
That was described as his first world record, but he achieved a whimsical mark in 1988 when he set the record for distance traveled by a popped champagne cork at 177 feet, 9 inches, which still stands.
Medicus often returned to Europe to visit family.
"He loved Switzerland. He loved the nature. He loved the countryside," said the Rev. Alexandra Lusak, who traveled with Medicus to his homeland. "He was very kind and very generous."
Those who counted themselves among Medicus' friends recalled his taste for fine wines and Swiss chocolate.
"He was an early enthusiast for small wineries in the Hudson Valley. He was a charming colleague," said P. Thomas Carroll, who taught at RPI with Medicus.
Medicus' wife of 47 years, Hildegard Medicus, died in 2008. They had no children and are survived by nieces and their families.
A viewing will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Bryce Funeral Home, Inc., 276 Pawling Ave., Troy. The funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at the First United Presbyterian Church, 1915 5th Ave., Troy.
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