Danny Hillis, co-founder of Applied Minds and The Long Now Foundation, closed the day with a moving tale of his own friendship with Feynman. As a young grad student at MIT, he approached Feynman for suggestions about any promising proteges who might be interested in working with Hillis at his then-fledgling company, Thinking Machines, to build a parallel supercomputer. Feynman offered to collaborate himself, and spent several summers in Boston with Hillis working on the project.
But one year, Feynman couldn't make the trip, and Hillis visited the physicist in Pasadena instead. They went hiking in the hills, Feynman cracking his usual jokes - only this time, they were all about his ongoing chemotherapy treatments. Hillis found it difficult to laugh, and Feynman finally asked what was wrong.
"Well, I'm sad that you're dying," Hillis replied.
Feynman nodded. "Well... I'm sad too. But you know, when you reach my age, you realize the things you've said and done have made an impact on other people, and that some day, even though you're gone, you will continue to exist through them and through what they do."* Hillis didn't need to drive home his point to the packed Beckman Auditorium. We were all there because the things Feynman said and did still resonate with us today.