Retired Technician Endows Packer-Bayliss
By Timothy P. Cross
PHOTO: ABIGAIL FRANKLIN
touching and generous gesture, retired technician Jerome
Packer, who worked as a member of the Columbia staff for 44
years, has endowed a permanent scholarship at the College that will
honor disabled alumnus Geoffrey Bayliss '82, who had worked
with Packer in a Pupin laboratory while a student.
Packer began working for Columbia in 1956 in the Pegram
Laboratory, which was next to Pupin Hall, and later became foreman
of the lab's electronics shop. In the 1970s, professors Alan Sacks
and Robert Novick recommended him for a position in the Pupin
physics laboratory. As Pupin's senior electronic technician, Packer
helped set up experiments in the lab, regularly supervised as many
as five work-study students, and became friends with a generation
of students and professors. "I feel like I was part of the
machinery of the school, part of the family," says Packer,
betraying his technical background.
Bayliss worked in the physics lab with Packer for four years.
Packer used to call him "Sir Lancelot" because of the student's
courtly demeanor and remembers how Bayliss helped another student
establish the Hartley on Rye delicatessen in Hartley Hall. Bayliss,
an architecture major who painted and sculpted, was planning on
becoming an architect, not a physicist, but he took to working in
the lab with Packer.
his classmates may remember, Bayliss's plans to become an architect
were cut short the day after his 1982 graduation, when the van in
which he was riding collided with a tractor-trailer on the
Massachusetts Turnpike. The collision took the lives of his
girlfriend, Rebecca Hyde, and his classmate, Edward Brown
'82. Bayliss, who barely survived, spent nine months in a coma
followed by an extended stay in a New Hampshire rehabilitation
Through physical therapy, Bayliss eventually regained the
ability to walk, but the collision left him cognitively disabled
with permanent memory loss. In 1989, his family moved him to a
house in Gloucester, Mass., where he receives
24-hour-a-day assistance. According to Catherine Bayliss, his
sister and legal guardian, Bayliss now paints and does some
sculpting — including a small figurine he sculpted for Packer
to commemorate Packer's retirement from the physics lab in May
2000. He has also joined Local Colors, a Gloucester-area artists'
cooperative. Catherine says her brother has kept a love for the
College through all his trials.
Packer decided to make a gift to Columbia, he immediately thought
of Bayliss and "the hardship he had to go through" to make ends
meet while a student. Others, he recognized, are in the same
financial boat, and a scholarship seemed an ideal way to honor his
friend while addressing this need. Students receiving awards from
the Jerome Packer Endowed Scholarship Fund will be known as
"This gift betrays a generous heart," says Scott Taylor, gift
planning coordinator in the University Development and Alumni
Relations office. "It's an extension of the fond feelings for all
the students he has come to know over his years at
"This is wonderfully generous of Jerry," says Catherine
Bayliss. "It's quite an honor."
Packer hopes his gift will encourage members of the Class of
1982 to follow his lead and make contributions to the Annual Fund.
"Maybe more people will feel like I do," he says.