There was an excellent article by Lee Benson in Sunday’s Deseret News about my brother Lars Peter Hansen (Nobel Prize laureate in economics). The following is from the Q&A session:
DN: What was the [Nobel Prize] ceremony like in Sweden?
LPH: In Stockholm you’re treated like a celebrity. You’re there for a week, you have you own escort (and) your own private chauffeur. I wasn’t even allowed to open the car door. But we had some bad luck there. Two hours after I gave my talk I got sick. They assigned a Nobel doctor who attended to me and I got through the week but that slowed us up a little bit. When I got back to Chicago I was diagnosed with viral pneumonia. I was very, very sick most of December. Our plans of having a nice ski break over Christmas got upended. One person described it to me as the yin and yang: win a Nobel prize, get viral pneumonia. It’s the sickest I’ve been in my whole life, but I’m feeling better now.
DN: If your father were alive, how do you see him reacting to your win?
LPH: Pleased, obviously, and I’d have to add he’d be particularly pleased to see a graduate of Utah State University excel academically. He spent a big chunk of his career there and was completely committed to the university.
DN: You’ve been very open in interviews about not being a stellar student at Logan High School. What do you remember about those years?
LPH: I’m what some people would call a faculty brat. I’m the son of an academic. My father was at various universities and then he became provost [academic vice president] at Utah State University when I was 16. It was culture shock for me. My two years (at Logan High) were a bit rocky, my grades were erratic, I brought home a report from one class with double check marks, “Does not respect authority.” I wasn’t a particularly happy student. My parents were incredibly patient with me. It’s important to allow for late-bloomers, and I think of myself as a late-bloomer.
DN: What changed when you got to Utah State?
LPH: Utah State admits a lot of people, but it allows you to pursue whatever you desire. You could be a lazy student at Utah State and not accomplish much or you could also find that education is special and there’s an opportunity there. It had a big influence on me. You don’t have to be this incredibly motivated high school student and get to a private school to succeed. The public school system has the ability to accomplish special things.
DN: What provided the spark for you at Utah State University?
LPH: There were many professors there who influenced me in different ways. One taught me how to appreciate the value of mathematics and the beauty of it. That was Mike Windham, a very gifted teacher. There was another one, a European history teacher, Doug Alder, now at Southern Utah. He gave me this advice: He said, “Look at your talents, figure out what you’re really interested in and do that.” That had a big influence on me. Another professor, Bartell Jensen, designed an accelerated curriculum to get me ready for graduate school. I could list others, too. I think my worst quarter at Utah State was better than my best quarter at high school.
Note: I sent an email to Lee Benson thanking him for the fine article. He emailed back the following:
I got to meet your brother a couple of weeks ago at Snowbird. What a fascinating guy! I have to share a quick story. We were in the lobby of the Cliff Lodge doing the interview and my last question was if he’s gotten so famous that people recognize him on the street. He said no, not really, sometimes people will stare at him and try to place the face but that’s about it. Then, as if on cue, a guy who had been sitting in the next set of seats said, “Are you Lars Peter Hansen?” Turned out he was a professor of some sort from USC and a student of Nobel Prize winners. He not only knew who he was but asked if he could get his picture taken with him. So I took one with my camera, which I’ve enclosed, along with another one I took.