I was impressed (and moved) with the descriptions of aspects of Leslie’s life and personality that underscored what an extraordinary human being he was.
Brent had extraordinary sensitivity to the people whose lives crossed his own: childhood friends from his Berlin Jewish orphanage days; fellow Kindertransporters; classmates at his English boarding school; as well as colleagues from the army, university, and research committees. What happened to them and their families meant a lot to him. Friendships were also uniquely important. He worked at maintaining current ones, rekindling lost ones, and initiating new ones even in old age. When he became aware of someone whom he did not know but who shared a unique circumstance in his life (usually Kindertransport or Holocaust related), he sought them out to initiate a friendship that lasted a lifetime.
Doing good is another human theme that permeated all of Brent’s activities. He verbalized that probably because he never had his own parents to care for in old age, he felt an urge to help elderly and needy people in his own orbit. He aided, helped, and frequently physically cared for his friends, in-laws, neighbors — even his illustrious mentor — during their physical declines, sicknesses, and terminal illnesses. This theme extended to all aspects of his life. He invariably supported the underdog and controversial, less popular causes: establishment of the first AIDS clinic at St. Mary’s Hospital; dealing with climate change and global warning; opposition to the Iraq war; extensive involvement in liberal local politics; support for human rights; and opposition to racial, sexual, and gender bigotry are just a few examples.
Leslie Brent was very proud of his Jewish heritage. When he volunteered for the British army, he was advised to change his name because he could be shot as a spy if captured. He randomly selected Leslie Brent as his new name but never changed it back after the war. This was apparently a source of discomfort for him and late in life, he took his original surname (Baruch) as his middle name. He was a proud supporter of the State of Israel yet was a very even-handed advocate for peace in the Middle East and for justice for the Palestinians. One of his 2 favorite charities noted in his obituary to memorialize him was Medical Aid for the Palestinians. Related to this final theme underscoring his humanism is the dramatic lack of all-consuming bitterness to those responsible for the Holocaust and the tragedy that was visited on his family. He describes his reaction to the extraordinary destruction of Berlin he found at the end of the war: “…it was impossible for me not to feel pangs of compassion watching a poorly clothed and clearly hungry and wan (German) woman picking through ruins in the hope of finding something of use.” Late in life, he always made a special effort to compliment and praise various governments and peoples for their efforts to accept responsibility and reconcile for previous abhorrent actions.
Leslie Brent was not only an extraordinary scientist but also a truly remarkable and wonderful human being.