boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe

George Flynn; child prodigy became researcher at Brown

When George P. Flynn was 2, he was already reading road signs and billboards during car trips with his parents. By the time he was 3, he was reading the newspaper. At 6, he was at seventh- and eighth-grade levels and reading everything.

In Warren, R.I., he was in first grade for a week before the school advanced him to second grade. Soon, his teachers wanted to promote him to third grade, but his playmate next door protested and George's family demurred, so they didn't.

"There was no doubt about it that George was a child prodigy," said his brother, Jack Flynn of Warren, R.I. "They tested his IQ, and he came in at a genius level."

Dr. Flynn, 68, who became a scientific researcher at Brown University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as an authority on science fiction, died of sepsis Sunday at Wingate at Brighton, a nursing home in Boston.

A Somerville resident for the past 10 years, Dr. Flynn had entered the nursing home three weeks ago after being hospitalized for a hip injury in a fall at home.

As a graduate student at Brown, he worked with Dr. John Ross on high-precision measurements of the viscosity of gases.

"George was just perfect in measurements and precision. The precision of his measurements has not been exceeded in the 40 years since," Ross said yesterday from Stanford University, where he is a professor emeritus. "George had the highest scholarship standards, a photographic memory, and he could smell a mistake or an error instantly."

In 1975, when Ross moved to MIT to continue his research, Dr. Flynn went with him. When Ross, a National Medal of Science winner, moved to California in 1979, Dr. Flynn stayed in Boston.

"I needed a job," he told Jack when Dr. Flynn found work as a proofreader and copy editor with Cambridge Prepress Service in Everett. Dr. Flynn stayed for 23 years, working up until several months ago.

The Everett job turned out to be rewarding for both Dr. Flynn and Prepress, which prints literary and financial material, as well as material for home electronic equipment.

"Georgie was a genius," said Carol Ciuffetelli of Stoneham, a colleague. "He was a true proofreader, a grammarian so well-versed in everything. He had such a keen eye. Nothing got by him."

Ciuffetelli recalled that when the firm was printing the newsletter for the Federal Reserve Bank, it was Dr. Flynn who found an error in one of its equations.

"Georgie could read for content as well as for typographical errors," she said. "He knew his stuff inside and out."

Dr. Flynn endeared himself to co-workers with his "sweetness," Ciuffetelli said.

"He never took advantage of anyone," she said. "If George ever raised his voice, he had good reason."

Outside of work, Dr. Flynn was active in science fiction groups for decades and was among the organizers of the 62d annual convention of the World Science Fiction Association, at the John B. Hynes Veterans' Memorial Convention Center in Boston.

As a member of the New England Science Fiction Association of Somerville, Dr. Flynn volunteered as a copy editor for its press branch.

"George copy-edited over 150 of our books," said Deb Geisler of Middleton, a member of the New England group and chairperson of the world convention.

"George was a gentleman and had the most amazing wit," Geisler said. "For our New England meetings, he was the single most important factor, running the business meetings as parliamentarian and involved with the book production. We never had a book we considered finished until he edited it."

Geisler said Dr. Flynn, who had planned to attend the convention, will be remembered along with other deceased members during a special program this week. Dr. Flynn was also a member of MIT's Science Fiction Society of Cambridge.

Dr. Flynn was born in Warren, the eldest of three sons of George P. Sr. and Anna M. (Brown), a business school graduate in the 1920s who worked as a secretary until she was 82.

When he was 6, the Providence Journal wrote about his brilliance. He was not quite 17 when he graduated from Warren High School in 1953, valedictorian of his class.

"I can't remember George ever getting a mark lower than A," his brother said, "but he never flaunted his intellect and his classmates took him as one of their own."

When he graduated from Providence College in 1957, summa cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in chemistry, Dr. Flynn was also class valedictorian. He was in the ROTC at Providence College. "All that physical activity was the furthest thing from his mind to do," Jack said, "but he did that and all the book work that went with it for two years and got an A."

After postgraduate study at Yale University, Dr. Flynn earned his doctorate in chemistry at Brown in 1961 while working in research with Ross.

In 1972, Dr. Flynn and Brown chemistry professor William Risen co-authored the textbook, "Problems for General and Environmental Chemistry." In 1975, Dr. Flynn moved to Cambridge to work with Ross at MIT, and they and two others authored the textbook, "Physical Chemistry" in 1980.

He was a lifelong collector of stamps and science fiction books and magazines. Among his possessions, his brother said, were some 10,000 books "between the house in Warren, which George still maintained, and the apartment in Somerville. I think George read every one of them. He was also a paper saver and kept Christmas cards as far back as 1975 along with mailings from political campaigns."

Dr. Flynn did not do much traveling until his 30s, his brother said, but once he became active with science fiction groups he went to conventions in this country and abroad, honing the languages he had taught himself: German, Russian, Hebrew, Spanish, French, and Italian. He could also argue political issues so well, he could win over an opponent.

When Jack Flynn, a former chief financial officer for Fleet Bank, ran for councilman in Warren, Dr. Flynn argued issues with him. "He was so convincing," Flynn said, "I used his rebuttals in my campaign and won. Not at all athletic, George would also be the most conversant in the room on the pennant race."

One thing Dr. Flynn could not do was cook. He never married, and without children of his own, he doted on his nine nieces and nephews and 10 grandnieces and grandnephews.

Besides his brother Jack, Dr. Flynn leaves another brother, Thomas E. of Bristol, R.I.

A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Mary of the Bay Church in Warren. Burial will be private.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives