Paul Serge Lorris
April 26, 1935 – May 7, 2022
Paul S. Lorris, of Boston, MA and East Setauket, NY died on May 7, 2022, in St. Helena’s Island, SC, at age 87 of congestive heart failure. He leaves behind his beloved wife of 35 years, Barbara Mayer Lorris; three daughters; two brothers; two grandchildren; a brother-in-law; and many friends.
Paul was a loving, giving, complicated man, a study in contrasts: a Harvard physicist who did important energy research and spent the last years of his career happily driving a cab.
He was a man of great intelligence, intense curiosity, tremendous competence, and strong opinions which he was never shy expressing. Both a student and teacher of life, he sought answers through better questions and applied critical thinking in a heartfelt way. He was as quick to compliment as to complain, believing that you had no right to do the latter if you didn’t do the former.
Paul lived his life according to Elbert Hubbard’s 1899 essay, “A Message to Garcia.” (If you don’t know it, in Paul’s famous words: “look it up.”) His commitment to action and attention to detail were captured in the military adages “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” and “P-to-the-sixth” (“proper planning prevents p*ss poor performance”).
He was a colorful raconteur with a quick (and occasionally inappropriate) sense of humor and an expansive recall of minute detail. A proud curmudgeon, he could be cantankerous and prickly and at the same time a dear and loyal friend and companion. He could alienate with a cutting remark and give love so generously and unconditionally that he transformed even the most snappish rescue dog into a cuddlebug.
He was an avid reader, a dedicated Red Sox and Patriots fan and could grill steak or roast meat like nobody’s business. He drank and smoked too much and lived life to its fullest.
Paul had a discerning eye for quality, an “educated consumer” well before the magazine that was his secular bible popularized that term. He demanded perfection, and had no tolerance for pretense or artifice. He prided himself on his “finely tuned” detector of nonsense, though he used a more colorful term.
His knack for real estate – whether buying a family home, a rental property, or a fixer-upper to flip – enabled him to live comfortably. He earned sweat equity with his talents for carpentry, construction, plumbing, general contracting, and landscaping. He always lived near water, and some of his happiest times were spent boating, a pastime he enjoyed throughout his life, sailing in the Caribbean, fishing on the Long Island Sound, or navigating South Carolina’s Low Country bayous.
Paul was the best father he could be to his three daughters, investing his love and resources in times of need. A child at heart he stressed the importance of being “child-like, not childish.”
He loved the women in his life deeply and remained friendly with his exes. He was a dedicated friend, keeping in touch by phone and sharing the occasional cartoon or news clipping. “It wasn’t always easy being his friend, but he was loyal. I went years without seeing him, but never without hearing from him,” said a longtime friend, Melissa Sutherland. Beaufort neighbor Don Mead, who cooked Paul a birthday dinner two weeks before he died, echoed that sentiment. “I learned a lot from Paul about how to be a friend,” he said.
Paul and his wife, Barbara, moved to the Beaufort area in 2003. There he continued his lifelong commitment to political action and social justice and was proudly blue in a solidly red state. He taught chess to local children, played contract bridge regularly until his health declined and enjoyed shopping almost daily at Publix where he was warmly greeted by the butcher, baker, wine manager, and all of the cashiers.
Paul Serge Lorris was born April 26, 1935 in Cleveland, Ohio, to Serge Gregory Lorris and the former Olga Papruck. His parents divorced when he was young. Paul grew up in Cambridge, MA, during the Great Depression. He had a difficult childhood, living briefly in foster care so his mother could work full time. His mother and grandmother later operated a boarding house where he lived, meeting tenants who helped shape and enrich him. He had fond memories of visiting his grandmother’s farm in Keene, NH.
Paul learned Russian from his immigrant parents — a skill that would come in handy years later when he served in the US Army in Cold War West Germany.
Paul attended Cambridge Latin High School and was accepted at both MIT and Harvard. He chose Harvard, breaking the heart of his father, a metallurgist who was convinced that MIT was the only place to get a superior science education. He entered Harvard as a member of the Class of 1957 and studied physics and engineering. He remained friends until his death with several of his classmates, and was enormously proud to attend his 60th reunion in 2017.
Paul enlisted in the Army and after boot camp was sent to language school in San Francisco. He was then assigned to West Germany to work as a Russian translator. (Or was he a spy? He’d never say for sure.) He, his wife, Bettina Silver Lorris, and their daughter Mara lived there until shortly after the Berlin Wall went up in 1961. He was honorably discharged in 1963 after the family moved to Watertown, MA and a second daughter, Elizabeth, was born.
Paul worked for the Education Development Center, developing science curricula and educational toys for elementary school children. As one of the few people on the team who had young children, Paul would bring home playthings under development and watch carefully as his children figured out how to use them. “Children are natural teachers,” he used to say.
Shortly after his third daughter, Rebecca, was born in 1967, a job doing Department of Defense research at the State University of New York in Stony Brook brought the family to a sprawling house on the Long Island Sound. They had a small fishing boat with a fast inboard motor and spent many happy hours clamming for cherrystones, fishing for blues, collecting lobsters, and taking summer trips to Block Island.
Among the interesting items he brought home from work were a weather balloon to launch from their backyard and a skeleton that lived on the porch. He had a cow’s femur labelled “Contention,” and would playfully trade it back-and-forth with his colleagues when they had “a bone to pick” with each other.
The Stony Brook campus, like many universities in the late 1960s, was roiled by anti-war protests. Paul wore a dashiki and mustache and sympathized with the protesters. When rioting students overturned several cars, they apologized after realizing one of them was his.
While at Stony Brook Paul earned a master’s degree in education and taught. Both he and Tina, who worked in the computer sciences lab, were active in the university community and worked to build its first childcare center, a radical idea at the time.
Paul also developed children’s science curricula. An avid amateur photographer, Paul took beautiful family photographs and taught a generation of children to explore the world through a photographic lens in his class, “Kids, Cameras, & Community:” Children were given cameras, told to shoot a roll of film, and develop the pictures themselves. He also designed an American history curriculum that used primary source documents rather than a textbook, a novel approach at the time.
In 1973 the family moved to Washington, DC, where Paul worked for the National Science Foundation and served on the Presidential Science Advisor’s Energy Research and Development Task force, an especially important role during the Arab oil embargo.
In 1974 Paul returned to Long Island, where he worked first at Brookhaven National Labs, and then as an administrator at Dowling College. It was here that he met Stuart Diamond, who became a mentee and lifelong friend, and with whom Paul co-wrote “It’s in Your Power: The Concerned Energy Consumer’s Survival Kit.”
In 1979 Paul moved back to Cambridge, where he worked for Action for Boston Community Development, an urban development agency, doing weatherization and energy conservation projects for housing and municipal buildings. He left ABCD in the early 80’s, and began driving a cab. It was a perfect fit thanks to his love of driving, people, storytelling, and the Boston area. Prior to relocating to the warmer climes of South Carolina, he and Barbara lived for many years in Norwell, MA, in a log cabin house that he built himself.
Paul was fiercely proud of his own brand of non-theism, but he did own a Bible; after his death it was found on an antique table next to his desk, open to Proverbs 31, which honors a virtuous woman — a testament to his love for Barbara.
She survives him along with his daughters, Mara Lorris of Wilmington, NC, Elizabeth Lorris Ritter (Barry) of New York City, & Rebecca Buchanan also of Wilmington; brothers Gregory Serge Lorris (Celia) of Beaufort, SC & Peter Harley Lorris (Julie) of Charleston, SC; brother-in-law Arthur Davis Silver (Robin Ritterhoff) of Bethesda, MD; grandchildren Bettina Seliber (Brian) of Washington, DC & David Ritter (Carrie Brandt) of New Haven, CT; and his dog, Rocco.
Paul was predeceased by his first wife, Tina, in 1986; a sister, Alexandra Ruggieri, in 2009; and a grandson, Sean Jenkins, in 2018.
Internment will be at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Barnstable County on his beloved Cape Cod.