Dr. J. Karlem Riess, 1913-2005
New Orleans native John Karlem Riess transferred to Isidore Newman High School in seventh grade. There, someone said, "You know, you walk like a duck."
That was the end of his first two names. "Ducky" Riess would go on to spend more than 70 years roaming the Tulane University campus, a beloved professor of physics who, yes, walked like a duck.
Riess was the faculty advisor to fraternities for more than four decades, the university marshall who led countless graduation processions for 25 years, and a living legend at the home of the Green Wave.
In 1949, Dean of Students Jack Stibbs, one of Riess' best pals, made him the Greek advisor. That began a lifetime of friendships and associations with college kids -- and their wild parties and shenanigans.
In the classroom, Riess was a demanding professor, tough as nails, who brought out the best in students. As warden of the crazy fraternity houses, Riess was firm but more than tolerant of their occupants' partying lifestyle. He was always a staunch supporter of Greek life and truly believed fraternities enhanced college campus life.
He was also quite proud of being a member of the same church, St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian, for more than 70 years.
Riess' eyesight started to fail him 10 years ago and in the past couple of years, he began to lose his mobility. A bachelor, he lived with his sister Mary Riess on Audubon Boulevard near the Tulane campus. At the time Katrina struck, he was bedridden.
Riess' sister was airlifted by helicopter from their home, taken by helicopter to the airport, then on to Baton Rouge. She got in touch with a cousin and wound up in Asheville, N.C. His friends assumed Riess was brought to Baton Rouge also, but he was not. He was evacuated by plane to Shreveport on Sept. 4, and died en route.
"I had taken him to the Kappa Delta Phi honor society dinner in late March," said Riess' longtime friend Stanley Cohn. "His father founded it in 1905. He said he knew he would never live for the 100th anniversary celebration -- but he did. I think that was his last public outing."
Though Riess had lost his sight and use of his upper and lower extremities, "His brain was 100 percent clear," Cohn said. "He had his full mental capacity."
Riess was 92 when he died. "He truly was an icon," Cohn said.
Published in The Times-Picayune