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"Car Talk" host Tom Magliozzi ’58 left us laughing

Tom Magliozzi ’58, who died Nov. 3, was a famed co-host of NPR's "Car Talk" with his brother, Ray Magliozzi '73, as well as a professor, consultant, and MIT Commencement speaker.
“Being unencumbered by the thought process” leads to greater happiness, Magliozzi told 1999 MIT graduates.
“Being unencumbered by the thought process” leads to greater happiness, Magliozzi told 1999 MIT graduates.

Photo: Donna Coveney
Video still from the Magliozzi brothers' <a href=>1999 MIT Commencement speech</a>.
Video still from the Magliozzi brothers' <a href=>1999 MIT Commencement speech</a>.

In the MIT Online Alumni Directory, Tom Magliozzi ’58 listed his job title as "Big Kahuna at Dewey Cheetham & Howe," the fictional Harvard Square law firm that fronted his long-running radio show "Car Talk," co-hosted with brother Ray Magliozzi ‘73. Although reruns will continue to keep us laughing, Tom died on Nov. 3 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

At the 1999 MIT Commencement, Tom Magliozzi shared his research that he claimed provided evidence that “being unencumbered by the thought process” leads to greater happiness.

"Car Talk" made him a household name, at least to National Public Radio fans, for his self-deprecating humor, his delight in bantering with his brother, and the insights they dug out of callers who plied the brothers with automotive quandries. The conversations may have begun with a rattle in a beloved vintage car or advice from a caller about to move to Alaska with a convertible, but quickly moved to relationships, family negotiations, and quips. Who can forget the quips, “Life is too short to own a German car” or “Don’t drive like my brother”?

Aside from his radio persona, however, Tom Magliozzi was highly accomplished. Born in East Cambridge, Mass., he earned his MIT degree in economics, politics, and engineering, an MBA from Northeastern University, and, later, a PhD in marketing from Boston University. He famously quit a regular job after a near catastrophic car accident, and worked odd jobs and taught until he and his brother founded a do-it-yourself auto repair shop in 1973. After they were on an NPR panel of automotive experts in 1977, they converted the do-it-yourself shop into the Good News Garage and soon began their own radio show. Tom continued consulting and teaching during much of the 25-year "Car Talk" run. Live programming for the Peabody award-winning program ended in 2012.

In 1999 — a year after President Bill Clinton and AIDS researcher David Ho were featured MIT Commencement speakers — the brothers took the podium in Killian Court. Perhaps you’d think this would be their serious moment? Not so much. Promising to share research of groundbreaking importance, Magliozzi asked President Charles M. Vest and brother Ray to hold a large slide that showed the direct relationship between using the right brain and greater happiness.

“It’s almost a plot of intelligence vs. happiness, and the news ain’t good for you,” he noted.

Magliozzi offered the students a pathway to nirvana by repeating the mantra — emblazoned on a “Car Talk” flag — “on impediti ratione cogitatoni” or “unencumbered by the thought process.” Magliozzi explained: “If you repeat this mantra, everything slows down. Life slows down. Being unencumbered by the thought process allows you to identify and hear and see defining moments in your life, things that will change your life…”

And, of course, he did change his life and enriched many others with laughter. To see Magliozzi and his brother on that unforgettable day, watch their Commencement talk or read the transcript. Other glimpses into Magliozzi's life can be found in NPR’s salute and an obituary in The New York Times.

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