April 2, 2008: Letters
Letter Box Online
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Reading the feature about Norman Thomas 1905 in the Jan. 23 PAW brought me back to one of those wonderful Princeton moments.
It must have been in the fall of 1964, as I think it was during a presidential campaign. Mr. Thomas came to speak on campus, and about 100 undergrads squeezed into some small room; as a politics major, I was expected to be there, and I was. I had some modest sense of the role he had played in national politics, but my expectations were low. After all, he surely was old and tired, and I was young and brilliant.
He must have been in his early 80s, and he did not look well. It was obvious from the first moment that his eyesight was poor and his hearing was worse, dropping my expectations even further. And then he began to talk. It was stunning. This was a man whose mind had not lost a beat, whose memory and wit were fantastic, whose knowledge was prodigious. He handled a group of “sophisticated” young Princetonians as if we were a crop of clucking chickens. Always kindly, always with humor, but clearly in command of facts and of the room, he grasped the subtleties of national politics at a level so beyond mine that I could only marvel. And I will admit that my worldview of elderly people, a club whose membership is in sight for me today, changed on that night in an irreversible instant.
Mr. Thomas deserves his place in the top 25 for reasons of his many accomplishments and courage. But for me, he earned it that night in 1964.
JON HOLMAN ’66
The selection of Donald Rumsfeld ’54 for the 25th spot in a succession of notable Princetonians should be reconsidered. My opinion is shaped by the death of a 26-year-old cousin from a car bomb while on duty in Iraq. Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas Schiavoni — high school graduate, husband, father of two — lost his life in an unjust war as a proxy for our own privileged children whose affluence insulates them from the financial exigencies that keep America’s “all-volunteer” military humming.
After five years of chaos and carnage, we have become desensitized to the shock-and-awe helped along by an illustrious two-time defense secretary whose standing doubtlessly would be closer to the top if Princeton graduates were ranked for crimes against humanity.
THOMAS F. SCHIAVONI ’72
Re John Rawls ’43 *50, influential alumnus No. 4: Jack and I became friends on the freshman wrestling team. I knew he was smart, so I asked him if he could tell me what calculus was all about. Jack had a speech impediment, but got this out: “Simple. Take 10 steps from a wall. Turn around and walk toward the wall — but after the first step, take half for the next and half again and so on. Bob, you’ll never get to the wall. That’s calculus!” He sure influenced me. I never took calculus.
BOB FELDMEIER ’43
The recent issue dealing with “the most influential Princeton alumni ever” was read with great enthusiasm. To learn about them was educational, and reflects the thought given by the selectors in their evaluations. Overall, I’d give it a 1- (under the old grading system used when I was an undergraduate).
There was, unfortunately, one distressing inclusion — not of an individual making the select list, but in a write-up. It has to do with James Madison 1771, written by George Will *68, he of historical and baseball-writing fame. Mr. Will has another characteristic, one not worthy to be included in this otherwise fine collection of tributes. Behind that boyish look, the glasses, the bowtie, and soft-speak, lurks a writer with a very poisonous pen. Mr. Will could not, in his tribute to Madison, resist the opportunity to introduce a smear of Jimmy Carter. The comment was totally unnecessary, and did nothing to add to the plaudits for Mr. Madison. Shame on Mr. Will for spoiling an otherwise elegant and dignified issue of PAW.
ROBERT GIVEY ’58
Let me congratulate you on your most recent issue, “The Most Influential Princeton Alumni Ever.” I found the review deeply fascinating; however, I did find it somewhat incomplete. I must admit that I deeply resent the omission of myself, John Griffin ’99, and the influence that I’ve had on the school that must at least equal if not exceed those on your list.
Granted, I’ve never won a Nobel prize or “led the school,” or even gotten very good grades, as if that nonsense counts when it comes to being influential. Attached, please find a revised cover that I’ve taken the liberty of making for you. The wig was a bit scratchy, but what’s a little pain when it comes to correcting history? I trust you will correct this grievous error immediately.
JOHN GRIFFIN ’99
Re Princeton’s most influential alumni: I’m living proof that my four favorites —
• Robert Venturi ’47 *50, witty master builder to whom I aspire to emulate by day;
• Alan Turing *38, whose impenetrable originality is wax to my wick at twilight;
• Richard Feynman *42, with whom inversely squaring quanta renders no dream unimaginable at night;
• Philip Freneau 1771, for his rebellious patriotism championing liberty for each new day’s dawn.
— have indeed influenced the four corners of my personal 24/7 per a paper I’ve just completed in their honor, 30 years after graduating Princeton, theorizing everything (simultaneously “all for one” per Freneau’s independence and “one for all” per Feynman’s particle/save synchronicities).
Hence, I look forward to seeing how the list can no doubt evolve before I, too, match the current list’s runaway “dead white male” demographic.
CHRIS MORRIS *78
I am gratified that Bill Frist ’74 remains actively involved in important medical issues (cover story, Dec. 12), but puzzled by his continued association with Professor Uwe Reinhardt in this endeavor. Reinhardt has not been a friend to most Princeton physicians, especially those of us caring for sick patients in the present environment. He is part of the problem and not the solution to the health-care crisis in this country.
Reinhardt was an early advocate of managed care, which most agree is a flawed system. In a Wall Street Journal piece, “Managed Care Is Still A Good Idea” (Nov. 17, 1999), he advocated that HMOs keep statistical profiles of individual physicians’ practices in an attempt to reduce costs. He made no mention of the billions of dollars extracted from the U.S. health-care system to pay salaries of officers and directors of for-profit HMOs and hospital groups. At that time, Reinhardt himself was a paid director of a for-profit hospital group. Now that managed care has failed to reduce costs and has frustrated many patients and physicians, he seems to advocate a reworking of this flawed system by adding mandates, vouchers, and government subsidies.
The health-care crisis in this country has only been aggravated by self-serving political economists and politicians. More efforts are needed by dedicated physicians with the medical background and sensitivity to patients’ needs to address the many health-care issues in this country.
HOWARD J. ZEFT ’58, M.D.
So what is going on with Princeton sports? Despite a quality coaching staff and solid athletic administration, Princeton football suffers a losing season, placing ahead of only Cornell and Columbia in the Ivy League; men’s basketball extends its streak to 12, losing to Lehigh, which hadn’t beaten Prince-ton since the Great Depression; women’s basketball loses seven straight games; and wrestling has to forfeit three weight classes. Athletic teams must fill their rosters with talent to be successful. Could it be that admissions have taken a turn since the retirement of Dean Fred?
CLAY McELDOWNEY ’69
I would like to express my appreciation for the sampler of new spring courses in the Feb. 13 Notebook section. Just reading the course descriptions gave much food for thought, and the appended sample readings are sending me to the library to follow those thoughts. In a small way, I’ll be able to “audit” these courses at a distance.
GLORIA C. ERLICH *77
My father was the 1927 class secretary throughout my childhood and college years, and later the class president. I personally knew — and so liked — many members of the class, and knew about many more. And so it is with sadness that I read in the Feb. 13 PAW the obituary of Joe Henderson, one of two surviving members of the class. I subsequently learned that the last surviving member, Alvin Kephart, a distinguished Philadelphia lawyer and state senator, died in January. Where once they were 487 members strong, now there is none.
Thanks to the efforts of its class historian, Nelson Burr, 1927 produced over the years extensive histories of itself. Classmates certainly came from more homogeneous and privileged backgrounds than would be true today, but they were more diverse than one might assume. Upon graduation more than 20 percent went into manufacturing. Two years out of college, the Depression arrived. Fourteen years out, America entered the Second World War; 188 classmates served in uniform, and eight were killed. After the war, there was great social change. At the 20th reunion in 1947, 21 reported they were divorced, 44 remarried once, four remarried twice.
This was not a class of famous men. One was a congressman, and only a few were great business successes. A fair number were educators or public servants, and 152 became doctors or lawyers. But I do believe that one could not find a more honorable, public-spirited, and gracious group than the men of 1927. I salute them all. I know they would wish us well. They also would be very proud of Princeton today.
MALCOLM MACKAY ’63
Regular readers of PAW are aware that the secretaries of many of the Old Guard classes are non-classmates — a widow, son, grandchild, nephew, niece. I did just that for 1907, my grandfather’s class (George A. Brakeley 1907), for the last seven years of its existence, and it was a wonderful and rewarding experience. I would hear regularly from relatives of class members, and the University would send news about such things as 1907 scholarship recipients; there was always something to report.
I was not the first non-classmate secretary (the late George Vondermuhll ’35 had that honor), but I promoted the idea actively, and before long others appeared for other classes. Now, in my capacity as a member of the Alumni Council’s Class Affairs Committee, I am serving as secretary pro tem of the classes of 1928, 1931, and 1932. More to the point, I am looking for new secretaries for those three classes, be they widows, sons, grandchildren, or some other kin.
Provided one is fairly nimble with the computer, it is not much work at all. A few lines in each issue will suffice, and I stand ready to serve as coach and mentor to anyone who will step forth. I am happy to talk with anyone who is interested in hearing more. My mail and e-mail addresses can be found in those class columns in this and subsequent issues.
GEORGE A. BRAKELEY III ’61
While I can’t identify the students building the bonfire (From the Archives, Dec. 12), I can offer some comments on its construction, since I was there. This particular fire celebrated the fourth consecutive Big Three championship, achieved in 1950 by defeating Harvard 63–26 and Yale 47–12.
Normally the bonfire would have been built and celebrated on the Tuesday following the Yale game, but student pressure resulted in a postponement until Friday, the day before the Dartmouth game, so weekend dates could view the spectacle.
The problem with the postponement was that Friday night was the beginning of the famous Dartmouth weekend hurricane. Although the bonfire was lit, the celebration was dampened by this storm, which resulted in widespread loss of electricity in town and on campus and a game on Saturday that was played in a mud bowl with hurricane-force winds. Punts into the wind actually sailed back over the
kicker’s head. A whole new strategy of playing the game had to be devised. Although very much the better team, Princeton was lucky to win. Most fans, like me, could stick it out in Palmer Stadium for only one or two quarters.
DICK SNEDEKER ’51 *61
A memorial for Wolfgang Panofsky ’38 published in the Jan. 23 issue contained several errors. A corrected version appears in this issue on page 60.