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A letter from an alumna about Remembering John B. Oakes '34

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of John B. Oakes '34. Though we only met once in 1973, his stature and courage at the forefront of the liberal establishment had made a big impression on me, and the world has lost an impassioned and compassionate intellect and friend.

We met at a reception at Princeton, where, as a sophomore, I had just finished nervously delivering a short presentation on undergraduate life to a group of very senior -- and quite intimidating -- alumni. Afterward, one of the older alumni came up to me and congratulated me on my speech "fine job," he said, "and so, young lady, what do you think about all this talk about a possible Nixon impeachment?"

"Well," I opined with new-found confidence to this new-found fan, whose name tag fell just below where my peripheral vision could see while looking respectfully at his face in response, "I think today's undergraduates may be somewhat more insightful about the situation than the editors of the editorial page of the New York Times who are constantly calling for his impeachment. After all, does the country have enough confidence in Gerald Ford to repair the damage done?"

In true measure of John B. Oakes's grace, class, and style, this fan removed his glasses, rubbed the bridge of his distinguished nose, grinned an ever-so-slight grin, replaced his glasses and said gently, "Young lady, do you know who I am?"

Despite the good sense that Fred Fox '39 had to yank me away from the encounter with a firm tug at the elbow ("You need a drink, let me get you one!" he cried.), Mr. Oakes - the editor of the editorial page of the New York Times! - followed us and pursued a line of questioning that only served to heighten my sense of respect for his intellectual curiosity. In a further demonstration of his compassion and humanity, I received a hand-written note from him two days later, expressing his gratitude for a healthy exchange of views -- and good luck in the future.

Eva Lerner-Lam '76
Tenafly, N.J.

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