No time like the New Year for fresh starts. Here is one for my professor, James MacGregor Burns ’39.

After more than 20 books, a Pulitzer Prize and many other honours for his work on the executive and legislative branches of government, 89-year-old historian James MacGregor Burns is ready for a new subject.

“I’m working on the politics of the Supreme Court,” he says, seated in a small armchair in his converted farmhouse, a sunny, cluttered, book-filled loft just down the road and up the hill from Williams College, where he studied as an undergraduate and later taught for decades.

“I felt I had treated presidents and Congresses a lot, and here was this other branch I didn’t know that much about. I had a feeling it would be even more political than I expected, and it is.”

He is white-haired and wide-eyed, an ever curious scholar dressed smartly in khakis and a striped shirt for this afternoon interview. Although clearly slowed by age, he remains active enough that when his car broke down in town earlier in the day, he walked back home, uphill, for more than a mile.

The climb up Bee Hill is not an easy one, at age 89 or earlier.

Read the whole article. I last chatted with Professor Burns two year ago, at a conference in his honor at Harvard. He was slowed by age, as are we all, but still the same charming, empathetic teacher that he was 20 years ago. I was lucky enough to be a member of the last class he taught at Williams. He held office hours in Stetson and I would climb those winding stairs to his aerie at the building’s back for hours of conversation. Which professor took over his office? Did he care for his students as much as Professor Burns cared for us?

The same day that I saw Burns, I drove to Williamstown and had a fun conversation with a member of the class of 2009, a young man with all of Burn’s energy and committment but seven decades younger. Talking with two such talented Ephs, seperated by nothing except time, brings home the connection that binds all Williams graduates together.

Happy New Year to all the Ephs!

Print  •  Email