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Taoist Thanksgiving

A moving post from Professor Sam Crane:

It is a perfect Thanksgiving morning here in Northwestern Massachusetts: a light snow, about 2 inches on the ground; a chill air; great conditions to be inside and cooking and eating all day. Aidan and I are here by ourselves, however. Maureen and Maggie are down in New York City, attending the famous parade. So, we will do the whole feast thing tomorrow. Today will be just about pie baking: I have a couple of small pumpkins to bake and make into a pie. If I feel ambitious, perhaps an apple pie will follow. That will make the house warm and comfortable.

We are supposed to be thankful today, and I am. But as I give thanks I can’t help wondering: for what am I giving thanks and to whom? As is my want, I fall back on Taoism to help clarify my thoughts. And, through that exercise, I come to a somewhat startling realization: I give thanks for Aidan and his profound disability. I know that sounds a bit bizarre – how could a parent be thankful for a child’s disability? – but, as I think through it, I am happy to say that I am.

Read the whole thing. Aidan left us three years ago, but his memory and spirit live on, not just in those who knew him personally but in all those touched my Sam’s writing. Try as hard as I might, I worry that I will never be half the father to my daughters that Sam was to his son.

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A Beautiful Family

Although Father’s Day usually calls for celebration at EphBlog — a time to remember and rejoice in all that our fathers have done for us — this year my thoughts return to the life and death of Aidan Crane.

Here is the eulogy that Professor Sam Crane gave for his son.

In fourteen years Aidan connected with more people than any one of us can know. He filled a large place in the world.

His effects on the people who met him were numerous and varied.

Aidan often brought out the good in people. This was especially true for the children around him. When he was in school here in Williamstown his classmates made him a part of their doings in countless ways. They knew he could not see, and that it was best to engage him through his sense of touch. Many a day it was, when he would come home from school and we would find flowers and pebbles and sticks and grass tucked in the crevices of his wheelchair, the daily evidence of how his friends had brought him things to feel and sense, to connect him to their surroundings

He also moved many of the adults who encountered him. I remember some years ago, we were up in Manchester. We rolled into a little restaurant to have some lunch. Maureen went up to the counter to order some food. I stayed with Aidan and Maggie, who was then just an infant. We ate. It was all fairly normal. But then a man, who had been sitting at a nearby table, got up and came over. A complete stranger. And, out of the blue, he said he had noticed us, and what a beautiful family we were, and how lucky we were to have each other. This was Aidan’s work. Aidan had inspired him.

And Sam Crane inspires me and, I am sure, many other Eph fathers. May we all be the sort of fathers to our children that Sam is to his.

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Thanks, Pop

Lest it get lost in the comments on Friday’s thread, Jeff Zeeman’s reference to a New York Times article by Ben Stein deserves its own post.

My father entered Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., in September 1931. The United States was entering the downswing of a small uptick at the beginning of what would be the worst industrial depression in history.

My father had an unemployed father (a former skilled tool-and-die maker) and a mother who worked as a sales clerk at a department store in Schenectady, N.Y. He had no money, no financial reserves, no social connections.

He told me of many jobs while he was at Williams, but one stays in my memory a dozen times a day, especially when I am working by traveling through a dismal, endless security line or waiting in a line to check into a hotel or noticing that my bed in my new hotel has a ripped sheet and is next to a noisy air-conditioner.

My father had a job thanks to a kindly man named Taylor Ostrander at a fraternity called Sigma Psi. My father’s job was to wash dishes in the basement of the frat house as the other boys finished their lunches and dinners. (One of the boys, Richard Helms, went on to be director of the C.I.A., but that’s another story.) He toiled down there at a huge sink, with steam rising and detergent getting on his unimaginably soft hands. He wore a stocking cap to keep his already curly hair from going crazy.

It was the 1930’s, and Jews weren’t allowed in any fraternity at Williams. Many years later, maybe in the 1980’s, by which time my father had become a major economist and public policy discussant, I asked him if he felt angry about having to wash dishes to pay his way through school in a fraternity that didn’t admit Jews. “Not at all,” he said. “I didn’t have the luxury of feeling aggrieved. I was just grateful to have a job so I could go to one of the best schools in the country.”

Stein has written other articles about his father’s experience at Williams, the most famous of which concerned his father’s 50th (?) reunion. That article was re-printed in the Alumni Review, but I can’t find a copy anywhere.

Then I spoke to about 500 widows, widowers, mothers, fathers, fianc�es of men who had been killed in the war on terror. They were totally devoted to one another and to helping one another through their grueling losses. They were probably the most spiritually fit, unselfish human beings I have ever met. One showed me the contents of his son’s wallet when his son was killed. A dollar bill still had a blood stain on it. The father cried when he showed it to me. Be grateful that the armed forces of this country have such brave families.

AS I told them, we could do without Hollywood for a century. We could not do without them and their sacrifice for a week. Gratitude. As my pal Phil DeMuth says, it’s the only totally reliable get-rich-quick scheme. Gratitude. Losing the luxury of feeling aggrieved when, if you look closely, you have an opportunity. My father washed dishes at the Sigma Psi house so that he could build an education and a life for the family he did not even have yet.

At my house, I always insist on doing the dishes, and I feel a thrill of gratitude for what washing a dish can do with every swipe of the sponge. Wiping away the selfishness of the moment, building a life for my son. The zen of dishwashing. The zen of gratitude. The zen of riches. Thanks, Pop.

I did the dishes myself last night, as my father did after so many week-end meals during my youth. Indeed, he still does the dishes when we visit my parents in the house in which I grew up.

Thanks to Eph fathers everywhere.

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Birthdays and Fathers

Eric Smith ’99 wishes his father a posthumous Happy Birthday. My own father (class of ’58) is in town for an 18 hour visit. Swim in the hotel pool with the granddaughters, dinner with the family, perhaps a little snowman-making tomorrow morning — although Mom will probably be in charge of that.

Such a brief visit can be taxing for all concerned, of course. Leave work early, pick up the kids, remember their bathing suits, find parking, and so on. But the classic song to keep in mind is Cats in the Cradle.

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon,
Little boy blue and the man in the moon.
“When you coming home, son?” “I don’t know when,
But we’ll get together then, dad.
You know we’ll have a good time then.”

No. We’re going to have a good time now.

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Otis ’77 new CEO of Darden

Great article about former Williams trustee (and CEO of Darden Restaurants) Clarence Otis ’77.

Otis was an unlikely choice in the eyes of some Wall Street observers to replace the retiring patriarch, considering his financial, rather than operational, background.

But Darden’s former chief financial officer did serve a two-year stint starting in 2002 at the helm of the company’s Smokey Bones barbecue unit, which doubled in size under his direction.

He is a decided change of pace for the company and its 141,000 employees. During a recent interview, Otis balked at discussing himself or his past, saying he didn’t want the spotlight during this important time of change at Darden.

I can’t think of an Eph who has more people working for him than Otis does. He is one of only three Ephs in charge of a S&P 500 company. The other two are Mayo Shattuck ’76 of Constellation Energy and Henry Silverman ’61 of Cendant.

Fans of the web of Eph influence will note that Otis serves on the board of St. Paul Travelers, along with trustee Robert Lipp ’60 and Dean Nancy Roseman. Lipp, chair of the executive committe of the board of trustees (i.e., lead trustee in charge) is almost certainly the person who recruited Otis (and Roseman) to the board.

There is nothing wrong with that, of course. Indeed, part of Lipp’s job as chairman of Travelers is to find smart, hard-working folks like Otis and Roseman to recruit to the board of directors. But critics of, say, George W. Bush’s business career should note that personal relationships play a role for everyone.

Indeed, one of the quips back in the day was that the main thing that we learned at Williams was how to make conversation aroun the keg. There was more than a little truth to that, of course. But what I didn’t realize till many years later is that being able to make conversation around the keg is a critically important skill in the business world.

Although I have never met Otis (or Lipp, Silverman, Shattuck, et al), I feel certain that he is a charming, engaging, personable fellow. It is almost impossible to climb to the top of a large company without these sorts of people skills, as well as many other talents.

So, current Ephs should be sure to spend a lot of time standing around the keg and making conversation this Winter Study. Your future success in the business world depends on it!

The whole article is a great read, but, for me, the best part is:

Family and friends describe Otis as intelligent, humble and driven to succeed.

His father, Clarence Otis Sr., 72, remembers the day he picked up the phone to hear the news of his son’s promotion at Darden: “I finally made it to the top, dad,” his son told him.

Otis is not the only Eph who hopes to impress his father some day.

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Clapp Family

David Clapp ’77 sent in a note about a recent posting.

I was just browsing through the Ephblog and saw your note on the passing of my father, Charles ’45. I’ll confirm that I am indeed class of ’77 and my sister Nancy was ’87. Dad’s father, John B. Clapp was class of 1918 and my son, Sam, is class of 2006; my wife, Susan was also ’77 so you could consider us somewhat of a Williams family.

Williams was very special to Dad. He served as a class agent and organized his 25th reunion. He traveled back to Williamstown innumerable times; the last was the fall of ’02 when Sue and I took him up to celebrate Sam’s 18th birthday. His classmate, Art Nims, with whom he served on the US Tax Court, spoke at his memorial service where we also sang “The Mountains”. In the reception line afterwards, a Wesleyan alum pointed out his purple and gold tie worn in Dad’s honor; I think that says a lot.

He was a remarkable guy and we miss him a lot.

Again, condolences to all. All of us should be spending more time with our fathers.

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