The Richard Hathaway I Knew
Published in the Montpelier Bridge, February 24, 2006
The most common remark I've heard about my friend Richard Hathaway since his death last September is that he was a far more interesting person than commemorative praise made him out to be. And I certainly agree.
The strongest impulse when somebody dies is to say how good he was -- good in a conventional sense. I suppose Dick did meet the standard measures of goodness, but that never mattered much to me. It certainly wasn't why I loved him. In fact, I told him on more occasions than I like to remember that his postures of morality were tiresome. And he would roll his eyes and say, "I know. I know. They come to me from my Republican background."
People who knew Dick from having three-minute conversations with him a few times a year tended to believe he never had anything bad to say about anybody. And that was about as wrong as any notion could be. Dick was a pretty good hater -- certainly not up to my standards -- but pretty good all the same. I remember that early in our friendship we went to hear a lecture by a professor from Dartmouth. Dick took an instant disliking to him, not so much because of any thing he said but because of his jacket. It was tweed and had elbow patches, and those were things that could win Hathaway's hostility for life. The truth about Dick's dislikes is that he was tremendously faithful to them. Twenty years after that lecture Dick would suddenly exclaim, and for no apparent reason, "Remember that bloody guy from Dartmouth with his elbow patches!"
Dick was, in a way, a colossal company man -- another part of his small town Republican chamber of commerce heritage. If anybody ever did anything unfaithful (from Dick's point of view) to any of the institutions for which we worked, Dick was down on him or her forever. We both taught in the Adult Degree Program at Goddard for long years and during that time many professors came through the program who weren't very good in responding to their students. To Dick, that was akin to treason and he never forgave them. He had nothing against criticizing the administration of an institution but he could not abide anyone's failing to live up to its ostensible purposes, especially, with respect to giving attentive service to students. Of the three colleges that housed the Adult Degree Program during his career he was most respectful of Norwich, even though he detested everything the leaders of Norwich stood for politically. But Norwich, for him, was a real college which insisted on a correct relationship with students. He always retained affection for Goddard, even though he came to view it as a flake machine and was glad the Adult Degree Program got away from it in 1981. His thoughts about the Union Institute, the Adult Degree Program's current home, must not be printed in a community newspaper.
Dick was the strangest combination of stinginess and generosity this planet has produced. He was in some ways astoundingly cheap. I remember once we were walking down the street in St. Augustine, where we had gone with another colleague to investigate setting up a program for prisoners in the penitentiary at Raiford, one the meanest places in the American prison system . It had been a tiring day, walking through what seemed like a hundred clanging gates, and we were in the mood for a relaxing supper. Dick turned, pointed across the street and said, "That looks like a good place." We followed his gaze, and there was a gleaming McDonald's. We persuaded him to go to a somewhat more sumptuous restaurant around the block, and when Dick went to the bathroom he came back doleful because he had been forced to dry his hands and face with a real cloth towel. Yet, for all of his bargain-basement mentality, he was the most generous man I have ever known, who would do anything for his friends and his students.
I could go on with stories about Dick for a very long time. But there's not space enough for them here. Maybe I can summarize by saying he was a perfect eccentric, self-contradictory in so many ways you could never count them up. And that, along with his astounding vitality, was what made him lovable. It all added up to a gigantic personality that was inspiring and frustrating in about equal degree. His famed office, packed with piles more disorderly than anything else I have seen, was a source of pride to him. But he also recognized it as a product of a psychological disease, which ate up far too much of his life. And yet it was a genuine representation of him.
I fussed at him more than perhaps I should and occasionally he hit back pretty sharply. But mostly he just sat and grimaced at me. We drove thousands of miles together in the same vehicle, spent many nights together in ratty motels and on a few occasions in pleasant places too, drank countless cups of coffee in one another's company, and had about a million arguments in which, I now see, victory was divided between us about equally. Now that he's gone, I am anguished that we can't do it all over again.
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