Hansford Epes Retires, But Not as Teacher and Friend

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What can I say, on a personal note, about Hansford M. Epes, Jr., Davidson College Class of 1961, registrar and avatar for the life of the mind, mentor and dear friend?

No, really, what can I say without getting in trouble? Our best conversations have happened off the radar, between classes and meetings, on Chambers Lawn far from walls with ears, under a gentle spread of tree canopy and tobacco smoke, whilst Dodger gives playful chase to fluffy woodland creatures.

Well, like my mama always says, you don’t have to tell everything you know.

Please enter the url to a Vimeo video.

Montage of Hansford pictures set to music by Professor of Music Neil Lerner

What I can say is that I’ll miss having Hansford handy in person in my workaday world. But I am glad he will remain e-vailable for pithy, acerbic one-liners steeped in decades of familiar tradition as well as forward thinking about Davidson, about the world, and about Davidson in the world. Not to mention steeped in decades of the unavoidable administrivia and occasional tedium that is part of any workaday world, and which can make one, you know, pithy.

Hansford on Friday with longtime departmental assistant Cheryl Branz, who spearheaded the campus-wide effort to create a memory book of pictures and good wishes from his colleagues of more than half a century. Photo: Bill Giduz

The easy part of dealing with Hansford’s retirement from where I sit, challenging as it was, was writing the college homepage story, which we got posted just in time for last Friday’s Hansfordpaloozafest in Lilly Family Gallery. The event was a powerful, fun, and fitting tribute put together by Wall Professor of Humanities and Professor and Chair of German Burkhard Henke, with a lot of help from his friends. Get this: A full 12 out of Hansford’s 14 original Junior Year Abroad in Germany, 1967-68, trekked back to campus to honor him, as well as past Davidson Presidents Tom Ross, Bobby Vagt and John Kuykendall and many, many others.

Writing the official document to news-release standards allowed me to get the Hansford essentials down while tamping down my own growing sense of loss at his pending departure from the first floor of Chambers Building.

He first laid eyes on Chambers in 1957, and was well ensconced there by the time I showed up in 1981. As a student I knew him only in passing, as a damned fine Humanities lecturer. The luck of the draw never landed me in his small-group section of “Humes,” and I was a francophile so I had no reason to visit him in the German Department. Plus, I was callow.

Though I didn’t benefit from Hansford incisive and good-natured counsel individually as a Davidson student, I certainly have done in the last decade as a Davidson colleague.

By way of example in the public domain, a few outtakes from our interviews for the aforementioned news profile:

• On sloppy syntax [archly, with vigor]: “Structure is one of the components of language that conveys meaning.”

• On the life of the mind [enthusiastically, with satisfaction]: “I just actively enjoy learning stuff…. Hey, if you like learning, then the easy road is to throw yourself into a community that does it all the time”

• On the Humanities program, which he helped grow from infancy and later chaired [wryly]: “If you take Humanities 40 times, you’re bound to learn something.”

• On choosing Davidson [mock melodramatically]: “I’ll never know if I would have thrived in New Hampshire or Connecticut.”

• On looking back over the decades [drily]: “At what point did I go from being a young turk to being a [woopsy!] legend?”

• On the 1960s [youthfully]: “It was the 1960s, for God’s sake!”

Happily, Hansford will continue to live in this community he’s helped build, in Davidson and on Lake Norman, and even more happily he’ll return to the Humanties classrooms of Davidson as professor in Spring 2013.

And, I hope, go for a walk with me and Dodger now and then under the gentle spread of tree canopy over Chambers Lawn.

Read more here, with remarks by Henke and remarks by Sarah Gustafson ’14.

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