All Posts Tagged Tag: ‘Robert Whitton’
I celebrated the first day of classes yesterday by attending Professor and Chair of Education Rick Gay’s inaugural 2013 Humanities lecture on Ovid in Hance Auditorium—aka Perkins for you long-timers like me. Yes, it was in 1981 that I attended my first-ever Humes lecture in very nearly the same seat, only harder. Hance has had a major facelift, with cushiony seats now and multimedia, the works. Ol’ Ovid looks about the same, and still with the pithy “art of love” nuggets. My favorite, and a crowd-pleaser amongst the freshmen all around: “If you have bad breath, don’t talk.” Nyuk!
Day Two of the semester, today at lunch I celebrated by firing up my spiffy new laptop at one of Robert Whitton‘s favorite “office” tables at the Union Cafe. It still seems empty to me since Robert left us little more than a year ago, and I guess it always will seem a bit so to many of us, even when the union is as full of life and loud with laughter as it was today, which Robert loved even more than the Three Stooges. Nyuk, nyuk!
This newest of Davidson semesters rolls in with props to the life breathed daily into the Alvarez College Union, by its sterling staff and inimitable Union Board. The Association of College Unions International features Davidson front and center in the current issue of its magazine, in a story by Marsha Herman-Betzen. Check it out!
I had a dream that Dodger was running free in Richardson Stadium at Davidson College, which is against the rules. I was crawling across the rubbery track, doing a breathlessly dreamy slo-mo “fail” at getting to him. He dashed merrily about the artificial turf field, paying no mind to the authoritative benchmarks of the gridiron, nor to me. La, la, la! he went, happily. “Doooddggerrr!” I went, unhappily.
Rather than burden ourselves here with tortured interpretations, I posit the dream as archetype: Spirited soul instinctively running free, gleefully heedless (happy) of the synthetic culture of benchmarks we construct with our increasingly compulsive content manipulation and the resultant aggravation of inbred psycho-social neuroses (unhappy).
Okay, maybe just a little bit of tortured interpretation. I can stop anytime I want to. I just don’t want to. Anyway, after my coffee, I spontaneously started thinking about computer file management. Coincidence? I think not. Bear with me.
Time was, I was known as the print packrat of any newsroom I happened to inhabit. Today, my archival record of published communications in recent years is spotty at best. It’s just too easy to say, “It’s on the Web” or “It’s in the Cloud.”
More analogy: The web of life is a wondrous thing, vital and necessary and connective. And webs entangle, even make us scream and bat our arms in front of our faces like crazy persons.
Clouds are primordial and matchless avatars of human imagination floating free above the gods’ green earth. And they rain, sometimes on our parades.
So, these were my thoughts when I read this morning of the passing of Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, published the same year my own earthly story started. Pondering Where the Wild Things Are in turn made me think of something Amy Diamond said Saturday to friends gathered in Davidson in loving memory of her husband Robert Whitton, a Davidson College professor who died last year after being struck by a car on Concord Road.
I cannot do Amy’s words of that close moment any verbatim justice with my words here, but the gist of her encouragement was for us—the “us” is important, she emphasized—for us all to live the lives we dream of, to live and tell our stories, making them up as we go along for as long as we go along, and even to call on more than mere facts when necessary to tell the story we want to tell. The “want” is important, too, she emphasized.
“Robert told stories about me,” she said through tears more joyful than you can imagine, “that simply were not true!” And then somehow, the shared hilarity that followed was truer than any fact ever could be.
It was just one beautiful moment in a glorious day of musical celebration of Robert’s life, including a New Orleans-style march from Summit Coffee to the intersection of Concord Road and Faculty Drive. Bittersweet as that march was, I could feel an abundance—a web, a cloud—of life and laughter and love, deeply and broadly, all around and through us, Robert’s good spirit dashing merrily, doggedly, timelessly into the full-moon music of the cooling evening, telling the story he wanted us to tell for him, and to him, happy and unhappy and everything.
On Saturday morning Nov. 19 at Davidson College Presbyterian Church, we celebrated the life of Robert Clark Whitton, even as we grieved his death. Robert died on Nov. 11 as the result of injuries sustained when he was struck by a car on Nov. 3 on Concord Road at Faculty Drive in Davidson.
On Saturday at the front door of DCPC, I took a bulletin from Robert’s math colleague and now memorial service usher Tim Chartier, both of us stone-faced with a composure that we did not feel and dared not breach. Inside, the sanctuary was already packed. I followed the crowd upstairs and squeezed into a space beside some students. I heard some sniffles, already. Some of these kids, I realized, were facing their first big loss of a loved one.
Loved one. That he was, Robert, a loved one, to many. I patted my pocket full of Kleenex, which I had folded neatly and individually “just so” back at the car, so that if I needed to share, it would be clear to the sharee that I was offering a clean Kleenex, not a vintage one. This detail would have made Robert laugh, I had thought, sitting there in the parking lot, which made me bawl, which made me use one of the Kleenexes, which made me have to fold up another one to replenish the “share” pile, which would have made him laugh again, ad infinitum like a Three Stooges routine. Robert loved him some Stooges.
During the memorial service, when the student a cappella group The Delilahs, whom Robert served as advisor, sang “Hallelujah,” no one in the place could have moved a muscle if the pulpit had caught fire. And when the entire Wildcat football team filed in along the side aisles in their jerseys with heads held high, the collective catching of our breath from all around was audible, a sob in reverse, held tight. I saw Robert’s beloved, Amy Diamond, turn clean around in the front pew, beaming, to behold the long red line of Wildcats. The look on her face was triumphant, a combination of astonishment, delight, gratitude and joy.
Amy, as well as Robert’s five children, have set that tone from the start, as they met whatever came at them with abundant grace and no small sense of humor. Thank you, Amy, and Allison, Sarah, Katherine, Michael, and Amanda. Thank you for helping us, too, face pain with strength.
When Cole Barton shared a few favorite Guy Clark lyrics and fly-fishing stories, Robert’s own grace and humor shone through as only the dearest of our old friends can help us shine.
John Kuykendall, from the pulpit, voiced our communal powerlessness to answer the question of why Robert died. Then John helped us turn the darkness of pain and loss back around toward light, asking us why Robert lived. When he put it that way, there seemed a great deal more to work with.
Through it all, the spirit of the day came back around to celebrating. Already, in the line stretching from DCPC across the lawn to the reception in Chambers after the service, smiles and laughter had the upper hand. A bulletin board in the Lilly Family Gallery quickly filled with Robert pictures, stories, and mementos, and our shared laughter leavened shared grief.
Later that afternoon, I ran into Alex Kowaleski ’11, a history major who took some math classes with Robert in preparation for his current study of meteorology. “I took differential equations with him, and that was fun,” Alex told me. “The world needs more people like him. People who can make math fun, and who are kind and caring souls.”
Another who has just the right words in appreciation of Robert’s life is Donna Molinek, chair of the math department, who read this tribute at the faculty meeting last week.
And for the many far-flung friends from Robert’s 67 years with us who could not be present Saturday, click for a video of the memorial service.
We celebrate Robert Clark Whitton’s life, even as we grieve his death.
Live. Laugh. Love.
No news is still good news on the Robert Whitton ’66 front. Davidson’s longest-serving “visiting” professor (since the ’70s) is still unconscious after last Thursday night’s accident that left him with significant head injury.
Everyone on campus has to take a moment now and then to blink rapidly and take a deep breath.
You can feel the love and friendship flowing toward Robert from every campus conversation, flowing just as strongly to his wife Amy Diamond and all of their family as they hold him close in ICU, tubes everywhere. Each of us is sending Robert, Amy, Amanda ’10, Michael, Katherine, Sarah, and Allison everything we’ve got to offer—by e-mail and by prayer, by text and by tears, by memories of laughter past and the hope of laughter to come with our dear, funny friend Robert Whitton.
“I do think laughter is the best medicine!” Amy wrote in an e-mail last night.
“Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk,” that’s how I met Robert. I did not know him as a student, what with him being a math professor and all, but soon after I came back to work here, we somehow figured out our mutual admiration for the Three Stooges (Stooge-dar?). Thenceforth we began enacting Larry, Moe and Curly noises and gestures at each other across the Union atrium at every possible opportunity, occasionally provoking Admission tour groups to stare. What a sketch, that Robert. We got to be lunch buddies, as Robert is with many people—all of them, I’d wager—in the Union Café, where he holds his office hours.
In the best of cases, it will be a good while before Robert is back there at his accustomed two-top by the railing. It’s only been less than a week. For now, he’s resting, as Nature requires. It makes me think of one of our favorite lines of Curly’s: “I’m tryin’ ta think, but nuthin’ happens!” In fact, plenty is doubtless happening as Robert’s injuries heal by forces known and unknown, his body and mind pulled out of visible action into some of the deepest work they’ve yet been called to do.
Our part is to keep the love and friendship flowing—blinking rapidly now and then, taking deep breaths, and doing some laughing for Robert until he is ready to bring his own laughter back to us.
Update: Link to Robert’s Caring Bridge page.