A Passing

Oakwood High School Student Writers, 1969. Lynn’s in the white shirt, standing center right. I’m the short-haired girl sitting to his right. (Sorry to all the people I didn’t identify and cropped out of the picture.)

My school friend Lynn Hamilton passed away last week, succumbing to an aggressive pancreatic cancer. I knew Lynn in grade school and became friends in high school. We studied English, social studies, and Latin together and debated as part of our school’s National Forensic League team. After graduation, we went on one date. Since then, I’ve always chatted with him at our high-school reunions. I say chatted with him, but I really mean argued, as you’ll soon see.

Sometimes thematic stars align. This is the week I felt moved by Judy Woodruff’s PBS NewsHour report on healing our country’s divisions. She shared encouraging findings that communication across party lines can actually bring people together. And then Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, published his University of Chicago Class Day Ceremony address, which some students protested and which he expected some to walk out of. Stephens asserts that a serious education is impossible “without the opportunity to encounter people and entertain views with whom and with which you might profoundly disagree.” All of which relates to me and Lynn.

Lynn and I were on opposite sides of the political spectrum. People talk about divisions in our time, but the 60s were not exactly halcyon days. Our Latin teacher, Edith Cope, a conservative lady, used to bring up hot button issues for discussion, usually unrelated to Caesar’s battle strategy or Cicero’s rhetoric. Lynn and I would reliably weigh in on our chosen sides. I recall earnestly defending the civil rights movement and college protesters, while Lynn and Miss Cope called for calm, order, and caution as a brake on headlong social change.

I was merely parroting my parent’s generally liberal ideas, as I do to this day. My dad opposed the Vietnam War and even grew a beard during that era. (He shaved it off when it occurred to him that it might seem like an affectation.) In Latin class one day, I naively shared the story of my dad’s acquaintanceship with Alger Hiss, a liberal cause célèbre and conservative bête noire.

In case you’ve forgotten, Alger Hiss worked for Franklin Roosevelt’s State Department and in the late forties was accused of spying for the Soviet Union. He served over three years in prison for perjury. Back in the day, the political left and the right lined up for and against Alger Hiss. One of my dad’s bosses had attended law school with Hiss and asked my dad, who was hospitalized in New York City in the mid-60s, if he wanted to meet him. Hiss became a faithful, friendly visitor of my dad during his hospital stays.

Anyway, for some reason I shared this information with Miss Cope and my classmates, who could not have cared less about Alger Hiss. Except for Lynn, of course. Ever after, he good-naturedly reminded me of this scurrilous commie connection every chance he could.

Here, for example, is what Lynn wrote in my senior yearbook. You should know, first, that we had read, ad nauseam, examples of Cicero’s “preterition,” that is, mentioning something by saying you’re not going to mention it.

Like Cicero, I will pass over the fact that your close association with Alger “Babes” makes you highly suspect. I even wonder if I should add my signature to such a liberal book. Seriously, with your charm, beauty, and intelligence, you should go far. (I hope not into politics.)

I don’t remember for sure, but at our last class reunion in 2019, Lynn probably brought up Alger Hiss. I do remember that he disparaged Hillary Clinton, which annoyed me, and my response probably annoyed Lynn. Despite our differences, though, we somehow always remained friendly. Lynn was warm and kind and contributed ten times more to his community than I have to mine. See for yourself here.

I will miss my friend Lynn. I was lucky to have him to debate with, which Bret Stephens calls “the essence of fun.” Honest arguments, he says, allow an “intimate contact with others who, in their own ways, are being authentically and expressively and unashamedly themselves.” I’m grateful that Lynn remained unashamedly himself and allowed me to do the same.

I’d love to hear your reflections. Whom do you argue with? How does it go?

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6 Responses to A Passing

  1. Doreen says:

    Thanks for the post Kathy. Sad to lose a contemporary no matter his/her political leanings. I am not very good at arguing as I am basically a people pleaser, but my husband Harry and his brother Jim could argue with each other like there was no tomorrow… and they tended to agree on most things!!
    Sorry for your loss.

  2. Kathy says:

    Roger–Yes, better people than we are on the other side are so annoying! It’s good to realize they’re there, however, as you recognize. Try to read the Bret Stephens column, too, if you haven’t. I always enjoy his exchanges with (liberal) Gail Collins, too. Civility in action!

  3. Roger Talbott says:

    I loved this particular post and that it took me to your one about your father and Alger Hiss. How people incorporate adversity into their lives is a topic that I care about personally. And the news that anyone who died of pancreatic cancer affects me personally as well.
    I admit that I do get annoyed when my favorite right-wing adversary turns out to be a better person than me. A few months ago, I self-righteously responded to one of his many posts about “illegals” with an observation from the world’s most diverse neighborhood, where documented and undocumented folks work their tails off to create better lives for their children. I implied that he had no personal experience with immigrants.
    He replied that he has been a sponsor for seven new citizens. More than I’ve ever done.

  4. Jewel Moulthrop says:

    Losing a “friendly enemy” is a special kind of loss. My condolences for your loss.

  5. Kathy says:

    David–Yes, I agree with all of this. Thanks for your perspective.

  6. Dave Ewing says:

    I liked your post about Lynn. He still had a sharp wit about him. In fact, when I would speak with him at Rotary meetings, he always had an interesting tidbit to share and it was very witty or so he thought. As our Rotary Club discussed sending some financial aid to the Rotary Club in East Palestine Ohio whose community suffered from the recent train car derailment. Lynn whispered to me, “This would be the first time our Rotary Club would send aid to the “Palestinians.” He was referring to the Arabs, not the “East Palestinians.” He liked both you and John and would say that I should invite you down to speak at our Rotary Club meeting. John could speak about the movies and you could speak about your connection with Alger Hiss or Latin. He was a member of our Rotary Club for over 30 years. He had agreed to serve as this year’s president but declined at the last moment due to health reasons. Our world is a better place because of his influence on the lives of persons he served and befriended. It was a pleasure to be acquainted with Lynn.

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