A SCHOLAR REMEMBERED
Thank you for Sol Gittleman’s tribute to Professor Sylvan Barnet (“Time and the Hour,” Spring 2016). In the fall of 1959, I and about thirty other freshmen at Tufts and Jackson took freshman English from Barnet. His enthusiasm and his deep knowledge of the authors we read were tonic to us. In the last class, he culminated his short lecture by instructing us that we were all to do well on the exam, and then quickly left the room. A bit stunned at the abruptness of his exit, we proceeded to give him a hearty round of applause anyway. He deserved it.
Tom Shachtman, A63
One week after my fiftieth reunion, I received an out-of-the-blue email from Sylvan Barnet thanking me for a compliment I’d paid him in the reunion booklet.
That email sparked a cascade of vivid memories, one in particular: Sylvan, charged with kinetic energy, pacing as he explained the relevance of the concept of charisma to Paradise Lost. Cerebral yet passionate, with a trim crew cut, jaunty bow tie, and wiry frame, Sylvan embodied the very definition of charisma. Affectionate memories were soon followed by regret over missed opportunities to know Sylvan better. Why hadn’t I invited him to my dorm’s faculty-student dinner, or thanked him for sponsoring my election to Phi Beta Kappa? Because I’d feared being tongue-tied in his presence.
And now a half century later, he was thanking me. I had been delighted Sylvan remembered me after so many years. But what really touched my heart? He was delighted I remembered him.
JUDITH NADELL, J63
VOORHEES, NEW JERSEY
I offer this modest tribute in response to Sol Gittleman’s moving memorial for Sylvan Barnet. When I first learned about Sylvan’s death, I felt profoundly saddened, especially since I had reconnected with him by email and by telephone about a year earlier. I kept recalling his excellent instruction in Shakespeare, as well as a quotation from the Bard that seems highly appropriate to cite in the present context: “I shall not look upon his like again” (Hamlet, 1.2.188).
During the 1962–63 academic year—my one year at Tufts—I earned an M.A. in classics, as a prelude to earning a Ph.D. in classics at Columbia. In the spring, I received permission to take one course outside Greek and Latin, and having heard about Sylvan’s excellent reputation, I registered for his course in Shakespeare’s tragedies. That course became the highlight of my experience at Tufts—a statement that does not imply any criticism of the very fine faculty who taught in the Tufts classics department at that time.
By spring 1963, one-third of the way through his thirty-year career at Tufts, Sylvan had become legendary for his sterling performance in the classroom. During that semester, his syllabus included seven tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and Antony and Cleopatra (Coriolanus was optional). Standing before hundreds of students, he held his audience spellbound with his dynamic lectures—extremely well-organized (one act for each class) and brimming with critical interpretation.
As a budding classicist, I greatly appreciated how Sylvan would refer in his lectures to relevant Greco-Roman sources, especially Aristotle’s Poetics. He urged us to see the tragic hero as a man of high estate, who commits a tragic deed, suffers for it in the extreme, comes to recognize his mistake, and welcomes death as a release from life. Inspired by all that he had taught me, I wrote a youthful essay depicting Achilles in the Iliad as a tragic hero, while knowing that most of Aristotle’s extant comments apply to drama, not to epic.
I cannot emphasize enough how Sylvan used his skill “onstage” (so to speak) to provide his students with an extraordinary foundation for learning. In 1972, I purchased The Complete Signet Classic Shakespeare (published under his general editorship), the volume he holds in the photograph of him printed in Sol Gittleman’s memorial. That volume, containing all the plays edited in paperback by Sylvan and his colleagues, serves as a testament to the man who left me and countless others with a lifelong love of Shakespeare.
ROBERT J. BALL, G63
PROFESSOR EMERITUS, UNIVERSITY OF HAWAII
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
I found “Miracle on College Avenue” (Spring 2016), Sol Gittleman’s article about the growth of Tufts’ child study department, touching, especially because of the photo of students in an Eliot-Pearson classroom. I believe that the person in the front row with her hand on her chest is my eldest sister, Mary Ruth (Johns) Fox, M.D., who passed away in 2006. Mary’s Tufts education played a crucial role in her life, even though she continued to medical school after her third year instead of staying on to graduate.
She led a distinguished career as a pediatrician for twenty-five years in the first HMO, Group Health, which was one of the first private efforts to provide health care as an employment perk. At the age of fifty, she earned a second license in psychiatry and practiced in Switzerland and Washington, D.C. During the first decade of this century, she was honored to have been offered a fellowship with the World Health Organization surveying orphanages in Eastern Europe. Mary and her husband, John, were also part of a study and discussion group focused on bringing more equity to internet access in Africa.
PRISCILLA (JOHNS) HARCOURT, J82
While Peter Beren’s memoir of Fred Berger (“Remembering Fred,” Spring 2016) is poignant and evocative, I question his timeline.
As a member of the class of 1971, I have long told a story like his, but one that began two years later. For example, I attended a (half-hearted) panty raid in September of 1967, two years after his “last” raid. Also, Beren says that the dorms were co-ed by the time he was a senior in 1968–69, but my closest college friends, men and women, are among those with whom I shared a newly designated co-ed floor in a former women’s dorm section our senior year (1970–71), in what we knew then to be the first instance of co-ed dorm living at Tufts.
TOM POWERS, E71
How could you leave David Costabile, A89, off the list of Jumbo luminaries in “Tufts Goes to Hollywood” by Alyssa Giacobbe (Spring 2016)? Gale, the nerdy lab assistant in AMC’s Breaking Bad; Doug, the pushover professor in HBO’s Flight of the Conchords; Thomas Klebanow, the despicable newspaper editor in HBO’s The Wire—are just a handful of indelible roles that Costabile has inhabited so masterfully. And I am lucky enough to say I had the opportunity to perform with him while on the Hill.
MELISSA BOGURSKY, J89
TENAFLY, NEW JERSEY
Thank you for the impressive summary of what Tufts has accomplished in Hollywood. Please allow us proud parents to add Tom Frikker, E19, to the list of Jumbos who have left their mark there. Because of his interest in the history of Macintosh computers, Tom was recruited to serve as a technical advisor for the recent film Steve Jobs. He not only kept the set designs historically accurate, but also recreated many computer screen shots. He’s the last person mentioned in the credits.
Also, look for him in the film itself. While on the set, he was offered the opportunity to appear as an extra. So there he is in an early audience scene, in Eighties wardrobe, jumping from his seat.
MARK AND LYNN FRIKKER, E19P
BLOOMFIELD HILLS, MICHIGAN
AN ELEGANT TEACHER
It was with sadness that I read that Professor Georgette Pradal passed on (“Great Professor,” Spring 2016). She touched my life.
During the fall of my sophomore year in 1962, I contracted hepatitis. I missed the whole semester. As I began to recover, my family contacted the Department of French to ask if they could
recommend a tutor. The department sent Professor Pradal, who gave me a tutorial in French composition. She came to my parents’ home in Brookline once a week. I looked forward to these visits, and they hastened my recovery. It is hard to describe how important it was for me to return to intellectual activity and to have such a wonderful person all to myself.
She was a great teacher who had mastered the secrets of the French language, and emphasized the importance of using the right preposition. With such attention to detail, one could go on to build elegant sentences. And as the magazine tribute reported, Professor Pradal was a good dresser. We may remember that at the beginning of the Sixties, people began to pay less attention to their appearance and to the use of language. My sense is that Professor Pradal dressed well for the same reason that she insisted on the correct use of language. She taught others by her example. May her memory be a blessing.
JOEL FISHMAN, Ph.D., A65