A Great Man

“From the first he loved Princeton – its lazy beauty, its half-grasped significance, the wild moonlight revel of the rushes, the handsome, prosperous big-game crowds …” – Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise

Tomorrow is Pops’ 90th birthday celebration. Wow! What an icon this man is. I know there will be Princeton talk, possibly some handing down of orange paraphenalia, and tears. From the first time I saw Princeton, Labor Day 1991, with Dad, I have loved it too. And the whole time, from day one until now, my love affair with Princeton has been intertwined with Pops’ legacy. His experience and mine were radically different, and yet we both came away with intense commitment to and affection for the place. In my mind this is central to Princeton’s allure: it is a single campus that can be various but fundamentally singular.

I’m struggling right now to write a birthday card to Pops, to put into words what he means to me. This man, blisteringly intellectual, stubborn and passionate about his hobbies and interests, more brave and curious at 90 than I am at 33. Who got onto a steamer ship in his mid teens to come to the Hill School as a boarder from his home in China. Who to this day remains fluent in Mandarin, who uses email and makes ship models from tiny pieces of balsa wood. Who reads and travels voraciously, who is a consummate adventurer. His Christmas card last year was a photograph of himself hanging from a zip line, high in the trees, in Costa Rica. Who never misses a Princeton reunions. I am grateful that I was there in 2006 to walk with him in his first P-Rade as an official member of the Old Guard.
Notably, Pops’ old age has softened him – a man that I recall as being intimidating and slightly aloof has become one who chokes back tears at toasts and who drove long distances to meet my children as soon as they were born. I remember the spring of my freshman year I made him a collage frame with several photographs of campus, and a handwritten rendering of the quotation above. It was for his birthday, then, 1993 – must have been his 75th, I realize how. I remember still the short personal note I wrote, and it remains true now: “It is an honor and a privilege to share the legacy of Princeton with you.”

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