Category Archives: tributes (written by Roger W. Smith)

Mr. Kidd



A couple of memories about Mr. Russell E. Kidd, the former gym teacher and coach at Canton High School in Canton, Massachusetts, who died this month at the age of 86.

I actually remember Mr. Kidd best from junior high. He was a phys ed instructor in both the junior and senior high schools in the early year of his teaching career.

There was always a hortatory streak in Mr. Kidd. But first, a digression.


In my senior year, a neighbor and fellow student, Dave Freiday, told me after school one day: You wouldn’t believe what Mr. Kidd said about you today. Dave had been in the locker room after school, probably as a member of the track team. Paraphrasing what Dave told me (I remember it very well), Mr. Kidd had said to him: Look at Roger Smith. It’s incredible. He was the most uncoordinated kid you could imagine and now he has developed into a good athlete and always goes out for sports.

He didn’t mean that I was an outstanding athlete, but that it was wonderful how I had gone from being hopelessly inept to a student-athlete.

What nice words! Would that all coaches have such interest in and appreciation for the development of the boys in their domain.


To backtrack, my first experience of Mr. Kidd was in the eighth grade. After a workout, we boys were seated in a circle either on the ground outside or on the floor of the gymnasium.

Everyone looked up to Mr. Kidd. He was handsome, had a muscular physique. He spoke well and with sincerity. He chose his words well; was forceful, clear, and direct.

He delivered a de facto sermon.

We were about to enter high school. Mr. Kidd told us, “If you go out for football, it will make you a man.”

“I’m not saying you can’t become a man if you don’t play football, “he continued, “but if you do, I guarantee you will become a man.”

Wanting very much to become a man. I took this seriously and went out for football in my freshman year in high school,

Mr. Kidd talked about himself by way of example. This was the most memorable part of his talk. He told us boys, you can make something of yourself (as he had done) regardless of your circumstances. He told us that he had had a summer job as a moving man when he was in college. “I was in some of the worst slums in Boston.” he said. In some of the apartments, he said, everything was neat and orderly. “It was so clean you could eat off the floor.”

I never forgot these indelible words.


Roger W Smith

   February 23. 2020

My posts on Ralph Colp, Jr., Norman F. Cantor, and Eiji Mizutani have been updated.


The following posts of mine – each of them a tribute to a deceased person I admired — have been updated by me:

Roger W. Smith, ‘tribute to Ralph Colp, Jr., MD”

Roger W. Smith, ‘tribute to Ralph Colp, Jr., MD”


my history professor, Norman F. Cantor

my history professor, Norman F. Cantor


Roger W. Smith, “Reminiscence of Eiji Mizutani” (ロジャーW.スミス、「水谷栄二さんを偲んで」)

Roger W. Smith, “Reminiscence of Eiji Mizutani” (ロジャーW.スミス、「水谷栄二さんを偲んで」)


To each post, I have added  communiqués I received from relatives of the deceased. It was an oversight on my part not to have done this before.


— Roger W. Smith

    June 2019

William Sage Dalzell (1929-2018)


‘William Sage Dalzell (1929-2018)’


Bill Dalzell was one of the first people I got to know after moving to New York City. I will never forget his kindness to me. My friendship with Bill was a long and enduring one.

If you got to know Bill well, as I did — if you were privileged to know him — you will probably know the following things about him, and, if you do, will know that they are all true.

He never cared about externals. Dressed simply. Lived by intuition. He followed politics closely but was fundamentally an apolitical person.

He believed absolutely in the spiritual, in mysticism, and in bona fide psychics such as Edgar Cayce and the medium Grace Cooke, author of the White Eagle books. He was interested in the writings of mystics such as Meister Eckhart — in the case of Eckhart, in the concept of detachment or disinterestedness: renouncing self-interest to attain spiritual enlightenment.

He believed without any doubt that there was an afterlife on “the other side.”

He was skeptical of much of what is considered orthodoxy — he used to say, “Science marches backward.” A paradox with an element of truth in it.

He absolutely did not believe in medicine or doctors. He had no bank account, as far as I knew.

He had an interesting mind, in many respects totally unconventional. Was a nonconformist. Yet he was one of the kindest, politest, most civil persons you could hope to meet. He was a true gentleman. He had a warm, mellifluous voice with an inflection, which he never lost, that bespoke his Pennsylvania roots.

He thought for himself and by himself. He had an interesting way of expressing original concepts. For example, he told me that he liked to call cats “fur people.” He said it made it easier to conceptualize having a relationship with them. And, then there was his concept of the “foot philosophy,” which he explained by saying that when he couldn’t decide which bus or train to take, whether to go to a museum or the cinema, or whether to walk uptown or downtown, he would go wherever, instinctually, his feet took him, follow his feet.

He did not put on airs. Just the opposite. He used to say to me, when he was living on East 5th Street between Avenues A and B, “I live in a slum and I like it.” At that time (which was the time when I first met him), urban renewal and slum clearance were in the air.

He was a deeply religious person and, especially in his later years, a churchgoer. This despite the fact that he detested religious dogmatism.

He was a very earnest thinker. He dwelt all day long, every day, in the realm of ideas. He thought long and hard about things. Over and over again. Immortality and the afterlife. What is truth? The truth of art. The spiritual. Past lives. Places.

He did not have much use for formal education, although there was an English teacher at the prep school he attended, Mercersburg Academy in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, whom he never forgot, who taught him to appreciate poetry. He wasn’t impressed by scholarship or academic credentials. He developed his own credo, but it was never set in stone. He would often say, quoting some philosopher: “Truth is like a butterfly. If you pin it down, it dies.”

He had acute tastes in art and loved the arts.

He was an earnest seeker after truth. In a conversation we had a few months ago, he told me something a philosophy professor in a college class he was enrolled in said many years ago: “The question is not whether a philosophy or belief system is true, it’s whether you like it nor not; does it appeal to you, say something to you? The same thing applies to art.” He sent me a postcard of Notre-Dame de Paris on a trip there in the summer of 1969. I remember in essence what he wrote. That he would continue seeking truth wherever he went. That he was in search of truth, repeating the word several times.



Some biographical details about Bill.

He grew up in Wilkinsburg, a borough adjacent to Pittsburgh. He loved the hills. The trolley cars. The movie theatre. How he went to a film once and before the film heard music, which he later learned was Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture. He wasn’t expecting it. The music overwhelmed him. It was a mystical experience. Bill’s grandfather had a 78 rpm record of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. Bill played it over and over again and said to me in old age that he had never ever tired of it.

He moved to New York in the 1950’s. He loved his adopted city. He used to say, “Would you care to hear me sing the praises of New York?” He used to marvel at the fact that so many people of all races and nationalities lived cheek by jowl in harmony. At how much the City had to offer by way of culture and places to enjoy at modest prices.

He made friends with many spiritually inclined people and, also, readily made friends with artists such as his lifelong friend Edwin Treitler, an artist, writer, and spiritual healer; the “magic realist” painter Gregory Gillespie; and the Greek-American painter Bill Komodore. He had an affinity for people in the arts. Gillespie’s portrait of Bill Dalzell, “Bill (in Studio),” was painted in the mid-1980’s when Bill was living in Pittsfield and Gillespie was living nearby in Belchertown, Massachusetts. The painting is owned by the Forum Galley in New York City. Bill had befriended Gillespie when the latter was studying at Cooper Union in New York in the late 1950’s.

He would on occasion speak about his parents: his father, who would visit Bill from time to time at his apartment on East 5th Street; and his mother, who died tragically of cancer in middle age. He felt an unnecessary operation led to her death. He never mentioned that his great-grandfather John Dalzell was a congressman from Pennsylvania.

He used to go the Metropolitan Museum of Art every weekend. He said that going to the Met was his equivalent of attending church. He would always begin by sitting in the cafeteria for an hour or so nursing a cup of coffee, lost in thought.

He had his favorite haunts. Besides the Met: the Thalia theater, an art movie house on West 95th Street; the Staten Island Ferry; the automat. He loved being able to see two films for the price of one at the Thalia and discovered art films there (as well as at the Museum of Modern Art). He loved to take the Staten Island Ferry to Staten Island and back. We did it together several times. Bill would recommend getting off on the Staten Island side and having a cup of coffee or walking around for a while. In his early New York days, he would get off and see a movie in Staten Island, then take the ferry back.

He had a discerning eye for art. He was an admirer of the painter Edward Hopper. Bill introduced me to Hopper. During museum trips we made together, he would point out how Hopper made use of light. “The light is different in America,” Bill would say. By “different,” he meant brighter. More brilliant. An observation which was true.

Bill loved the painting “The Peaceable Kingdom” by the American folk artist Edward Hicks and how the painting depicted visually Quaker principles: the lion lying down with the lamb. He would often go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the painting.

He had his favorite paintings and rooms in the Met. In the Medieval Art section behind The Great Hall, there was a marble sculpture of Saint Hilarion (North Italian School XII century), which was a favorite of Bill’s. He said it reminded him of me. Maybe Bill saw a corresponding sincerity and earnestness in me, in my expression.

Bill singlehandedly made me into a discerning filmgoer. He got me to appreciate foreign films such as Ivan the Terrible, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, the director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet, and The Gospel According to St. Matthew, films that most people would be unlikely to know about. He said that the whole Eisenstein film – Ivan the Terrible, Parts I and II — comprised in essence, amounted to for the viewer, the experience of a Russian orthodox church service.

He loved the D. W. Griffith film Intolerance, which he had seen I don’t know how many times. The film ends with an idealistic vision of a day “when prison bars wrought in the fires of intolerance will no longer prevail” and spectral prisoners in striped uniforms are seen moving through prison walls which disappear. A scene remarked upon by Bill.

He only recently called my attention to a film he loved from his early days in New York City: 3rd Ave. El, which was made in 1955. The music, as Bill pointed out, is a Haydn concerto played by harpsichordist Wanda Landowska. Bill thought the music was great and that it made the film. He made an observation to me once that I remember. He said that films work their magic by “sight and sound.”

His aesthetic senses were astute. Yet, it was all intuition, never tendentious. I learned much from him about how, while trusting my own intuitions, and being guided by them, to discriminate between the most profound works of art (chiefly films and paintings) and currently popular ones which (he could see) were of only passing interest at best or works that did not speak directly to him. He told me once that a good “measuring rod” for films was to ask oneself: do you still think it’s great, are you still thinking about it, the day after?

This kind of thinking — a sort of seat of the pants ratiocination — influenced me strongly. I feel that Bill never got credit for it and that it was overlooked. Another thought of his along these lines was a remark he made about traveling. When one arrives home after an overseas trip, he said to me, one is not quite home yet, mentally, and is still, mentally, a traveler. It takes a day or two to feel fully back home mentally, and, during that day or two, one is experiencing one’s own city as a traveler would experience it.



I remember Bill at 218 East 18th Street like it was yesterday and wish I could bring those times back. The cubbyhole in the cellar where he had his printing press. The pay phone in the hall on the bottom floor on which he would get calls from clients. How Charlie Bloomstein, the executive director of the New York Friends Group, would haggle Bill about paying part of the monthly phone bill.

In the 1960’s, he was kept busy printing flyers for the War Resisters League and Women’s Strike for Peace. Handouts announcing a march or demonstration. They trusted him; he was their printer of choice. “The war is good for business,” he would say to me jokingly.

Bill and his printing press. How he seemed to keep it working with rubber bands and paper clips and would, in his own words, get down on his knees and pray to the press to not stop working. How he would read his New York Times as the press was humming with sheets coming out of it. He had bill pads he had made up with the words: “William Dalzell, Quality Multilith Printing.” He explained to me how a multilith printer worked. The key thing to keep in mind, he said, is that “oil and water don’t like each other.” He loved to observe how mechanical things worked, and he loved old inventions. In a Thanksgiving card Bill sent me in the 1980’s, he wrote about visiting the Science Museum in Boston with Ed Treitler and his daughter Anya. “My favorite thing was the steam engine,” he wrote. “I love steam engines.”

My job title at the New York Friends Group was Workroom Supervisor; my responsibilities included mimeographing. Bill would patiently try, repeatedly, to show me how to stack a ream of paper so that the ends lined up. I never quite got the hang of it.



Bill’s mind interested me because, like mine, it ranged all over the place. Nothing was seemingly too mundane for him to notice and consider, think about, and nothing was too arcane or “airy.” He once got to talking about waiters. He didn’t like coffee shops because he preferred not to have to be waited upon. He preferred places such as a cafeteria or fast food place where you could place your order and take it to your table. “Americans don’t make good waiters,” he told me. “They don’t like to be in a subservient position.”

Bill said that he had once had an experience in a restaurant in Europe (he was no snob and was anything but an epicure) with the perfect waiter. “A good waiter,” he said, “is someone who is there when you want them and is not there when you don’t.”



Bill was a great traveler. The places he went to (on a limited budget)! Europe. Mexico, where he lived for a while, on a Friends Service Committee project. Alaska and Labrador. The Aran and Orkney Islands. The Findhorn spiritual community in Scotland. Russia. The Monastery of Trinity-St. Sergius, which is located near Moscow in what was then known as the town of Zagorsk. Bill had what he described as a mystical, or near mystical, experience there.

He had interesting observations to share — some of them “episodic,” but nonetheless fruitful. “The Scotch are in a class by themselves when it comes to love of books and reading,” he told me once. “You go into a bar and you’ll see a working man in working clothes with a worn [meaning its cover] book sticking out of his back pocket.”

His favorite place was Notre-Dame de Paris. He said that Notre-Dame was “the most holy place” he had ever visited.

He was in the United States Merchant Marine during his young adulthood. It must have been his first experience of travel. He told me that there is a lot of time on a ship where one is doing nothing and can presumably read and reflect. He said that as far as his duties on the ship were concerned, they almost always involved painting. Bill was not afraid or too snobby to do menial jobs.

He was not much of a writer, in terms of output, but he would write occasionally when he was away, always a very short communique — by design — usually a postcard. His writing was notable for its deliberate plainness and its sincerity. And his neat printing, which resembled calligraphy. He was a generous and thoughtful giver, on a limited budget, of gifts. If he wished to share a book with you, he would give you his own copy to keep, such as his ink stained copy of Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy and a book by Edgar Cayce.

Bill’s favorite poem was Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” which ends with the following lines which Bill would recite:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


— Roger W. Smith

   March 2018


Bill Dalzell's note to Roger

This note from Bill Dalzell to Roger Smith was inserted in a copy of a book, “Edgar Cayce’s Story of Jesus,” given to Roger by Bill.




can the sun “grin”?


I learned in yesterday’s New York Times about the passing of my former journalism professor Maurice (Mickey) Carroll, who died on December 6th.

“Maurice Carroll, Political Reporter and Pollster, Dies at 86”

By Sam Roberts

The New York Times, December 6, 2017



Mickey Carroll was a tough, dapper Irish guy and an outstanding reporter on the Times’s city desk for many years. He taught me far more about writing than any of my other journalism profs; it wasn’t even close.

It’s a truism that the best way to learn any skill is to do it. Well, besides lecturing, Carroll meticulously critiqued our writing (stories we had to report and write as class assignments).

I would hand in a story to him. I remember one was when he let the class interview him press conference style and we were assigned to write a profile of him. “This is very good,” he said to me, handing back the paper a day or two later, “but it’s too long.”

I kept tightening up my work. I began to appreciate how important space limitations are in a newspaper. For a feature article, it’s usually six hundred words. Six hundred words meant just that: six hundred words. If you wrote, say, 615 words, your editor would be unhappy, having to do the work himself of excising a “graf” from your story.

I would hand in papers that I thought were as carefully and tightly constructed as I could make them, with no superfluous words. They would come back with red lines drawn though maybe ten or fifteen words or phrases that I had never realized were superfluous. A “that,” say, where it could be dispensed with.



Professor (and seasoned reporter) Carroll told us a funny story in class one day which illustrates the frustrations he himself had experienced as a writer. He finally left the Times for another paper. He said the final straw was when he once assigned to cover the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Manhattan.

The lead sentence in the story he turned in was “The sun grinned on the Irish yesterday.”

“Grinned” was too colorful a word for the copy editor at the Times, which was known for bloodless prose. (It still is, but efforts have made over recent years to make the writing more lively.) For “grinned,” the copy editor substituted some more generic verb.

“That did it,” Mickey said.

I could identify with the frustrations he felt with pettifogging editors.


— Roger W. Smith

  December 7, 2017



Addendum: Sam Roberts, one of the Times’s best obituary writers, and an outstanding writer in general, wrote the obituary. He notes: “Known to be cranky but easily amused, Mr. Carroll would often pepper his reporting with wry and iconoclastic asides.” That’s how he was in class: the teacher/editor who applied principles of “tough love” to improving the writing of his students, while doing it with wit and grace. And, he showed us how, while adhering to strict standards of newspaper writing, you could also have fun and work in a quip or an amusing detail or two. Shoehorn it in, that is, word length permitting.

“He never lost his reporter’s perspective, though, advising would-be journalists never to take themselves too seriously, no matter how important the news they’re covering may be,” Sam Roberts writes.

I found this to be true. He was a complete professional, and, as such, he was never out of character in class, yet he himself was a character.

He stressed that his vocation was that of REPORTER, and he once told a story to illustrate what that meant.

Early in Carroll’s career, a reporter on the Times’s arts desk, a cultural critic, was somewhere in Manhattan at some event or performance one evening. As he was leaving, he observed that a big fire had broken out in a building across the street. He telephoned the Times from a pay phone, shouting, “Get a reporter here immediately! There’s a fire!”

He was a reporter,” observed Carroll, who happened to be at Dallas Police Headquarters on one of his first reporting assignments when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby. “He was there. He should have covered the fire.”

Roger W. Smith, “Reminiscence of Eiji Mizutani” (ロジャーW.スミス、「水谷栄二さんを偲んで」)


‘Reminiscence of Eiji Mizutani


Chizuko Mizutani

to Roger Smith

February 27, 2016

Dear Roger-san,

How nice of you to comment nicely about Eiji.

Ten years has past. And still you remember vividly.

I was so impressed.

If I succeed in printing out your Reminiscence of Eiji Mizutani, I will visit his grave yard and read for him.

Roger-san, Thank you so much.

Gomennasai means I am sorry.

Very fondly yours,


Chizuko Mizutani

to Roger Smith

March 3, 2016


Dear Roger-san,

I would like to report that I visited Eiji’s graveyard with bunch of flowers, and read your article “Reminiscence of Eiji Mizutani”.

He smiled and listened to my voice calmly.

He was a bit surprised to notice the date January 2016, the same as I was.

Anyway, he told me to convey his kindest regards to you.

These are my imagination.

Very fondly yours,







Roger W. Smith, “Reminscence of Eiji Mizutani” (ロジャーW.スミス、「水谷栄二さんを偲んで」)

Eiji Mizutani (水谷 栄二), a former colleague of mine at Watson Wyatt Worldwide, passed away in Tokyo on January 30, 2006.

Mr. Mizutani was the manager of the Wyatt Company’s Tokyo office. During the 1990’s, he divided his time between Tokyo and New York and was involved in initiatives to establish new business for the Wyatt Company with Japanese clients both in Japan and the United States.

I was employed in Business Development and Mr. Mizutani was interested in recruiting me to work with potential Japanese client firms.

Unfortunately, not much ever came of this. But Mr. Mizutani arranged for me to go to Tokyo on a business trip and paid for the trip with a plane ticket purchased with his frequent flier miles. It was thanks to him that I got to see Japan. He was keenly interested in my trip and gave me advice on what to do and see and whom to meet with.

I spent a great deal of time in New York with Mr. Mizutani, both at the office and in causal encounters.

I had great respect and affection for Mr. Mizutani. He was a wonderful person. He was intelligent and well informed in so many areas: business, languages, and general knowledge. He was interested in many things. In fact, it seems he was interested in just about everything. We talked about many subjects, ranging from business to sports. He was an avid sports fan.

He told me about his childhood and his education in Vietnam and the United States. He was a modest man with an impressive background. Apparently, much of his early education was in Vietnam, and he attended college in the United States during the 1950’s, I believe in Indiana.

He knew three languages fluently: Japanese, English, and Vietnamese. His English was impeccable.

He once told me, which I found surprising and interesting, that Vietnamese was an even more difficult language to learn than Chinese.

Mr. Mizutani was a kind person. He seemed to enjoy life greatly.

He enjoyed sharing his experiences and wisdom with his colleagues. This was something he seemed to see as part of his role.

He took his work very seriously, yet he was a delightful companion whom one loved to spend time with. He had a very good sense of humor.

On one occasion, Mr. Mizutani; his secretary, Iseko Kano (叶 伊勢子); his wife, Chizuko Mizutani (水谷 千鶴子), who was visiting New York; and I had lunch together at an Italian restaurant in Manhattan. The waiter spoke to us in an affected Italian accent. Mr. Mizutani joked that with customers in restaurants like these, they “forget that they know English” (pretend that they don’t know it).

He was a very thoughtful and generous person, always doing little kindnesses, like leaving some Japanese pastries on my desk on a day when he left the New York office to return to Tokyo because he thought my sons would enjoy them.

We talked together about family and kids. He was modest about his family, but one could tell that he was very proud of them. I know he was delighted with his sons’ accomplishments, thrilled when his oldest son got married, and very pleased to become a grandfather, because he told me so. (As of the date of this writing, his widow, Chizuko Mizutani, has four grandchildren. See photo below.)

Mr. Mizutani loved to travel, and everything he saw seemed to interest him. One of the last conversations we had was about a trip he had made to Eastern Europe. He had taken a great interest in Bulgaria, a country I myself had once traveled to, and we were able to compare notes.

He liked to experience different cuisines, like a restaurant he introduced me to on Restaurant Row in Manhattan that featured Italian-Jewish cuisine. He was interested in sampling the food in Bulgaria.

He was very much a real, full, and accomplished person in the best sense.

I miss him very much.


— Roger W Smith

     January 2016





掲載日 2016年1月4  掲載者Roger’s Gleanings














水谷さん、秘書の叶伊勢子さん、ニューヨークを訪れていた妻の水谷千鶴子さんと私とでマンハッタンのイタリア料理のレストランで昼食をとっていたときのこと。 ウェイターが偽物のイタリアンなまりの英語で私たちに話しかけてくると、水谷さんはすかさず、こういうレストランに来るお客さんの影響で、「ウェイターさんは英語が話せることを忘れてしまうのかな[英語が話せないふりをしている]」とジョークを飛ばした。




彼は異文化の食べ物を体験するのが好きで、彼が紹介してくれたマンハッタンの「Restaurant Row」ではユダヤ系イタリア料理を楽しむことができた。彼はブルガリアでも新しい食べ物に関心を示していた。




ロジャーW. スミス





Chizuko Mizutani email of 11-14-2007


Mr. Mizutani’s grandchildren

Professor Joachim Gaehde




Brandeis University Art History professor Joachim Gaehde passed away three years ago. I had not thought about him for years and learned about his death from an online obituary:

May I be permitted a few words about the professor and his course?

“Gem” is a good word for Prof. Gaehde. He was very dedicated and serious in class, but you could tell that he was a very warm person.

I learned things from his obituary that I never knew and about which, when taking his course years ago, I had no clue:

that he was a Jewish refugee from Germany;

that he had two children who survived him;

that his wife, Christa Gaehde (nee Christa Maria Schelcher), “was renowned in the field of conservation and restoration of art on paper, and worked for many of the top American museums.”

I took two courses with Professor Gaehde: one on early medieval art and one on the art of the high Middle Ages.

I loved the courses; they complemented the ones I was taking with Professor Norman F. Cantor on medieval history.

I barely passed. I got a C in one of the two semesters and a C- in the other semester.

Art history was never my strong point. I am especially bad at architecture (e.g., church architecture). I still can’t for the life of me tell what a flying buttress is.

But Professor Gaehde was a dedicated, enthusiastic teacher and a fine lecturer. He introduced us to much fine, rich, and beautiful art — particularly illuminated manuscripts, many of which are at the Morgan Library in New York City.

He would note that this or that illuminated book was at the Morgan Library, and I would be saying to myself, “that’s funny, wouldn’t they be in a MUSEUM rather than a LIBRARY?”

Professor Gaehde was not an easy grader, but I liked him and his course and got a lot from it, despite my subpar performance. It shows that grades can be a misleading indicator (sometimes) of the value of educational experience.

What I most enjoyed was the illuminated manuscripts that we learned about – mainly, the Carolingian, Gothic, and Romanesque manuscripts and the complex, fascinating Irish art, the former including the Lindisfarne Gospels and the latter the Book of Kells.

I rarely missed a lecture.


— Roger W. Smith

   June 2016

my history professor, Norman F. Cantor


‘Norman F. Cantor’


Judy Cantor-Navas

to Roger Smith

July 1, 2016


Hello Roger,

Thank you very much for sending me the blog post you wrote about my father.

It was a lovely surprise. I know he would have been so pleased to have read it. It was interesting and gratifying for me to read how a student saw him, and know more of what his classes were like. And you took 3 classes with him!!

You preceived and remember a lot about his personality. He did love to tell stories and make jokes. Above all he loved to teach and to write, and to read. Besides his family, that was what was important to him, and that was what he dedicated most of his days to throughout his life. Although, as you noted, he liked watching baseball -and football- on TV. He also liked to cook, and was quite good at it.

I know that his strong opinions made him a controversial figure, but he believed in fighting for what he thought was right. In the Brandeis years, when I was a little girl, there were often students in our house. I loved living in Lexington- thanks for bringing that time back to me!




Roger Smith to Judy Cantor-Navas

July 2, 2016


Hi, Judy.

To say I was pleased to hear from you would be an understatement.

I worked hard on the essay (tribute) on your father. He meant a great deal to me as a teacher.

I noted from Facebook that you went to New York University, as did I as a graduate student. Once, in the 1980’s, I saw your dad on a street corner in the NYU neighborhood. I did not make an attempt to speak with him. He would not have remembered me.

in a Wikepeida article about your father

I read the following:

Cantor was intellectually conservative and expressed deep skepticism about what he saw as methodological fads, particularly Marxism and postmodernism, but he also argued for greater inclusion of women and minorities in traditional historical narratives.
A feeling I got about your father – I am not sure that this is right – was that he could be very liberal minded, but that he distrusted phony liberalism. In this respect, his thinking (if I have intuited correctly what it actually was) resembled mine (or, one should say, mine resembles his) and it resembles that of my hero Samuel Johnson, who was suspicious of liberal hypocrisy and had no patience with cant.

A fellow student of mine at Brandeis told me a story (I had graduated already, but he was still there) – it may be apocryphal – that in 1969 when black students took over the campus briefly and shut it down, your father put a sign on his office door saying something to the effect that he was against totalitarianism and “storm trooper” type actions, or whatever you might call them (perhaps one might say putsches) from any side, be it the right or the left. I am a liberal democrat, but I am totally against PC.

You mentioned that your father loved to cook. I was very interested to learn this.

As noted in my essay (tribute), I absolutely loved being in your father’s class. His erudition, wit, and personality.

He was a great writer.

I recently got around to actually reading his textbook, Medieval History, from cover to cover. It was something that I never did when I took his course; we were assigned sections to read. I enjoyed so much reading it at my leisure without missing anything.

Thanks again very much for your response.

Roger Smith



Norman F. Cantor — a noted medieval history professor, an inspiring teacher whose textbook on the subject reads like anything but a textbook — was THE medieval history professor of the past couple of generations.

It was my great good fortune to take several courses with Professor Cantor at Brandeis University in the 1960’s. This alone makes me grateful that I attended this particular school.

Professor Cantor passed away, sadly, in September 2004 at the age of seventy-four.

I say sadly because, in my experience, not only was he a great, popular teacher, he was the sort of person you felt you would have liked to get to know better.

I took the following courses at Brandeis — where he taught only briefly before moving on — with Professor Cantor:

Europe in the Later Middle Ages (sophomore year; spring 1966); grade A-

Civilization of the Early Middle Ages (junior year; fall 1966); grade A-

Topics in Medieval History (proseminar, 2 semesters; senior year; 1967-68); grade B+

I recall vividly the excitement I felt when I learned that Professor Cantor, who had been teaching at Columbia University and had become disgruntled with the Columbia history department, would be coming to Brandeis.

A roommate of mine, Ronald Ratner, also a history major, had learned from an older brother, who was a Columbia student, that Professor Cantor was decamping for Brandeis. “Cantor is coming to Brandeis next semester!” Ron announced.

I had recently changed my major to history, which I should have majored in in the first place. It was a natural subject for me.

My main interest was actually historiography — I liked to read good historical WRITING. I was mainly interested in how history was written and presented, more than the actual events themselves. My knowledge of history in terms of facts and chronology was then and has always been weak.

I had for a long time been yearning to learn about the Middle Ages. They have an intrinsic fascination. But there were few good medieval history professors anywhere, it seemed, even at top universities. If there even was a medieval history professor at Brandeis prior to Professor Cantor, I was not aware of it.

I can still remember much of Professor Cantor’s lectures. His witty remarks. For example:

— that knights (jousters) were like today’s professional athletes – they would retire and open a tavern with a sign outside showing them in armor;

— that St. Jerome, translator of the Bible into the Vulgate, was the sort of man who liked to sit and chat at the medieval equivalent of church coffee hours;

— that 99 percent or so of people in the Middle Ages believed literally in heaven and hell.

This last point Professor Cantor made by devising a ridiculous chart for our benefit and amusement. “You want statistics,” he said. “I’ll give them to you.” And, then he sketched a chart on the board, with made up statistics showing the percentages of medieval people who believed literally in heaven and hell, those who questioned the idea, and so on.

In appearance, he was sort of goofy looking. He wasn’t what you would call prepossessing, but he didn’t seem to care. He had the necessary confidence for a teacher; he knew he was good.

He was fit and still young when I took his courses, a former athlete, I was told. And, he was not slovenly in dress or appearance.

He had an impish wit and an infectious laugh. He delighted in taking you by surprise with a sally, but he was never mean or arrogant.

In the second course I took with Professor Cantor, in my junior year, the class met from four to six p.m. on Thursdays, once a week. It was the fall of 1966.  We had a class during the World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles. The class would always have a short break at the midway point. During class on October 6, 1966, the same day as game two of the World Series, when time for the break arose, Professor Cantor adjourned the class. “I’m sorry,” he said (something to that effect), “but after all it’s the World Series and Sandy Koufax is pitching,” shrugging his shoulders (a characteristic mannerism of his) as if he were helpless to do otherwise. The game started late per East Coast time because it was in Los Angeles.

Cantor was a spellbinding lecturer. He had a folksy, down to earth speaking style and a rich voice. He spoke totally off the cuff, without notes and without a lecturer’s equivalent of histrionics.

His lectures were full of amusing and memorable anecdotes; brilliant aperçus; frequent jokes whereby he displayed formidable wit; asides intended to stir you and make you think; brilliant comparisons between one historical period and another or to the present day; considerable erudition, based on wide reading, that was brought to bear; analogies that would enable you to perceive and grasp ideas, controversies, and personalities that otherwise would have seemed remote, foreign, or strange to the modern student; and so on. He had the class eating out of his hand.

It was sheer pleasure to be part of the audience.

I had read St. Augustine’s Confessions in high school. Professor Cantor devoted considerable time to lecturing on the Church Fathers. He made the theological and philosophical disputes of the day come alive. He wrote in his textbook:

For his philosophic system [Augustine] was deeply indebted to the Platonic tradition, but his work sounded the death knell of ancient philosophy. He inaugurated a new world view. Socrates and Plato had identified knowledge with virtue: if a man knows what is good, he will do good. Augustine shows easily that this doctrine violates the realities of human life. It is obvious that men frequently know what good is but are powerless to pursue it. It is obvious, as Augustine contends, that man is not a rational animal, that will has primacy over reason, that man’s emotional, irrational tendencies preclude the following of dictates of reason.

Augustine’s doctrine, Professor Cantor contended, amounted to “religious existentialism” and prefigured modern psychology.

I said that Professor Cantor was a nice man. (His wit was sharp but gentle.) Once, I experienced this in a way that had a direct effect on me.

I was a horrible procrastinator when it came to term papers. I did write one A paper for Professor Cantor that he praised highly. But, in another course, I dashed off a paper which I completed slightly after it was due. It was too late to turn it in in class. I resolved to leave the paper in Cantor’s office without any further delay. But the building was locked. Unsure of what to do, I felt I had to somehow make it evident that I had finished the paper. So, I taped it to the front door of the history department building, affixing a note to it with big printed letters saying that the paper should be delivered to Professor Cantor’s office ASAP.

Time passed and the paper was not returned to me. A bit hesitantly, I made a trip to Professor Cantor’s office and asked him about it. “Oh, yes,” he said, “I remember that the janitor said something or other about a paper. I seem to recall that I got it, but I’ve lost it. I guess I have no alternative but to give you an A.”

Professor Cantor was aware of his popularity — like most born teachers, he had a strong ego. But he could be self-deprecating in a charming fashion.

As noted above, I took a proseminar course with him. A proseminar is a course that includes both graduate and undergraduate students. The course called for an individual student to deliver a paper on a given week, followed by class discussion. At the end of the term, Professor Cantor declared that the course had been more or less a failure. “I guess it’s mostly my fault,” he said.

Professor Cantor was brilliant when it came to describing the schools of medieval history:

The English institutional school – Cantor used the analogy of an acorn growing into a tree. The institutional school looked to the past to answer the question: how did our enlightened system of government and law come into existence?

Dialectical and sociological approaches – here, the emphasis was on history of ideas, an area in which Professor Cantor was brilliant and stimulating.

The devotional-personal school – it focused on “capturing the attitudes and mores of medieval religious leaders.” An outstanding exemplar of this approach, in Cantor’s exposition, was the English historian M. D. Knowles, who wrote a four-volume history of English religious orders. So much of what was happening in society in those days was ecclesiastical, the professor explained, that one could, by focusing on monasteries, uncover a lot of what was happening in that period. In other words, the monasteries were where you needed to look.

Cantor encouraged us to read the elegant writings of R. W. Southern, another English historian, with whom Cantor had studied. In monographs such as his The Making of the Middle Ages, Cantor explained, Southern “is able to talk of twelfth century churchmen as contemporaries and friends.”

The Annales school – – this school seems to have quickly become arid — few of its practitioners have had the brilliance of one its cofounders, Marc Bloch.

Professor Cantor introduced us to Bloch the man and his theory of history. Bloch, who was shot by the Nazis as a member of the French Resistance, wrote under duress during the Second World War an uncompleted, posthumously published book: Apologie pour l’histoire ou Métier d’historien (published in translation as The Historian’s Craft). Thanks to Professor Cantor, I read it. And read it several times over thereafter. It was an original, immensely stimulating book.

To summarize — as best as I can with only a layman’s knowledge – Bloch rejected event-based, factually based history. This appealed to me because, as noted above, I was always weak on the facts, and I found a lot of chronological narrative history to be dry and dull.

Bloch cautioned historians not to rely overly on written sources but instead to seek out the “tracks” of medieval men. So, say, one wants to know about society during the reign of some medieval king. You may get a lot of misleading information in an account of his reign written by someone from that time – a court chronicler bent on flattery and praise, say, or perhaps a churchman with a grudge against the civil authorities. Instead, you should make active use of other sources that were not left behind intentionally, but which can unravel mysteries for us: sources such as economic data, demographics, agriculture, linguistics, coins, ships, and so forth. They can tell us a lot more than the official sources can and provide mute empirical data.

Professor Cantor was always enlivening his lectures with interesting nuggets so that scholarship was vital, a monograph wasn’t just a book – it had been written by SOMEONE, an individual with strengths and limitations as a historian, writer, intellectual, and scholar, as well prejudices.

For instance, in lecturing on the English institutional school, he demonstrated that the study of the history of law – what one might think of it as a dry subject — can be immensely informative. (It was an area of study that Cantor took great interest in.) He told us about an English historical work of immense importance, the two volume The History of English Law Before the Time of Edward I by Frederic William Maitland and Frederick Pollock. Cantor said that Pollock should not have been credited as a coauthor. “Maitland wrote more than ninety-nine percent of the two volumes,” he said.

He had a keen appreciation of excellence in historical writing, indeed of writing and exposition in general. He exhibited this in his own writing, which was notably lucid. His textbook reads like a work of literature.

Once, while talking about Edward Gibbon — the first and oldest of the medieval historians whom Cantor discussed in his lecture on medieval historiography — Professor Cantor read a few passages from The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to the class. He paused at a sentence where Gibbon, who was famous for the use of parallelism, uses several semicolons. He expressed appreciation for this device, then lamented that the semicolon was not used more frequently in modern English prose.

As a side benefit, I learned a lot of vocabulary in Cantor’s courses — words hitherto unknown to me that are now familiar: hagiography, pejorative, chrysalis, debilitating, acidulous, daimonic, plenary, patristic, peroration, contumacious, prevaricate, desuetude, feckless, pusillanimous, lugubrious, procrustean. Words such as these are underlined in the precious (to me) copy of Cantor’s textbook that I still have.

He was always thinking on his feet and would keep his listeners on their toes.  He would come out with things that would occur to him as interesting or amusing that were not necessarily part of his “script.” For example, in one course we were reading portions of Steven Runciman’s A History of the Crusades. “It’s the kind of book that makes for good summer reading in a hammock,” he said.

In another class, we were given the assignment — one, as it turned out, I did very well on — of summarizing and critiquing several books on a related medieval topic. To get an idea of what kind of paper to write, he suggested we take a look at The New York Times Book Review. Then he added, as an afterthought, “the Times is the paper of the Establishment. If you read it, you will find out what they are thinking and doing.”

This is an imperfect summary of the rich and stimulating content in Cantor’s books and lectures. I have read four of his books: (1) his textbook, Medieval History: The Life and Death of a Civilization; (2) The English: A History of Politics and Society to 1760; (3) Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century; and (4) his intellectual autobiography Inventing Norman Cantor: Confessions of a Medievalist.

I hope this post will convey some of the intense pleasure and intellectual stimulation I got from his courses.


— Roger W. Smith

      June 2016


Note: Professor Cantor’s obituary has been posted on this site at:

Norman F. Cantor obituary

Ruth Wahtera


The following are comments of mine upon learning of the death of my longtime friend Ruth Wahtera, a native of Peabody, Massachusetts, who passed away on March 20, 2016:

In my opinion, Ruth was a very strong woman. Ahead of her time that way, but she didn’t seem to think about it. She had a quiet self-confidence, but was not overbearing. She just always seemed to be fully in command of her faculties, never lost her perspective and insight, had a great sense of humor, and could get to the bottom of things before you yourself could.

She did not take herself too seriously, yet at the same time she approached everything she did with great dedication and seriousness. She was very competent, inspired respect, yet at the same time she was approachable and friendly. She was easy to talk with, and you would always get an intelligent response. She was very mature for her age.

She was one year younger and behind me in school, but so smart, capable, mature, and level headed that I looked up to her.

We were fortunate to have been able to have resumed contact in recent years.

I first met Ruth, who was from Peabody, Massachusetts, in 1962 at a Liberal Religious Youth (LRY) conference on Star Island in the early 1960’s.

Ruth succeeded me as Chairman of the New England Regional Committee (NERC) of LRY during the 1964-65 academic year.

During the following year, she was President of Continental LRY.


– Roger W. Smith

   April 2016




A memorial service for Ruth Wahtera was held at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Concord, New Hampshire on April 23, 2016.

Posted below is a downloadable booklet from the service.

‘A Celebration of Life,’ Ruth Wahtera


My English Teacher, Robert W. Tighe


Bob Tighe.jpg

Robert W. Tighe


The following is a message of mine posted on Facebook in response to a daughter of my former English teacher Robert W. Tighe.


In your Facebook post of March 23, 2016, you said, regarding your father: “[his] chosen occupation aligned with his passions, in his case for learning, and sharing his love of learning with others, as well as for language and the role language plays in shaping our understanding of the human experience throughout history and the role it plays in the present as a tool for influencing the thoughts and actions of others.”

Very true, I believe.

From my experience of your father as a teacher, I would say that some things that drove him were:

a love of books, reading, and language;

hatred (if one can use such a strong term) of pomposity and obfuscation in writing and in written and oral expression in general; an abhorrence of cant.

It seemed that this would cause him at times to be impatient and to be a harsh critic.

He was no phony or fake and he didn’t like it when others “put on airs,” so to speak, when writing, declaiming, or participating in a conversation or class discussion; when someone would try to conceal their lack of knowledge, or grasp and penetration of issues, behind a “smokescreen” of bad writing.

He had no use for mawkish, flowery, or overblown language when used to impress the reader or show off.

He was constantly inveighing against excess verbiage and wasted words. His summum bonum was clarity.

I had a close friend from another town in New England. His father was chairman of the English department in the local high school. Once, when I was visiting, my friend took me upstairs and showed me some of his father’s students’ papers. There was an A paper by a star student, a girl. My friend’s father had written comments praising it highly. I read some of the paper and, being a student of Mr. Tighe, immediately realized that it was a God awful paper. It was insipid, mushy writing of the kind your father would have detested.

A few additional comments.

Your father loved Samuel Johnson. I was told by someone that he had read Bowell’s Life of Johnson something like nine times. One can see why this affinity existed. Samuel Johnson hated cant and hypocrisy, and would skewer with verbal repartee — with his (Johnson’s) legendary wit and sarcasm — anyone who engaged in it.

Your father taught me to read poetry. Sort of. Which is to say that I never really had an ear for poetry or much of an ability to understated it. But, your father would have us reading John Donne, William Blake, or T. S. Eliot and understanding it, getting to the heart of the poem, and, once I could manage to do this, loving the poetry for its ingenuity and beauty.


— Roger W. Smith

   March 25, 2016

Roger W. Smith, ‘tribute to Ralph Colp, Jr., MD”


Tribute to Dr. Colp


email from Ruth Colp-Haber

October 18, 2008

Dear Mr. Smith,

Thank you so much for your email.  I have read it now five times. I gave it to my husband and we were all moved to tears.  It was incredibly brilliant and moving.  Such keen insight which captured so much of Ralph’s essence, he would have loved this.

I was wondering if it would be all right with you for us to hand this out at the funeral?  It is a truly wonderful work.



In October 2008, I wrote a memorial tribute to Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr., with whom I had a longtime doctor-patient relationship.

Dr. Colp’s oldest daughter arranged to have the tribute distributed at his memorial service at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. I attended the service.

What follows is my tribute from then – originally in the form of an email — which I have edited and amplified slightly.



Dear Ms. Colp,

I feel encouraged by your warm response to my email to discuss my relationship with your father, whom I miss greatly, and my thoughts about him.

I started therapy with Dr. Colp, as I always addressed him, in the mid-1970’s when he was on the staff of Columbia University Health Services. I was employed as an administrative assistant in the dean’s office at Columbia then.

We had almost instant rapport and after a few sessions at Columbia, Dr. Colp said he thought he could help me and suggested that I see him privately. The doctor-patient relationship continued, more or less uninterrupted, for over 30 years.

The relationship ended abruptly a few months ago when I got a call from your mother informing me that Dr. Colp would be unavailable to see me at the usual Monday morning time (6:20 a.m.; Dr. Colp was an early riser).

I did not know that Dr. Colp was ill, which seems incredible to me now; he had never told me. I have gleaned some information about his illness by email correspondence with one Darwin scholar whom I contacted and from your mother in a follow up call.

I can hardly think of an illness or death that has affected me so profoundly, with the exception of the death of my mother just prior to my beginning therapy with Dr. Colp.

One of the first things that struck me about Dr. Colp when I met him around 33 years ago was his gaze, which was both gently inquisitive and, at the same time, penetrating. He was intensely curious about people. You sensed that he felt it was a special privilege to have the opportunity to have people tell him about themselves. I also sensed in him another quality which immediately made me like and trust him: a self-deprecating or humble nature, which few doctors seem to exhibit.

Dr. Colp became a surrogate father to me. He was the good father and role model I never had. He was one of the most sincerely empathetic persons you can imagine, yet he never lost his professional bearing or acted inappropriately. How he could have been so effective and professional as a medical specialist and yet at the same time not lose the human touch is something I marveled at. He never seemed jaded or to be going through the motions.

Dr. Colp was one of the warmest, most insightful, most intelligent people I have ever met. He also was a hero to me in his professional capacity.

I have not mentioned my esteem for Dr. Colp the intellectual. He told me that intellectual stimulation, the life of the mind, was for him “like breathing.” He was one of the most well read and intelligent people I ever knew.

His comments during our sessions showed me his depth as a thinker and person. Where did he get the knowledge he had? He knew so much that I either hazily or imperfectly knew or learned entirely from him: that the letters of John Keats were among the greatest in English literature, for example; that not even Flaubert could match Tolstoy as a novelist; that Pitirim Sorokin, the sociologist and historical philosopher, whom I admired, was a “quixotic figure”; that the novelist Theodore Dreiser was a clumsy stylist. He told me that the writings of John Dewey were invariably dull and boring. These and many other things I heard from his lips when some current literary or intellectual enthusiasm was broached by me.

I say this while recollecting that he once told that were huge gaps in his knowledge. When he was not knowledgeable about something — such as the work of Djuna Barnes, an avant-garde writer of the 1920’s and 30’s I was telling him about — he would readily confess his ignorance. But he often had bits of knowledge to offer that came from wide reading and culture, such as when he provided me with an obscure and extremely useful (for academic work I was doing) reference to the writings of James T. Farrell, the novelist, whom Dr. Colp had treated as a patient during his pre-psychiatry career as a surgeon.

I similarly benefited from his occasional recommendations of books and of films he had seen, but he did not make such recommendations lightly. He only made them when he thought it was something that I in particular would appreciate or benefit from, e.g., a film or a book. (I recall a book on Stalin, for example, and a film set in Paris that he thought I would like because I had traveled or was about to travel there.)

He had an encyclopedic knowledge of history, which he said was his “first love.”

As Dr. Colp stated in an interview, he had “two identities: one as a psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapist and another as a Darwin scholar.” This was indeed true. He was totally devoted to his work and his scholarship. Yet, in another interview, I read a comment of his that, like his hero and role model, Charles Darwin, he alternated moments of intense work and concentration with periods of relaxation and enjoyment.

I only observed him in the former state.

Dr. Colp was once affectionately described by my then boss, a dean at Columbia (who did not know I was Dr. Colp’s patient), as “looking something like a stork.” He was tall for his generation. He had a distinctive, somewhat high pitched, reassuring voice that I grew to love. He spoke — probably as a result of his training in psychiatry — about as carefully and deliberately as anyone I have ever known, with the result that he hardly ever said anything I could or would find fault with. I listened very carefully to him and treasured what he had to say.

He was in many respects a grave and serious person whose devotion to work and duty was outstanding. Yet he had an amiability about him and a capacity for humor, too. One of the first recollections I have of him is his laughing because the pen handed to him by a secretary to write in an appointment book with would not work. He always seemed to be bedeviled by the vagaries of ballpoint pens. He once described himself as being a Victorian in many respects — this was certainly true of his never having adopted innovations of the computer age; persisting in the use of his beloved manual typewriter; being averse to faxing; and calling Xeroxes “Xerex” copies.

Dr. Colp was careful to keep his personal and family life private from me, but he once said something more or less spontaneously about his younger daughter which I will repeat for what it is worth. He said with evident feeling that “she cares about everything,” proceeding thereupon to list what some of these things were (people, animals, social causes, for example). I think this remark applies equally to Dr. Colp. I have read his two books and many of his articles about Darwin, which bristle with appreciation for the man and curiosity about the minutest details of his life.

Charles Darwin was, obviously, a role model for Dr. Colp, and it is easy to see why, because Dr. Colp embodied so many of the same virtues. (You can see the same sort of understanding and compassion, balanced with a welcome lack of tendentiousness, in articles about Sacco and Vanzetti that Dr. Colp wrote for The Nation in 1958.)

Dr. Colp was an idealist in many respects, in his devotion to his work and to truth, for example, yet he was somewhat of a practical man, a scientist — no, physician is the right term — too. I saw this in the sound, clear-headed judgments he made. He would not, for example, fall for glib self-assessments by me of my own potential and prospects when such self-assessments had no solid foundation.

Yet, he could be warm and supportive.  I was once telling him about my older son Henry’s writing skills, which he seemed to be born with, and how his elementary school teachers effusively praised his writing. “Well, he’s your son,” Dr. Colp said.

Dr. Colp would occasionally tell me things about his childhood, such as about his dog Waggy (named after Mayor Wagner), who died when Dr. Colp was a teenager; he said he was devastated by the dog’s death. About dining at the Oyster Bar with his father, who always stressed the importance of leaving a tip of something like 50 cents. (Noblesse oblige is how Dr. Colp termed it with his characteristic gentle irony.)

Seeing the Disney film Dumbo in the 1940’s with his father. Attending with his younger daughter a marathon reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses at Symphony Space in Manhattan, where, according to Dr. Colp, an Irish narrator reading from a chapter in Ulysses “brought the house down.” The relish with which Dr. Colp told the story reflected both his zest for the event and — I am certain also — the pleasure of attending it with his daughter.

Ralph Colp, Jr. was a Victorian, Darwinian figure, with a broad range of interests and sympathies. He was a representative of the old prewar or perhaps immediate postwar New York described by writers like Joseph Mitchell which is now long gone, and he represents a generation and a type of doctor and psychiatrist whom I do not think will be seen again.

He was a wonderful person.

I feel his loss so keenly — the loss of Dr. Colp as a person, that is. He had already accomplished, both by example and by his medical skills, most of what he could for me as a therapist.



A few more facts about Ralph Colp, Jr.

He was born on October 12, 1924 in, and grew up in, New York City. He was the son of a prominent surgeon.

He received his MD from Columbia in 1948 and was an active surgeon for five years before becoming a Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (Psychiatry) in 1965. He became an accomplished intellectual, psychiatrist, psychohistorian, and psychotherapist.

He spent ten years in psychoanalysis with Max Schur, who was Freud’s last physician.

He served as attending psychiatrist at Columbia University Health Services until 1993, was a senior associate in the Program of Human Sexuality and Sex Therapy at the New York University Medical Center, and was a member of the Psychohistory Forum.

He was the author of two books: To Be an Invalid: The Illness of Charles Darwin (1977) and Darwin’s Illness (2008).

He published over 100 articles and book reviews on Darwin, William Halsted, medical history, Russian revolutionaries, and many other subjects.


— Roger W. Smith

  February 2016



Attached below are several articles by and about Dr. Colp.

Ralph Colp, Jr., ‘Living with Charles Darwin

Paul H. Elowitz, ‘Ralph Colp and Charles Darwin’ – Clio’s Psyche, Sept 2002

Richard Milner, ‘Darwin’s Shrink’ – Natural History, Nov 2005

Ralph Colp, Jr., ‘Charles Darwin; Slavery and the American Civil War’

tributes to Ralph Colp, Jr. – Clio’s Psyche, Dec 2008

James Moore, ‘Eloge; Ralph Colp’ – Isis, Sept 2010

Ralph Colp Jr, ‘Remembering Max Schur’ – American J Psychiatry

‘Sacco’s Struggle for Sanity’ – The Nation 8-16-1958

‘Bitter Christmas’ – The Nation 12-27-1958 FINAL



See also:

“A Jew without a burial site”

by Judith Colp Rubin

The Times of Israel

August 30, 2018