(HOST) Vermont teachers and historians lost another colleague recently, and commentator Tom Slayton has a remembrance.
(SLAYTON) Dick Hathaway — Professor Richard Hathaway, as he would almost never allow himself to be called — shocked all his friends when he left this world quickly and quietly last week, the victim of a heart attack at age 71.
He was one of the most brilliant historians I ever knew — learned, thorough, always searching. But more than that, Dick Hathaway was a rare combination — an outgoing, happy scholar with a burn- ing social conscience; a serious intellectual with a glad heart and a sense that life, even when difficult, was often slightly funny.
He was born in Boston, educated at Bates College and North- western University. He taught at Bowdoin and came to Goddard College in Plainfield in 1965. When Goddard downsized, Hathaway moved to Vermont College and later Union Institute, where he became what one colleague described as “the spiritual core of the Adult Degree Program.”
Last year, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Union Institute for his role as a distinguished teacher, scholar, mentor, and civic leader.
And yet all that, wonderful as it is, tells you very little about the sort of man Dick Hathaway was…
Dick was the only historian I’ve ever known who was also a li- censed auctioneer. And he was also the funniest auctioneer I’ve ever had the privilege of hearing.
He somehow combined the auctioneer’s street savvy with the eclectic intellect of a trained academic generalist, and the verbal skills of a natural stump orator. He was an intellectual salad bar, stocked with the ingredients of a lifetime of reading, a richly associative mind, and a fast tongue.
It was that amazing combination of brilliant wit, deep learning, and blather that once inspired him to hold aloft a globe lamp festooned with long hanging strings of glass beads and declare to his bidding audience: “This is mildly seductive in a light breeze. But in a high wind, it’s positively pornographic!”
He could turn a cymbidium orchid into what he called “an iris that’s gone Episcopalian,” a bottle of ginseng tablets into “a placebo for intellectuals,” a plastic case for Star Wars figures as “a post-industrial fantasy item.”
The serious part was that Dick Hathaway literally gave his services as an auctioneer away — he did about 20 auctions a year, for more than 30 years, and donated his services in every single auction to causes he believed in, ranging from local aid-to-the-elderly pro- grams to the American Civil Liberties Union and the Democratic party. He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for his various causes. And he lightened the hearts of everyone he came in contact with.
“If you want to be weepy-dreepy about it,” he once said, “you could say I’m clothing the naked, feeding the hungry,” he said.
But on a deeper level we all knew Dick Hathaway was acting out his own religious beliefs by working so hard and giving so much.
He not only did good — he made us laugh while he did it. And if that isn’t a blessing, what is?
Tom Slayton is the editor of Vermont Life magazine. He spoke from our studio in Montpelier.