Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fraternity Alumni & a Former Chancellor

Tuesday evening the Nashville Area Lambda Chi Alpha Alumni held our monthly get-together, at Bricktops, a pricey restaurant on West End a couple blocks past Centennial Park, and I was there. I'd truly regretted being unable to attend last month's meeting, which was a pool party -- I haven't donned my swim trunks and hit the water since before I left San Antonio. Well, I heard many positive reports about that missed pool party as we gathered in the bar area prior to our seating time of 6:45. I had tho't (as had other Brothers) that the time was 6:30, and I made sure to be particularly early and thus ended up being first to arrive at Bricktops.

When we were seated it was at several tables. I made a suggestion to Bro. Alex Davie, who sets these shindigs up, that we try having them in places with a party room, so we can have less distraction from the general crowd & more communications among ourselves. Anyhow, for the time being I sat with three Brothers I remembered from the June gathering., and then a chair was added to the open end of our booth for a late-arriving Brother. He was wearing a dark blue suit, white shirt and pink necktie, and was the only Brother thus sharply attired. So obviously he was just arriving from work, and when I inquired what his job was, Bro. Rob Bigelow informed us that he's a lawyer. All five of us had lively and entertaining conversation around the booth. Among other things we discovered that Bro. Bigelow was one of the earliest initiates for the Gamma-Delta Zeta (chapter) at Vandy when the national fraternity decided to reactivate the zeta back in the 1990s. And one of the older Brothers at the table was at his initiation as an alumnus! Later Bro. Rob served a couple years as alumni advisor for the VU chapter. I think I want to get to know this comparatively young alumnus Brother! (Especially if I end up in court some day, Heaven forbid!)

Earlier in the afternoon, on my way to the LCA gathering I went to the Vanderbilt Library to return a couple of books this (Masters-level) alumnus had checked out and to acquire a couple of books about El Cid (medieval Spanish warrior, leader and national hero), a historical person whom I greatly admire. On my way out of the library to continue the jaunt to the fraternity get-together, I espied one of the several Vanderbilt periodicals near the door; its cover featured Alexander Heard, the University's Chancellor while my wife Ellen was a student at Vandy. At first I considered that his being the cover story meant he was Speaker at the Ought Nine Commencement -- but quickly I realized that the photo's age spoke against such an assumption. (Not to mention the unique VU tradition that only the sitting Chancellor speaks at VU Commencements.)

And then I saw dates under his name. Two years connected by a hyphen. Former Chancellor Heard had passed away.

I never met the man, and I don't remember Ellen speaking much about him. But what little she'd said endorsed what I'd already read about him. My first printed source on the Chancellor remains my favorite book by James Michener -- which isn't a novel. Shortly after the May 1971 shooting and killing of students at Kent State in Ohio, Michener published a tome entitled "Kent State: What happened and why". In the book he analyzes the widespread campus unrest of the 1960s and into the '70s and how some campus CEOs mishandled the unrest, but a very few took care of it wisely. And in that handful of names he praises, is Vanderbilt's Alexander Heard!

What little additional information I acquired up to and during my own years on the campus as a grad student (Heard had retired by then) only enhanced my respect for this wise gentleman and academic leader. The article in this Vandy periodical I'd picked up added even more accolades. The library system at VU, which in my wife's student days had been called the Joint University Libraries (due to sharing among adjacent institutions that later either became part of VU or ceased to exist), had been renamed (by my VU grad-student days) the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries because the retired Chancellor and his wife contributed to the libraries' endowment.

University campuses, especially tree-shaded ones like Vandy, and libraries are locales of fond visitation for yours truly. So, dear reader, I reckon I shall always hold in high esteem the (now) late Chancellor Heard. May he rest in peace!

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