During the four years of my attempts to steward the office of the president here at Trinity, I have come across scores of stories that attest to the uniqueness of our College, but all of those stories pale in comparison to the one I am going to recount here.
In the fall of 2007, as I was planning to attend the 60th anniversary celebration of the Centre d’Echanges Internationaux in Paris, on whose board I have served for 20-plus years now, we received a telephone call from Marjorie Butcher, one of the legendary figures in memory at the College, the first woman ever appointed to the faculty, an event that occurred more than 50 years ago. Marjorie, now in her 80s, is known to thousands of Trinity alumni, and her love for Trinity is manifested daily, despite the fact that she retired from the faculty long ago. She is a Trinity fixture herself: at Vespers of a Sunday afternoon, at lectures, a constant presence to remind us that the link between students and their faculty mentors is at the core of all the College stands for. Marjorie asked if I would telephone a former student of hers who lived in Auxerre, a city between Paris and Dijon, while I was in France. When Marjorie asks any of us to do something, we of course agree posthaste.
So I telephoned Christian Minard’s home in Auxerre and spoke to his mother. I asked her if I could visit Christian if I took the train from the Gare de Lyon to Auxerre. She replied that this would be fine but that I had to understand the visit might be somewhat difficult for me. We fixed a time for her to meet me at the train station.
I met this lovely woman, who then drove me to the apartment she shared with her son. Christian had not been able to move any part of his body for the past three years at that point, ill with Lou Gehrig’s disease, that most debilitating of all illnesses. She introduced me to Christian, who was in a special wheelchair that allowed him to sit up, with his head held in two braces. Christian had not been able to speak, or eat, or swallow for the past three years. I wondered how we were going to communicate, when Madame Minard pushed a large computer screen directly in front of his eyes, the only part of his inert, atrophied body that he could move.
The next three hours passed in the blink of the proverbial eye, as Christian moved letters of the alphabet to write French words on the top of his computer screen. Our conversation, if that is in fact the correct noun, covered all sorts of Trinity issues. Marjorie had been sending Christian articles from the Tripod, announcements of this or that Trinity event. He told me about coming to Trinity in the early 1980s, out of Lawrenceville Academy—how demanding professors Butcher and Curran and all his other faculty mentors had been; how thrilled he was when he received his first A on a mathematics examination from Professor Butcher; how proud he was that Ward S. Curran had been appointed the first Ward S. Curran Distinguished Professor of Economics, with the startling gift made possible by Peter Kraus; how beautiful the Long Walk and the Chapel were, all of which he wrote with his eyes, letter of the alphabet after letter, word after word, sentence after sentence, on his computer screen.