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Spring 2008 Reporter cover

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Auxerre Cathedral

Jamais ne le prenez au hazard - Never take the College for granted

The College organist, a retired faculty member, one current student, and one alumnus: How their Trinity ties brought them together on a spring afternoon in a 12th-century Burgundian church

By Carlin Carrlisten to audio clips from the concert sound icon

Known for its windy streets, local wines, and Gothic cathedral, Auxerre is typical among French towns. So typical, in fact, that many polls are taken here as indicators of opinion across France. Until recently, however, there was one citizen of Auxerre whose courage, strength, and love of life could be said to be anything but typical.

On an early spring day in March, a capacity crowd gathered at the 12th-century Church of Saint Eusébe, just off the main square, for a benefit recital by a young American organist, Christopher Houlihan ’09. He was playing in honor of Auxerre resident and Trinity alumnus Christian Minard ’84, who, in 2004, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Celebrating this day with Minard was his favorite teacher of some 25 years ago, Professor of Mathematics Emeritus Marjorie V. Butcher. At 82, she had made the transatlantic journey to be at his side.

“Today you and I meet face-to-face for the first time since your Commencement at Trinity College … both of them joyous, memorable occasions for each of us,” Butcher wrote to Minard the day before the recital. “How I appreciated you as my student … I’m glad you and I remained in touch most Christmas seasons since. I was proud of your career as it developed. Particularly, I am glad for our friendship that has deepened since August 2006 when you informed me of your ALS [Lou Gehrig’s] disease … Thank you for being such a friend and inspiration to me.”

“A quiet but very pleasant life”

Professor Butcher, a mathematician, an actuary, and Trinity’s first female faculty member, is also an avid baseball fan. She recalls how the country watched its great sports hero, Lou Gehrig, the “Iron Horse”—who played 2,130 straight games through back injuries, fractured fingers, and other ailments—be taken down by the degenerative condition that now bears his name. Butcher learned of her own student’s battle with this disease when she did not hear a response from him to her renowned Christmas letter—a handwritten mélange of the year’s events that she sends to friends, family, and a host of former students, accompanied by a personal note to each.

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