Harry Parker


Usually the only time I ever wish I followed sports is when I have to make small talk or sit in a barber’s chair. But I do wish now I had sufficient knowledge to fittingly present Harry Parker’s feats.

He coached rowing at Harvard for over half a century. He had twenty-two unbeaten seasons, as well as multiple national titles and Olympic medals. Quotes from his New York Times obituary use terms like “unparalleled” and “unrivaled success.”

Like Rockne and Wooden, he became legendary in his sport and something of a cult figure on campus.

Highlights of reading Coach Parker’s obituary in class included seeing our vocabulary word “venerable” for the second week in a row, and trying to ascertain what it takes to qualify as a cult figure.

Adolphous Bullock


Last Friday we read the obituary of Adolphous Bullock, an inspiration for The Passed Made Present project. Normally I have students list reasons the subject of an obituary merits one, but in this case, I tried something different.

Since we’re reading The Adventures of Ulysses, I asked them to explain what Mr. Bullock and Ulysses had in common. They both went to war, obviously; everyone got that. Many students said that both were venerable (much as I’d like to tell you this is how we go around talking, it’s one of our vocabulary words). Others noted that they both led by example, which is one of “Ulysses’ Rules.”*

One word we – and that’s we, not they – learned in Mr. Bullock’s obituary was “mentor.” I was very surprised to find out** that Mentor was the name of the man who looked after Ulysses’ son, Telemachus, during the Trojan War.

*along with: Never anger a god; Play chess, not checkers; Mortals can’t change their fates; Don’t have too much pride. (This plays off a rule list from Bud, Not Buddy, which they read last year. I’d say it’s a decent enough list for modern life, too.)

**Yup. I’ve taught this book for seven years and still haven’t read The Iliad or The Odyssey. I Googled “Homer + Odyssey + quotes” and the first one listed seems to sum this up.

Phyllis Jen


Yesterday we read the obituary of Phyllis Jen, a beloved family doctor who trained hundreds of future family doctors. She was also renowned for treating all of her patients with skill and warmth.

Given what I’ve learned of her, I expect she wouldn’t mind at all that we had a bit of fun reading her obituary. It mentioned a sabbatical, which got us all talking about what we’d do if we could take sabbaticals. (Warm locations were prevalent among locales proposed, perhaps because snowdrifts are approaching students’ heights.)

I’ve seen firsthand the astonishing amount of knowledge family doctors acquire, and how hard they work to do so. And how hard they work. To Dr. Jen, and to family doctors everywhere: blessings upon you.

And Happy Valentine’s Day!


Sam Sapiel


Here are some things I learned reading about Sam Sapiel, whose obituary we read in class yesterday:

More happily, I learned Mr. Sapiel hit holes-in-one in 2001, 2002, and 2005. NB he was born in 1931.

Sidewalk Sam


My dad used to work at the VA clinic on Court Street in downtown Boston. Sometimes on school vacations I’d meet him on his lunch hour and we’d go to the North End. This was pre-Big Dig, so you’d have to walk under the 93 overpass – be glad if you never saw it, it was as ugly as you’d imagine – and it was on these walks that I first remember seeing Sidewalk Sam’s work. It was beauty where you weren’t expecting any at all.

I’m in the habit of giving my students – with their permissions, of course – nicknames. These tend to be unoriginal and not overly inspired: Mad Max, Diamond Dave, Joltin’ Joe, Wild Bill, etc. (For some reason I never seem to give female students nicknames.) But last month I received a faint ray of inspiration and proposed to one Sam that I preface his name with “Sidewalk.” Happily – or, at least, I was happy about it – he accepted.

I was saddened to learn this week of the original Sidewalk Sam’s passing. I was also saddened that I’d pretty much forgotten about him until my silly nickname habit reminded me. We’ll be paying tribute to Sidewalk Sam by reading his obituary next. RIP, sir, and thanks for bringing beauty to a city in need.