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How I Got into Williams and Turned Permanently Purple

How I Got into Williams and Turned Permanently Purple

Sunday, June 6th, we sat in the blessedly airy environs of Chandler Gym at Williams College, part of the overflow crowd for the commencement exercises for the Class of 2010.  Our granddaughter, Jessica Mahoney, is a member of that class, graduating cum laude and with honors (not a redundancy) in Political Science, a double major, Chinese and PoliSci, on her way in August to Taiwan on a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English in the island's second city.  The actual graduation was held in the hockey rink.  Monsoon weather engulfed Williamstown, and the proceedings, originally scheduled for the West College lawn (I would have called it the Science Quad) had to be moved indoors.  Hence my seat in the gym looking at a very large television screen.

No shame, therefore, in a wandering mind.  I read through the booklet program, when, what to my wondering eyes should appear, a name from my past, my Williams past: Willard E. Hoyt, Jr. That name will mean little to most of you.  But to me Bill is my connection to Williams, without whose intervention one chilly March Saturday in 1949 I would probably have gone to Wesleyan... or Trinity.  I thought Wesleyan was a Methodist School.  John Wesley's profile is on its flag.  I was a Methodist from Stamford CT.  Later, of course, I discovered that Wesleyan was less Methodist than Williams was Episcopalian. 

Bill Hoyt, Class of 1923, baseball player for four years, captain for two, the son of the college treasurer, claiming in his family tree Jennie Jerome, Winston Churchill's mother and one-time resident of western Massachusetts... but I digress. Bill was a businessman in Stamford and a resident of Old Greenwich.  He also was big in local youth baseball leagues.  And for years he had an ambition to find athletes for his alma mater.  But no luck: either the recruit couldn't get in or didn't want to go to Williams.

Bill's friend and business acquaintance, a perennial candidate for mayor in my hometown, Joe Tooher, Sr., put Bill on to me.  I had the grades, if not the SAT's, to qualify for acceptance at Williams.  Bill drove me to Williamstown for an interview with Fred Copeland, then the Admissions Director... as classmates well know, the only person in the office other than secretaries.  I no sooner sat down than Fred offered me the whole purple kingdom.  I demurred.  What did I know?!  No Howard before me had been to college.  Bill simmered quietly.  Finally he had found an athlete for Williams and the dumb kid was reluctant to jump at the chance; either that, or he was the most arrogant teenager he'd ever met.  The preceding are my thoughts of what Bill could have thought. He was, however, among the gentlest, kindest souls I've met in my travels this side of eternity; wise and patient too, he waited a day or two and called me for a decision for Fred. 

You know how it all turned out.  I saw the light, the purple light, went to Williams, and loved it, felt affirmed by it, and continue to credit the education it provided with keeping me alive to life, critically alive to life. 

Corey Watts was the 2010 winner of the Willard E. Hoyt, Jr. prize, a prize funded by a gift by the Alpha Delta Phi's of 1960.  Of course, Bill was an AD... though he told me he spent more time with the Sigs, one of whom was his cousin, Doug Olcott '24.  The prize, the Willard E. Hoyt, Jr., 1923, Memorial, to be precise, is awarded, appropriately, to a scholar athlete; and, according to a knowledgeable alum, Phil Smith '55, is one of the most financially rewarding.  I tried to track Corey down following the graduation.  I simply had to tell someone about Bill and me.  Who better than Corey?  But the heavens opened up and a river of rain fell on the recessing grads.  I made a half-hearted search of Peresky where the reception was held.  The heat, humidity, and press of flesh was overwhelming.  Instead I Emailed Corey a message, far briefer than this one.  As yet no reply.

Bill's memory lingers not only in his hometown in the Berkshires, but in his adopted town on the Connecticut shoreline, where a team in the Babe Ruth Division is named "the Hoyt Bruins."  A $1000 scholarship is annually awarded in Bill's memory to an outstanding Greenwich athlete, this year to Kevin Collins, a baseball standout for Greenwich High.  At Bill's funeral in 1960 in the First Congregational Church of Greenwich (the town where my great-grandfather immigrated at age eleven to escape the Irish potato famine), the congregation was filled with young men of athletic proportions, a testament to the affection in which he was held by the athletes who didn't get into Williams and the one who did.

But my Hoyt epiphany consists in the consequences, the good and glorious consequences, of his kindness that March Saturday in 1949.  It was the Williams connection which was the excuse for my first meeting with the woman who eventually took me as her husband.  Barbara's father was graduated from Williams in 1925 (and knew Bill: Lewis H. Davis was also an Alpha Delta Phi).  From that meeting in the Davis eldridge parlor one purple evening, a romance developed, a marriage celebrated, three daughters born, and eight grandchildren now fill the family album.  Each of the daughters graduated from Williams.  The oldest grandchild just graduated, on June 6th; and another grandchild enters Williams in September.

There's hardly enough purple in the world to cover the connections Bill started for me.

And now you know, I hope, why I was under something of a compulsion to tell Corey and you about Willard E. Hoyt, Jr. 



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