Ward Elliott, CMC Government professor and son of the great W. Y. Elliott of Harvard, has written and updated a history of Claremont McKenna that ought to be mandatory reading for anyone considering this fine institution. I throughly recommend it. Of course, I can't help but thank Ben Casnocha, who recommended it to me, for this spectacular find.
He leaves no stone unturned -- from the radicalism of Pomona and others in the '60s, to the tenures of Benson and Stark to the conservatism of Kesler, Jaffa, and others to the feeble origins to its record GPAs. My only criticism of it is that it is far too short and doesn't mention the reign of Gann. But perhaps that's because he hasn't updated it since 2000.
In any event, one particular passage gave me the chills. It's the part where he's describing how all of the various Claremont McKenna alums lived -- and died.
Somewhere, in addition to the descriptions of the way CMC people lived, should be some descriptions of how they died, doing what they believed in to the end. Ted Ducey, driving his truck into the path of a flash flood to rescue someone caught in the flood. Ross Eckert, battling to clean up the blood supply before AIDS took him away. Eckert, John Snortum, and Bob Feldmeth teaching, John Zinda and Grayle Howlett coaching till they had to be carried away. Marty Diamond, with his weak heart, dying with his boots on, defending the Electoral College in Congress. Dick Flamson ‘51, running the Security-Pacific Bank and chairing the CMC Board till the end; Steve Fairchild ‘90, world-class river runner, drowned running the Zeta Rapid on the Futaleufu River, Chile. Founders George Benson and Donald McKenna, teaching, shaping, and recruiting into their tenth decades. They fit the mold of building and campaigning for the college long after normal retirement age; as long, in fact, as they had the strength to do so. Procter Thomson, the one who told us that “greed is good,” not only teaching out his last semester, while dying of Hodgkins' Disease, but going to the Economics Association meeting and helping out with departmental recruitment -- and then coming home to mix up a huge batch of martinis, to his own special recipe, to be consumed at his funeral weeks later. As one admirer put it, “He was there in spirits.” His Chicago-school colleagues assure us (as he would have himself, had he lived) that such behavior, though it might look altruistic to a non-economist, was actually his way of maximizing his current personal utility, and was in perfect observance of his own laws. Maybe. But, if so, words like greed and personal utility mean something broader, deeper, warmer, fuzzier, and more subtle to economists than they do to ordinary people.
Billy Pedersen ‘68, Jesse Clark ‘65, and Stewart Moody ‘67 were neither economists nor ordinary people, but extraordinary people, looking death in the face on mission after mission in Vietnam till death won the last hand. Jesse Clark could play better golf on his knees than anyone else standing up. He was blown up by a mine in Cu Chi, South Vietnam. Billy Pedersen and Stewart Moody went down with their helicopters in Vietnam. Pedersen had volunteered for service in Vietnam, completed his tour of duty, packed to go home, heard his replacement had not arrived, and volunteered yet again to help his shorthanded buddies. He was shot down in an ambush and killed on his second mission. Harry Jaffa dedicated his The Conditions of Freedom (1975) to his memory. William Dickinson ‘60 played left field for the baseball team till he came down with cancer and had to have his leg amputated as a sophomore. As a junior he found that the cancer had recurred and that his days were numbered. He returned to the field as the team's scorekeeper, statistician, and co-captain, playing the best part he could in the game he loved, with whatever time and strength were left to him. He did not make it through the last inning but died just before graduation. CMC awarded him its only posthumous degree and gives the William Dickinson prize each year to CMC's most inspirational athlete.
Maybe my favorite of Procter Thomson's laws is the pertinent one here, as elsewhere: “There is nothing either good or bad, but alternatives make it so.”" Death erases the long run for individuals, and the threat of death blots out the conventional long-run incentives for individuals to carry on. But most carry on even when the conventional incentives are gone. Billy Pedersen did not have to go to Vietnam, nor to fly missions after his tour was over, but he did. William Dickinson, and the professors, coaches, and trustees who stayed at their posts to the end could have gone fishing and not suffered for it. But they didn't. Procter Thomson could have had the bartender make up a smaller batch of martinis, and drunk them himself without violating any of his own laws. He didn't. When the chips were down, each saw carrying on as the best of all alternatives and chose to die as he had lived. They have told us, in effect, that getting your job well done and your cause well fought are the greatest of all privileges and the highest of all priorities -- the kind of thing you would want to do if it were your very last act on earth.