Our Obedient Servant

Robert Shenton, Ph.D. '62, who died in February (see "Brevia," May-June, page 72), was secretary of the Governing Boards from 1971 to 1991...

Robert Shenton, Ph.D. '62, who died in February (see "Brevia," May-June, page 72), was secretary of the Governing Boards from 1971 to 1991. Jeremy A. Knowles, now dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, speaking at Shenton's memorial service on March 30, began, "The first letter I ever received from Bob said: 'I beg to inform you, on behalf of the University and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, that you are appointed to serve as Professor of Chemistry, subject to the Third Statute of the University. Your obedient servant, Robert Shenton.' Bob must have signed his name below those three words, 'Your obedient servant,' thousands of times....

"Professionally, Bob was the obedient servant whose integrity and discretion were legendary," Knowles continued. "His institutional memory was formidable, and I'm sure that the Governing Boards always felt better about themselves for having been gently nudged and expertly oriented by their omniscient secretary....A colleague described him to me as Harvard's éminence blanche."

So discreet was Shenton that he acquired the sobriquet "Old Blabbermouth." At the memorial service, associate secretary to the University Sandra Spanier noted that "he had never spoken to a Crimson reporter--and thus had never been quoted or misquoted by the newspaper that he carefully read every single day." While he was in the midst of managing the 1990 search for a new president, "he set up a committee meeting in New York City, partly in an effort to keep the meeting out of the eyes of the press. Just as it was ending, word came up to the meeting room that Crimson reporters were in the lobby. (We later learned they had cajoled the meeting location out of our travel agents.) Mr. Shenton's anonymity helped him here; as he had so assiduously avoided any contact with the paper throughout his career, when he walked out through the lobby, the reporters didn't recognize him."






Photograph by Stu Rosner

A brown-paper package of curious squishiness but with a hard core arrived on Primus's desk recently, and he opened it circumspectly. In it, wrapped in plastic bubbles, were a pewter disk 3Zx inches in diameter surmounted by a sphinxlike head and a letter from Jeffrey Hobson '91 of Berkeley, California. "Dear Primus V," he wrote. "This was originally supposed to be a ransom note. With the passage of time, however, we have forgotten whom to ask, what to ask for, and where to send the demands. I hope you can return this object to its proper owner.

"Enclosed is the lid of the Harvard-Yale Croquet Cup. The (apparently victorious) '89-'90 Harvard croquet team was all seniors and did not (shockingly) have a trophy case in which to store their prize for future generations, so the Cup was left in the care of my roommate Jonathan Harrison '91 during the summer of 1990. I forget what happened to the rest of the Cup--presumably Jonathan passed it on to the '90-'91 team. Before he did, another roommate, Brian Reich '91, and I appropriated the lid. We figured simpering croquet players deserved at least a little distress in their otherwise plush lives. Plus, maybe they would be easy marks for blackmail once word of the lidnapping got out.

"Surprisingly, publicity has been minimal, and this damned thing has gathered dust on several lintels and windowsills over the past decade. I trust that you will have a better idea what to do with it than I do."

Primus congratulated Hobson for coming clean and is ready to hand over the lid to anyone in possession of the base of the Cup and plausible bona fides.




Geoffrey Fowler '00, whose final "Undergraduate" column appears on page 88, came upon an observation by a prescient predecessor, Mark H. Alcott '61, LL.B. '64, now of Larchmont, New York, in a column from the issue of March 5, 1960, entitled "The Challenges & Rewards of Galloping Feminism." Alcott noted that WHRB had for the first time allowed a female announcer to go on the air. Man's "will to resist [the onslaught of women] has gone," he opined. "One can only hope that when the millenium comes and the two noble institutions become one, they will let us call it Harvard, rather than Radcliffe, University." Alcott hit the merger date right on the head, notes Fowler--and predicted the pandemic misspelling of "millennium."    ~Primus V


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