The Empty Seat

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For as long as I can remember, there has been a man sitting next to me in Row 00 of Section 28 at the Harvard Stadium: Robert D. Hall, class of 1955. Hall, I soon discovered, was an exceptionally devoted Harvard alumnus. He interviewed potential scholarship candidates. He attended Harvard athletic meetings. And he always knew something about the background of the Harvard football players we watched on autumn Saturday afternoons. He even knew whom to watch and worry about on the visiting teams.

As season-ticket holders, we attended every home game. I continue to drive from York, Maine, to Cambridge (I am class of '38), enduring gridlocks on Route 128 and never-ending construction after exiting from Route 2. But Robert never drove to games from his home on the Cape, always coming by train or bus. By the same means, he also went to every away game for which public transportation was available. Despite occasional surprises—like the return train to Boston from a Penn game at Philadelphia that made an unscheduled diversion to Springfield, Massachusetts—he persevered season after season. He even forgave the Harvard Ticket Office for blindsiding him in the fall of 2001 by selling him a ticket for The Game in New Haven that turned out to be on the Yale side of the Bowl.

From left, Alvah Sulloway and Robert Hall at the Stadium
Courtesy of Alvah Sulloway

Over the years the Harvard Athletic Department has periodically shifted us Varsity Club season-ticket holders farther and farther down field from the 50-yard line. Our present seats on the 20-yard line are acceptable only because they are still high up in Row 00, only one row below the colonnade, and have a view of the whole field. When I was asked to accept these downshifts, I always consented subject to the condition that my new seat not be separated from Robert Hall's and that the Row 00 height level be maintained.

I last saw Robert, though not to talk to, at the Cornell game on October 12, 2002. We had each retreated to the colonnades because it was raining. Robert, arriving early, had found a seat higher up on the colonnade's wooden benches than I dared to climb, but we waved.

Robert didn't occupy his seat in Row 00 at the Northeastern game on October 19. As I had adjoining seats for my son Brook, his wife, and four children under seven years, and the kids were a distraction because they couldn't sit still, I figured that Robert had taken a look at the situation and found himself an empty seat elsewhere. This would have been a realistic precaution because I missed one out of every two plays myself.

The next two games were away, but when Robert didn't show up for the Columbia game on November 9 and the Yale game on November 23, I wrote to him at his law office on the Cape, expressing my concern that he might be ill, as I knew that only a serious health problem could have kept him from attending the last three home games of the season.

By return mail I received a letter from Robert's secretary advising me of his death on November 11, two days after the Columbia game. He had gone to Cambridge earlier that day, intending to go to the football game, but never got there.

I will renew my own season tickets for the 2003 football season. Even though the hallowed seat next to me will be sold eventually to someone else, for me it will always be Robert Hall's empty seat.

~Alvah W. Sulloway


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