One day last spring I saw something new in the Engineering Quad where Mech Lab meets Ryon: a gash of bright gravel where there had always been grass, and a wooden bench, also shiny and fresh. I avoided it for a long time, weeks at least if not more than month, circling around the back of the Power Plant or just skirting it by walking on the Abercrombie side.
Late on a Friday afternoon near the end of the semester, with rain approaching yet again, I was, finally, all by myself in the Quad. I walked over to the bench expecting sorrow and sorrow I surely did find. I had heard last fall of the death from cancer of Sarah Tooth, a talented grad student in the Statistics Department. This piece written by my friend Patrick Kurp gives a sense of the depth of this loss, of her warmth, vivid personality and her many gifts, not least her gift for real friendship. This bench was for her. A plaque attached carries these lines from Richard II (expanded on here again by Patrick Kurp):
I count myself in nothing else so happy As in a soul remembering my good friends.
I missed the full force of this, though, until I turned and sat and felt a shock of recognition. What you see when you look up from the bench is this: the new tree planted in Sarah’s memory, then an older tree, the granite slabs of sculpture, and last, almost hidden behind low shrubs in the corner where Mech Lab meets Abercrombie, two benches with plaques on them.
I’ve written before about these benches, dedicated fifty years ago, memorials to the lives and deaths of James Waters (1894-1964) and James Boyvey (1942-1965). Like Sarah Tooth, James Boyvey died young; James Waters lived into old age. But in the end we are all the same, brothers and sisters in our loss. So hail sister, hail brothers, and farewell.