The President Was Home

 

By Gary Newton '72, Washington, D.C.
 

On a spectacular June evening, under a tent in his backyard, President Bro Adams hosted a delightful gathering for Colby alumni to help launch Reunion Weekend 2012. At the gathering, I had a chance to tell President Adams about the only other time I’d been to the president’s residence—43 years earlier. 

It was September 1969. I had just returned for my sophomore year. Tension on the campus was rising between students and the college administration.  A constitutional convention was scheduled for October to discuss college governance and constructive change. President Robert E. Lee Strider II was becoming a bit of a lightning rod, perhaps a college president’s lot in life in those contentious days.

TimeI decided to call on President Strider at his Mayflower Hill home. We didn’t have a lot in common. He was 52. I was 19. He was clean-shaven with a crew cut. I had a scruffy beard and long hair. He resembled President Nixon’s Special Counsel Charles Colson. I resembled any number of President Nixon’s special nightmares. He was a cum laude graduate of Harvard. I was on academic probation. He was a Shakespearean scholar. I didn’t know Puck from Pericles. He had the bearing of a general, befitting his namesake. I was searching for my bearings. 

I stood at the front door of his residence with no appointment. I had something in my hand I wanted to give him. It wasn’t an ultimatum to reform this or divest that, but a copy of TIME magazine.  

My mother then was a stringer for TIME. She received an assignment to interview a cross section of people regarding their reaction to the stunning July 20, 1969, moon landing. She included me as an interviewee in her cross section. 

The August 1, 1969, issue of TIME hit the newsstands. It was a blockbuster, probably one of the most widely read issues in the history of TIME, featuring, as it did, both the moon landing and “The Kennedy Debacle”—the incident on Chappaquiddick. 

At the heart of the article on the moon landing was this quote, “Said Gary Newton, 19, a sophomore at Maine’s Colby College: ‘The astronauts’ achievement was great, but I’m sorry that our country doesn’t put as much money into solving the problems of war, poverty and sickness.’” 

I popped in on the president that September afternoon in 1969 because I wanted to be sure he had seen the reference to our college in TIME. I rang the bell and Helen Strider, the president’s wife, answered the door. I apologized for appearing unannounced and explained the purpose of my visit. She invited me in, President Strider joined us, and we had a delightful chat over tea in their living room. They were charming and gracious and got a kick out of the reference to Colby in the midst of the article on the moon. I thanked them for their hospitality and went on my way.

On a couple occasions over the course of my remaining years at Colby, when student activists accused President Strider of being inaccessible, I felt compelled to pipe-up and ask, “Have you tried ringing his doorbell?”

 
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