As students reached for tissues to wipe their tears, a mildly boisterous sing-a-long of Old Crow’s song “Wagon Wheel” welled up in Lorimer Chapel as hundreds of students, professors, and staff waited for the service to begin. Emotional extremes—carousing and weeping, laughing and grieving—permeated the memorial service for Peter R. Cronkite ’15 as the Colby community gathered May 4 to remember Cronkite, who took his own life a week earlier.
His friend Steven Buxbaum ’15 described Cronkite as stubborn, generous, efficient, persistent, creative, and his own man, each punctuated with a laugh line. “Pete was inclusive. He had a no-child-left-behind policy when we went out on weekends,” Buxbaum said. “Lastly, Pete was our friend,” he concluded, his voice cracking, “We are better for having known him, and we’re worse for having lost him.”
Kurt Nelson, dean of religious and spiritual life, said students expressed concern about these contradictions through the week. They worried that “the Pete full of laughter and wit and passion might not be the real Pete, since he was so clearly struggling. But make no mistake,” Nelson said. “The Pete you knew on the rugby pitch and in the classroom and after hours was in fact the real Pete, just as was the Pete who was struggling secretly. We are each of us complex. And may we remember especially today that we needn‘t struggle alone. May that, along with the memories we share today, be among Pete’s lasting gifts to us as a community.”
Jonathan Eichholz ’15 noted the duality. “The weirdest part of this past week was I felt like I should have been more sad. I feel like I shouldn’t have been upbeat at all. The most bizarre part about this tragedy is that every time I gather with friends to reminisce about Pete, everybody I’m surrounded with is smiling, happy, laughing hysterically.” He concluded by quoting Mel Brooks, whose films they both loved. “If you’re quiet, you’re not living,” Brooks said. “You’ve got to be noisy, and colorful, and lively.”
Classics professors Yossi Roisman and Kerill O’Neill described Cronkite’s passion for the classics and classical themes in modern cinema that married his academic major and minor. Before his death he had been selected to receive the department’s John B. Foster Memorial Prize in Classical Civilization. O’Neill quoted a line from one of Cronkite’s favorite films, Braveheart: “Every man dies; not every man really lives.” Memories shared following Cronkite’s death, O’Neill said, showed “that he really lived: on the pitch, in the classroom, in the Echo offices, in the pub, and in the Writers’ Center.”
Cinema Studies Professor Steve Wurtzler described Cronkite as a true intellectual who could have fun. As he described a paper titled “Sound in Bad Santa: The Effect of the Director’s Cut in the Lunchbox Scene,” Wurtzler reminded the audience of a certain smirk that would precede a beautiful Cronkite grin. Bad Santa, he said, is “not a text I would pick for theoretical, critical analysis. In fact I’m confident in saying that Bad Santa has never been an object of rigorous academic attention, that is until Pete’s.” Yet he found parts of the paper quite good.
Griffen Allen ’16 quoted Beowulf, who proclaimed that vengeance on the evil monster that killed his friend would be better than mourning. He urged Cronkite’s friends not to “sit back and let this monster, and its kin, that took Pete from us have its day. We cannot fight and slay the beast that took Pete, but we can fight our own monsters and help our friends fight theirs.”
President David A. Greene began, “There are so many things to love about this community: the healing power of it, the bravery of it, the joy of it. I’m amazed as I listen to all of you; I could never have done it.” He spoke of the lasting impact that Cronkite leaves on the Colby community. Lessons we learned from him, Greene said, include “making the very most out of life and, unfortunately, about the need to call on our friends when help is needed. In Peter’s memory, let us make asking for help an act of great valor.”
Greene concluded: “Peter’s mark on this community will endure. His reach was long, his friendships many, his influence broad and meaningful. His life and the way it tied us together, the way it crossed generations and families, the way it anchored us, will be present with us always. We lost a member of our family, but it is all that we gained from Peter that guides us forward.”