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TO YOUR DESCRIPTION of Sam Smith as an “underachieving Harvard brat” (“Mr. Smith Stays in Washington,” 11/4), the undersigned respectfully cries: not!
A classmate from an old Yankee family once reported that he “saw just enough of Sam at Harvard that [he] didn’t have to get to know any of Sam’s friends.” Most of us, in fact, were scholarship students, many being members of the highly diverse radio station that Sam called a salon des refusés.
I was a small-town Midwesterner; another roommate was a former Navy enlisted sailor; a third left Harvard to enlist in the Army. Another was a pure intellectual and sometime scholar who spent his time running WHRB-FM’s folk music and sports departments and broadcasting Harvard football games; he now is a renowned professor of ethnic literature in Colorado. Only one was “legit”—making Phi Beta Kappa and now heading Bryn Mawr’s classics department. He ran the WHRB classical music department and was a jazz disc jockey. On scholarship, of course.
Another of Sam’s close friends at Harvard—and today—was the son of a Pennsylvania Railroad engine driver and a retired D.C. public-school Latin teacher whose Capitol Hill house was “home” to over 1,600 Congressional pages. WHRB’s business manager and producer of its ballet music programs, he’s a senior international banker who earned a Harvard Ph.D. in American history as a hobby.
None of use was in any of the famous “final” clubs that sheltered the real Harvard brats. (Sam declined the elite Porcellian, famously saying, “I ain’t the clubbie type.”) Sam’s base was WHRB, a 40-hour-week combination of full-service station, permanent floating bridge game, and enjoyable “take no prisoners” political forum—splendid preparation for Washington.
Sam (and others) did run afoul of Zeph Stewart, a nice guy only doing his job as academic overseer in Harvard’s Adams House. But while in academic shoal waters, Sam also was: WHRB’s news director and station manager, a Boston-area DJ on “Jam With Sam,” a working (paid) musician, a writer (also paid) in the Harvard News Bureau, and a propagandist (again, paid) for Harvard fundraisers.
Sam was the acknowledged leader of the radio station and of much else in our corner of Harvard Square, successfully fighting to include Radcliffe women as full members of WHRB while nagging friends at the Harvard Crimson until they followed suit.
Bookishness was not the wonky requirement in the enlightened late ’50s that it is today. Many WHRB and Crimson stars (I mention no names) did a stretch “on pro” before heading off as military officers, law review editors, judicial clerks, business-school hotshots, or bright young reporters in the New York Times and ABC News bureaus.
Intellectual-wise, as they say in Upper Michigan, Sam already was established in college. It took only a tour at sea to add life-or-death responsibility, which as a U.S. Navy inspecting officer, I also saw Lt. (j.g.) Smith handle superbly as navigator of the USCGC Spar.
As guests and hosts at numberless Christmas feasts and other rites of family passage for almost 40 years, Sam and I haven’t agreed on much of anything—except everything that counts. To paraphrase JFK, it has made life worthwhile to be included among Sam Smith’s friends.