Remembering Tony Bliss

Editor’s note: while the posts and articles that appear in this section of the site are more commonly about themes from our days at Williams and current events that link to them, we welcome that occasional remembrance of classmates who are no longer with us. Arthur Cambouris has composed, with permission of Tony’s family, the following tribute to our classmate.

Anthony S. Bliss

For those who never had the pleasure of knowing Tony Bliss (and those who did), I offer my tribute to a truly one-off personality. Consider the one phrase he decided to learn in preparation for his trip to Italy: roughly translated it was, “Signora, your son the shoeshine boy is definitely not the murderer.” That was Tony in a nutshell.

A native Californian, he came to the East Coast and Williams, sharing a second-floor suite with Tom Demakis (Pancho) and me, the only Greek-American freshmen. Talk about drawing the short straw. The chemistry was not immediate.

We soon learned that this man was creative, well-read, and had some distinct interests—railroading and the books that captured the era, and all things French. And he inclined to the ironic, if not perverse. When Zog slipped as he bounded down the stairs to listen to “The Name Game” on the radio and slid into the landing, ending up in pain at Tony’s feet, Tony knew exactly what to do. Assist the wounded? Not really. Tony became the umpire (since baseball was his favorite sport), lifted his cocked right arm with an outstretched thumb, and made the call: “You’re out!”

Nor did Tony, unlike some of us, hesitate to make the decision to spend his junior year abroad. I went with Tony to the west side piers as he was boarding the Queen Mary on his way to Paris. I too had toyed with the notion of a year abroad, but it was not until we said our goodbyes that I realized what a mistake I had made.

Tony returned from the Sorbonne and his European adventure more a Francophile than ever, sporting a red beret, a curled and well waxed mustache with its own dedicated comb. Not part of the Williams dress code in the 60’s, but that never bothered my pal.

Tony the artiste flourished in his senior year. He produced a large collage called “In Principio,” displayed in the Brooks House living room, depicting Atlas cupping the world in his hands, surrounded by all sorts of biblical, mythical, and allegorical illusions. He also dipped an old T-shirt on a hanger in plaster, hung it on a large wire until it dried, and then removed the wire to reveal the Bliss sculpture of a freestanding T-shirt, of which I am the proud owner. And how about the upside down room he designed and built in the stairwell of Brooks House to celebrate the Alice in Wonderland theme of one of our Winter Carnivals? Nor can we forget the large papier-mache rhinoceros which he fashioned into a hookah serving as many as six inhalers.

Even after graduation Tony was fortunate enough to recognize and pursue what gave him pleasure. He went to work in Paris first for a printer and then a publisher, enjoyed all things French, and eventually married a French woman, Marie-Noelle, his wife of many years. Though they would return to the States, they raised two French-speaking children and returned to France each summer.

Tony’s professional life was also true to form. His interest in collecting and preserving “hardcopy” led him to Berkeley, where he was for decades the well-respected curator of rare books and manuscripts at the world-renowned Bancroft Library.

Monsieur Bliss was every bit as rare as the books he coveted. A bohemian with a nostalgia for old world formality. He left me and everyone whose life he touched with memories of a true original who had the good fortune to live his passions.

4 comments

  • Lloyd Thomas

    I was very sorry to hear of Tony’s passing. Our senior year in Brooks House, my room was just a few doors down from his. He truly loved French literature and culture, but I believe he majored in French at Williams only because the college didn’t offer degrees in Surrealism and Dada performance art. All of us at Brooks House remember the replica of Notre Dame cathedral he constructed out of matchsticks and then heroically burned on the front lawn. Then there was Tony’s papier-mâché rhinosaurus sculpted after Albrecht Durer’s engraving. A work of art which doubled as a hookah. He named the Rhino “Pierre” –a French pun because it meant “stone” which also described its function. Tony also organized an extravagant wine and cheese party for faculty and Brooks House seniors a few days before we all graduated. Long may you run, Tony!

    • Arthur Cambouris

      Lloyd, thanks for remembering the flaming cathedral. I sent your post to Tony’s daughter who really loved it. Arthur

  • charles saydah

    A nice tribute to a guy a lot of people would have liked to know.

    Editor’s note: Charles connects to us via Bob Herzog and also Arthur Cambouris and wife Diana.

  • This past year has been a blurry fog for me for a variety of reasons and somehow I am just catching up – in this case to the news of Tony Bliss’s passing. We were both Brooks Brothers and spent a reasonable amount of time in relatively close proximity so I don’t remember why it took me so long to get to know Tony well enough to really appreciate his great and original sense of humor. Maybe it was the upside down room or perhaps the unforgettable Rhino that did it. In any case, I’m lucky to have known him at least for a little while. He was surely one of a kind in blue sneakers. May you be at peace, Tony Bliss

    And thank you Arthur, for your touching tribute.

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