To Russia with love: remembering David Sloane

Memories of David A. Sloane ‘68

By Bob Cricenti (David's roommate our senior year) 

         Some background first: Late June 1967, the summer before our senior year, Alexei Kosygin and Lyndon B. Johnson met at Glassboro State University in New Jersey for summit talks. There was some agreement on Middle East strategy and that accord led to other agreements that perhaps tourism would be a good thing for the two countries. Quite quickly and without prior preparation groups were chosen to visit each other’s country. Lots of barriers were in the way, language being foremost. Translators were needed. David was a Russian language major. Hardly any itineraries were prepared. The Soviet Union had a service, Intourist, that would be the guide for Americans to sightsee.

         David came back to Williams a week or so late in September 1967. We were roommates on the third floor of Bascom House. He had been the American translator on a tourist trip to the Soviet Union. If Americans wanted to put an item on the itinerary, he had to ask permission starting with the lady from Intourist and the request went wherever and was either granted or not. The Russian speaking guide would then lead the American group and communicate through the translator. Tanya (later Sloane) was David’s counterpart and he was smitten. We talked about his summer and mostly we talked about Tanya. Before the age of google, getting information about how to bring a person to the US was not easy to come by. We brainstormed a lot. Love found its way because David and Tanya married and came to the States. She was his muse and support throughout grad school and after. We met a couple of times since graduation, once in Cambridge while David was working on his doctorate and once in our grocery store in NH when the Sloane family was on the way from Boston to Middlebury, VT where David taught at a prestigious summer program. This he did for many years.

         I was pretty good at languages and in my senior year I thought I could take beginning Russian and probably get a good grade without a lot of work. By just being around David I should assimilate a lot. My work ethic was not good and though I did all the drills and studying, I did not attend a lot of the classes. I would leave completed homework assignments in Mrs. deKeyserlingk’s mailbox and she would send corrected ones back to me. Quickly into the year she became a regular at lunch in Bascom House sitting next to my roommate. I think that David’s friendship towards me softened her view of this slacker in her class. I was able to help type some papers on a Russian keyboard manual typewriter, and though it was slow and tedious, I hope I helped a bit.

         There was word this year of David’s passing. It was in June of 2013. There was little fanfare as the family wished to be private. Faculty at Tufts had presented a resolution of honor in 2011 on David’s retirement.

         Too late we all realize what we miss. I miss David’s loyalty, friendship, intellect, and talent. Too late to just bump into him and grab a coffee. Not too late to say that knowing him has made a difference in my life—the beginning of knowing the world outside a small New England town.

2 comments

  • My niece studied at the intensive Russian language program at Middlebury for two summers(as well as majoring in Russian during her undergraduate years at Middlebury). She went on to work on control of small nuclear weapons containment in Kazakhstan for the State Department. I wouldn’t be surprised if David was one of her teachers one of those summers. We seldom realize the imprint we make as we pass through this life.

  • I got to know David our junior year when I roomed next door to him on the 4th floor of West College. David was an incredibly hard-working student who also had a warm, friendly smile. He showed me a rather simple but fool-proof way that he and his future Russian wife had devised for communicating secret messages to each other while she was still in Russia.

    The last time I saw David was in Williamstown in the spring of 1970 when he was teaching in the Russian department. I was visiting and met David and Tanya in their apartment on Spring Street. It was cramped quarters, especially since they had a baby son. But he and his wife were both gracious hosts.

    I regret not having kept in touch, especially when I recall that David probably saved my life our senior year. I had offered him a ride down to New York City for winter break in December. Tired from late-night study for finals, however, I fell asleep while driving on the Taconic. But David grabbed the wheel of my car just as I was about to lose control and veer off the road.

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