Editor’s note: Professor Anson Piper, Williams ’40, taught at Williams for n years, and served as Chairman of the Romance Languages Department from 1960 to 1971.
Jeffrey Brinn, who maintained a relationship with Piper and his family for many with his writes of his memories as an undergraduate and as a returning graduate.
Anson Piper – The Best Teacher I Ever Had!
In high school I won the Latin Award at the end of my sophomore year. I had done very well in Latin 1 as a freshman. A dozen or so of the best students were selected to take both Latin 2 and Latin 3 the next year. The first semester was Latin 2, Caesar’s Chronicles – a lot of sustaining the impetus of the enemy. The second semester was Latin 3, Cicero’s Orations – harder but more entertaining as he had a good sense of humor. We finished Cicero near the end of the year, so the teacher, Mr. Miller, had us read Virgil, which was Latin 4. At the end of the semester, I won the Latin Award for having the highest-grade average. Those of you who have read my story in the Class of 1968 Book will understand how this happened. The prize was two books on Latin History, including one on the Roman Navy. I didn’t read either one, but I may still have them somewhere as I do not throw out books. Incidentally, Mr. Miller was the best teacher I had in high school.
As a junior and senior, I took Spanish 1 and 2 and enjoyed them very much. However, I was not sufficiently fluent in Spanish to attempt the achievement test, and I had forgotten much of the Latin. Fortunately, this meant I had to take a foreign language at Williams, so as a freshman I took Spanish 105-106, the equivalent of Spanish 3 – which was an introductory literature course. Anson Piper, the Chairman of the Romance Language Department, was the professor.
So started a relationship that endured for the rest of his life. The course was not particularly easy, and I probably got the Gentlemen’s C, maybe C+, which was still fashionable at the time. Mr. Piper was a great teacher, unfailingly in a good humor.
During the Presidential Forum last May, I related the following story of the Best Performance by a Professor in the History of the World. We were reading a book, which I believe was titled: “Asi Es La Vida”, or “This Is How Life Is.” The story was about a blind student, probably in high school One day his classmates played a mild prank on him. He was attempting to locate a “Cenicero,” an ashtray, on his desk which he knew had been there.
Remember in those halcyon days, smoking was allowed virtually everywhere on campus, and so there were several ashtrays in the room. They were of the low flat type, not very deep, typically with some brand name of a cigarette on the wide rim. The prank was that one of the other students moved the ashtray, so the blind student could not find it – at which the rest of the class laughed.
Mr. Piper enacted this scene as follows: He picked up one of the wide, flat ashtrays and dumped the ashes in a waste-basket. He then somehow squeezed the quite wide ashtray into the side hip-pocket of his checked sports-jacket, customary attire for Williams professors, and surreptitiously walked across the room and put the ashtray on another desk. This action took everyone by surprise and certainly made that day’s class a memorable one.
One day a week or so, there was a “Spanish” table for dinner in a separate room in Baxter and he would sometimes be the faculty member at the table. Requests for a dish to be passed were always said in Spanish. At the snack-bar, he always sat at the corner right-hand booth as you came in from the hall, chatting with some other faculty members.
When I returned to school in February of 1970 for my last semester, I asked if I could attend one of his classes. Of course, he agreed. He announced my presence to the rest of the class as an “Antiguo alumno” – an older, or former student. I even answered one of the questions he asked and got it partially right, which he adroitly modified so as not to embarrass me to the rest of the class.
When I would return to campus, as I often did, during the school year and/or during summer, I would always enter the snack-bar from the hall, never from the outside door. That way as I came in, I would pivot and look around the partial partition and frequently found him sitting there and chatting amiably with his table-mates. Once during the summer, I got his home phone-number from the phone book and he invited Myra and I over for a visit. His lovely wife, Miriam, served us some ginger-ale and we passed a delightful half-hour or so. One home-coming weekend, for Wesleyan as I recall, my son, daughter-in-law and grandson met us, and we were all guests of Mr. Piper for lunch at the Williams Inn, where he was a “Regular.”
I have the fondest memories of Anson Piper, not only the best teacher I ever had, but one of the finest gentlemen I ever met. Every time I was back on campus, I would visit his grave-site at the College Cemetery, first for his beloved Miriam only, and then in the fullness of time, for them both. May they rest in peace
Jeffrey Brinn ’68