The book: In this memoir, centenarian Donald R. Fletcher ’39 *51 writes his self-portrait, detailing his life on three continents — childhood in Korea, academic career at Princeton, and ministry in South America. Fletcher lingers on his relationship with Martha, his life partner, and her experience with Alzheimer’s disease.
My First Hundred Years: A Life on Three Continents (Resource Publications) tells Fletcher’s story while inspiring readers with devotional prose and spiritual analysis.The author: Donald R. Fletcher ’39 *51 continues to write, having published nine books since 2003. Born in 1919, he grew up in Korea, son of Presbyterian medical missionaries; earned degrees at Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary; and served the Presbyterian Church in Chile, the Caribbean, and at headquarters. He also taught at high school, college, and university levels in New Jersey, Alabama, and Texas. In 2007, he and his wife Martha moved to Lions Gate, a continuing care retirement community in New Jersey, where he cared for her until her death from Alzheimer’s disease in 2014.
Opening lines: There it was again, that poignant, haunting melody, as my classical music program was signing off. I found out later that the melody was Fauré’s Pavane. For now, it moved among the shadows, the low light of my hospital room in late evening. And it brought back once more, for no specific reason, that distinct, remembered scene.
I was in Northern Chile, in some dusty town of what they call the Norte Chico (Little North). We had been riding south all day and into the night on the tawny, washboard ribbon of road across the desert pampa, several young Chileans, and I at the wheel. We needed lodging and a few hours of sleep. We spotted a two-story inn on the dark, unpaved street. The double leaves of a heavy wooden door were closed tight. As Fauré’s music swelled, I was seeing again how one of the young men struck a match, and we tried to find how the door was barred, as our knocking and beating on it had brought no response.
That was all — the detached, remembered scene formed and faded each night, along with that poignant sign-off melody, in the shadows beyond my bed. Why that particular in door, a fragment of a mostly forgotten journey? It wasn’t part of a memorable adventure, nor of some critical happening; just a single, isolated picture that the brain brought back in emotive detail, when that music infused my imagination.
Reviews: “Don uses incredible storytelling to convey the journey of his first 100 years. In reading this narrative you will feel you are there, yourself, in so many places, with his vivid descriptions. His experience and witness to a life where family, faith, heartache, and abundant joy are evident will put a smile on your face, but have tissues ready as well.” — Deborah G. Brincivalli, Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of West Jersey, Presbyterian Church (USA)