Since the day she met me, my childhood piano teacher surely knew that I would never play at Carnegie Hall. My hands were small, my talent meager, my practicing limited to lesson days, when I’d rush home from school and play furiously for two hours until she arrived. Then I’d plod through Beethoven or Albéniz or Chopin, and she would find something to compliment as she delivered corrections and suggestions. I never managed to play those pieces very well, but I learned to be kinder in criticism, to chip away at whatever interested me, to quit worrying about perfection and let the piano be a source of satisfaction, clinkers and all.
I wanted to tell her this, and so several years ago I found her address and wrote to her, explaining that for decades after my lessons ended, I had dragged that old upright up and down the East Coast when I moved. I said I had finally purchased a new piano and still saw her next to me when I sat on the bench. I never got a reply. But when she died recently, at 101, her son reached out: My teacher had kept my letter, and the family wanted to read it at her funeral — would I mind?
This is PAW’s 10th annual Lives issue, in which we celebrate alumni who died last year. Some of the alumni featured in these pages did achieve near-perfection in their fields — but they are included here for what they made of those experiences. Others excelled at adventure and risk-taking, or at serving others, or at swimming upstream. Several were teachers, who like my piano teacher will continue offering life lessons long after their passing.
We have attempted to present a range of personalities, achievements, and experiences. We do not have tributes to some of the best-known alumni who died in 2021, including former Secretary of State George P. Shultz ’42, who died Feb. 6, 2021, and two-time Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ’54, who died June 29. Their lives and deaths were covered extensively in national media; there is not much that we can add.
We also want to acknowledge several alumni who gave unusual service to their classes and to PAW. Peter Milano ’55 co-founded and led Project 55 — now AlumniCorps — which has enabled young alumni to work at nonprofits. George Towner ’52 served his class as secretary since 2014 and was class treasurer before that. And we lost Paul Sittenfeld ’69, who as a student co-founded Stevenson Hall as an alternative to bicker, and as an alum prepared ’69’s Class Notes column for 46 years. Paul took the time to drop us notes when he saw something in PAW that he especially enjoyed, and gently let us know when we made a mistake.
The tributes in this issue appear as Princeton remembers alumni at the Service of Remembrance, held as part of Alumni Day. Last year, COVID forced the service online; this year it’s scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 19, in the Chapel. Our tributes represent just a small sampling of the stories that should be told.
We invite readers to help tell those stories by posting remembrances alongside class memorials at paw.princeton.edu. Let us know who’s sitting next to you on your bench.