From Robert Goheen ’40 *48, the meaning of Princeton and Reunions

Up near the top of thankless tasks I’d rather not ever have is the mysterious position of grand marshal of the Reunions P-rade. Not only the moral but physical equivalent of herding 20,000 cats (in this instance, Tigers), it puts one at the complete mercy of May thunderstorms, the entire American brewing industry, the Baby Stroller Mafia and many thousands of years of misspent law-school classes. All this in a simple attempt to provide warm memories for a wildly diverse amalgamation of ages, genders, attitudes, and sobriety from across the globe, all trying to walk a single straight line. Fat chance.

Anyway, my Class of ’70 pith helmet is off to Charles Plohn ’66, who recently inherited that questionable honor from Charlie Rose ’50, and is admirably optimistic in his duties given that he appears to be otherwise sane. Just before this year’s P-rade, he mentioned to me a fact that may broaden your view of Reunions a tad.

Malcolm Warnock ’25 won the Class of ’23 cane for the senior returning alumnus to the P-rade this year for the fourth time. His elder classmate, Leonard Ernst, who has won the cane five times himself and still lives happy and healthy in Arizona at age 103, makes it a record total of nine wins so far for ’25, a daunting challenge to future geriatricians. What Plohn mentioned to me was that, when Warnock and Ernst were seniors (the seniors didn’t march in the P-rade back then – they only observed, too rowdy) the eldest marching alumnus was from the Class of 1865. They personally have seen well over half of Princeton’s 262 years parade before them.

Now, very few of us can come to terms with Reunions on that exalted a level. Most of us need our own little touchpoints, modest comfortable anchors that keep us level and upbeat when we go back. I like to listen to the organ in the Chapel. I like to wander through Holder courtyard at least once. I really have enjoyed seeing Bob Goheen ’40 *48 with his class in the P-rade. On the rare occasion he has been elsewhere, I always felt cheated a little; now that he’s gone, my weekend somehow seems more shallow.

It turns out he made allowance for that.

Bob Goheen, God bless him, organized his own memorial service in the thoughtful and judicious way he did most things in life. When it was held April 27 in the Chapel, his selections reflected him so well that he seemed to be in the room. Many of the elements were overtly clear. Here was Lloyd Stone’s lyric to “Finlandia”:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine…

giving voice to the global vision of an American soldier raised in India. Here was Duke Ellington’s “It’s Freedom,” recalling Goheen’s firm, methodical effort to offer Princeton’s treasures to those who never before had hoped to be admitted to them. I must admit I was puzzled by the inclusion of John Newton’s “Glorious Things of You Are Spoken,” which has always struck me as faintly jingoistic:

Glorious things of you are spoken
Zion, City of our God;
One whose word can not be broken
Formed you for a blest abode.
On the Rock of Ages founded,
What can shake your sure repose?
With salvation’s walls surrounded,
You may smile at all your foes.

until I realized I was too narrowly focusing on the wrong passage. The hymn continues:

See! The streams of living waters
Springing from eternal Love,
Well supply your sons and daughters,
And all fear of want remove.
Who can faint while such a river
Ever will their thirst assuage:
Grace which, like our God, the Giver,
Never fails from age to age?

The holy city of Zion with its streams of living waters, to Bob Goheen, is Princeton.

Fading is all worldly pleasure,
All earth’s boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasures
None but Zion’s children know.

My class, the Great, Turbulent Class of 1970, probably robbed Goheen of a few valuable years of contemplative life. Girls, cars, bicker, Vietnam, racism, academic freedom, academic calendars, dorm assignments, free speech, course requirements, the FitzRandolph Gate, ecology, Commons food, young alumni trustees, Walter Hickel, faculty selection – you name it, we bitched about it. We weren’t ever wrong (ahem), but it still must have been telling on his nerves, not that you would ever know. There was probably as much guilt as respect in our offer of honorary class membership to him some years after our (merciful) departure, but his ready acceptance was as classy as any gesture there ever was. It’s probably the most moral thing we’ve ever done, and among his most magnanimous. And here in his memorial service he’s explaining (via St. Francis) his approach to us reprobates:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love, where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.

As a bonus, may I note that this is the actual justification for Reunions? It’s not for drinking, marching, couture (heaven help us), dating, fundraising, dancing, fireworks, or pride; those can’t begin to justify decades of hard work by folks like Plohn and Rose. Reunions actually are for hope, joy, consolation, and understanding. Goheen’s beloved Sophocles called it “the noblest home on earth.” I’d wager the classes of 1925 and 1865 would agree.

Two years ago Bob Goheen sat for a PAW cover photograph honoring his 70 years at Princeton. If you look very carefully, you’ll notice a tiny lapel pin on his typical tweed jacket, adjacent to his usual bowtie. It’s the Itty Bitty Bug pin of his honorary Class of 1970. Lord, Lord, we will miss that man.

Gregg Lange ’70 is a member of the Princetoniana Committee and the Alumni Council Committee on Reunions, an Alumni Schools Committee volunteer, and a trustee of WPRB radio.