In the early 2000s, I took my young family to visit Princeton. On a campus tour, I saw Professor Robert Hollander ’55 walking toward East Pyne. Telling my wife that I would rejoin the tour in a minute, I jogged over to speak with him.
When I told him who I was, he said that he remembered me, which I thought theoretically possible but highly improbable. I was not a scholastic standout and, in 20 years, had spoken with him only a few times at Dante reunions. At the same time, I knew him to be a person of integrity who, as a lifelong student of the Divine Comedy, knew very well where flattery will get you. Hesitant to flatter myself that this great man actually remembered me, I chalked it up to his generosity and humility.
Princeton has always had many great teachers and scholars. Professor Hollander was among the very best. He cultivated a lifelong love of Dante in his students. But he gave us much more than just an introduction to great poetry. By his example, he taught us to live as if truth, beauty, and integrity were as vital as food, water, and air.
I have often thought of writing Professor Hollander to tell him how much he had enriched my life. In the most recent edition of PAW (In Memoriam, June issue), I sadly discovered that I was too late. May God grant him peace and his family consolation.