Professor Marvin Bressler (In memoriam, Sept. 22) was a great teacher and an even better friend. For me, he personified liberal academia. But for his wise counsel, I would not have made it through the turbulence of the late ’60s. Our frequent meetings through the years, when he was either on an admission tour or accompanying the men’s basketball team in his role of “academic adviser,” never failed to help clarify issues in my adult life. If there were ever a better conversationalist, I never met him.
As the biographer Liva Baker quoted a disciple of Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes: “[He] talked a great deal, as the natural center of the company in which he found himself ... There was an almost impish charm to the fluency with which he would catch a subject, toss it into the air, make it dance and play a hundred tricks, and bring it to solid earth again. There was ... a sense of enjoyment even in the serious treatment of a serious subject. ... As he talked, he drew inspiration from his company; he challenged and desired response, contradiction, and development. He liked to have the ball caught and tossed back to him, so that he could send it spinning away again with a fresh twist. Talk was a means of clarifying ideas, of moving towards the truth, but it was a great game, too.”
Holmes once admitted that if he lost both arms and both legs and had to be carried every day into the marketplace and allowed to talk, he would have all that he wanted out of life. Add a pipe and an audience, and the same could be said of Marvin Bressler.