Ranging Free

By Norman Boucher / July / August 1999
November 7th, 2007

Walking across Lincoln Field on the Saturday of Commencement weekend, I happened to glance behind me and see a slim man in a cream-colored jacket pause at the war memorial near Thayer Street. The man peered at the stone tablet before him as if he hadn't visited campus in some time and was going about the business of getting caught up. Even from this distance I could see that the man, standing alone, gave off an air of self-containment.

I realized that I had spotted almost forty years of BAM history. When I became editor of this magazine last year, I was shocked to realize that, although the BAM has been around for almost a century, I am only its sixth editor. The second, Chet Worthington '23, the man I had just spotted, held the job for thirty-eight years, from 1931 to 1968. During World War II, he also was director of alumni relations and executive secretary of the Brown Annual Fund, and during his first eleven years as editor, he also worked full-time at the Providence Journal.

I couldn't believe my luck. I pulled off the path near the Marcus Aurelius statue and waited for Chet to catch up. As luck would have it, we were both heading for the Green to hear John Glenn deliver a Stephen A. Ogden Jr. lecture. Chet is now in his mid-nineties, so we progressed slowly toward a couple of folding chairs near the back row. A number of people greeted him along the way, many recognizing him from past years: wearing his characteristic tam-o'-shanter, Chet has walked in every Commencement procession since his graduation, over time making his way inexorably to the front of the reunion classes. Despite his age, he requires no assistance.

Waiting for Glenn to arrive, we talked shop. Chet seemed to take note of everything. When a red-tailed hawk emerged from one of the elms and flew toward University Hall, he watched it silently; no one else seemed to notice. When I asked if, in his nearly four decades as editor, he'd ever faced a serious threat to the magazine's editorial independence, he said, "I worried about [President Henry] Wriston. They said he wouldn't be able to keep his hands off the magazine. But he saw only four articles before they were published, and he saw all of them because the writer wanted him to see them." Not bad: Wriston ruled Brown for twenty-two years. But even more remarkable was Chet's memory: He was describing events that happened sixty years ago.

After Glenn's lecture, I bought Chet lunch. Without knowing it, he was a calming force on me. Editing a magazine is an insecure proposition at first - there are so many decisions to make in front of so many readers - but for thirty-eight years Chet showed how it could be done with integrity and modesty. He made it seem important.

Chet had plans, and I had things to cover, so we went our separate ways. Later I looked up the July 1968 BAM, his last as editor. It's also the one in which his editorial independence is most compromised. His board of editors had ordered him to do two things against his will: to publish on the cover a photograph, taken at that year's Commencement, of Chet and his daughter, Constance '68, and to reserve some pages for a tribute to his editorship. Abandoning thirty-eight years of editorial policy, Chet agreed to allow his byline to appear over one of his articles for the first time. "One of the great joys in being at Brown," he wrote, "is the chance to walk through its Campus," and it was that unhurried sense of satisfaction, of being home, that characterized Chet whenever I glimpsed him during this Commencement weekend. "I've had," he wrote, "free range and a happy time..."

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July / August 1999