May 23rd, 2012

Your story about Martha Mitchell (Here & Now, March/April) and her passing triggered one of those moments when the business of the day stops for a space of quiet reflection. I first met her in 1998. At the time, I was eager to begin research on a guide to the architecture of Brown. Naturally that led to the University archives in the John Hay Library and the inimitable Ms. Mitchell, chief archivist.

I found her to be like one of those storybook aunts who are extraordinarily indulgent of and gentle with small children, her eyes sparkling conspiratorially as she shared secrets and revealed treasures. Not only was she eager to hear about the book I hoped to write, she signed on with a promise to give me her full support, a promise she kept immediately by darting about the collection, bringing out models of projects the University never built and folders of rare prints and photographs.

Whatever the subject, her knowledge about the University was encyclopedic. Who would have expected this woman to know the stats of every Brown athletic team? If memory serves, she had a decided fondness for baseball. Hers was a knowledge acquired over the years, not for its own sake but because of her intense love of Brown.

The hours sped by, and soon it was time for the archives to close. Before I left, she gave me a copy of her valentine to Brown, the Encyclopedia Brunoniana. On the title page she wrote her name in a thin, bird-like scrawl: “Martha Mitchell.” Nothing else. Today, it’s within easy reach of my desk—like her, it’s a treasure to be thankful for.

Ray Rhinehart ’62
Washington, D.C.

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May/June 2012
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