Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 5

Eulogy: In Memory of Francis Seaman

by Marv Henberg September 20, 1998


In reflecting on the life of Francis Seaman, I begin with a measure that I know would meet with his approval. That measure is Aristotle's definition of happiness-activity in accordance with virtue over a complete life. By that measure, Frank, as we all called him, was very much a happy man. For those of us who know about Frank's sorrows and about his diminished capacity over the last eight years, this conclusion may seem a bit startling-but only because we equivocatebecause we slide from Aristotle's definition of happiness to the more everyday sense of the word. So I center us again-Frank was a happy man by the measure of acting virtuously over a complete life. I am here to say something, a little, about the elements comprising that virtuous activity. I begin with what strikes me most about the 22 years during which I was privileged to know Frank. It is this: in all that time, Frank behaved as selflessly as any person in my experience. He fought for many causes, advocated for many students, taught thousands of classes, ran and walked thousands of miles-but in all of it, he was moved predominantly by a sense of making common cause with others. His commitment was first and foremost to a group or entity larger than himself-usually the university or the community of Moscow. In all the many causes Frank championed-win, lose, or draw-there was never once a hint of self-promotion in the view Frank took. Not that Frank was fully loved, appreciated, and understood for the causes he advocated. Sometimes quite the contrary: I don't recall, for instance, how many votes of the School Board were 4 to 1, with Frank representing the 1, but the occasion was frequent enough that I witnessed, over the years, many heads shaking when Frank's name was invoked. I confess that my head wagged a time or two, also: how could he be so stubborn? How, particularly, could he raise the same issue again and again after its defeat, only to see the vote go exactly as it had before? The answer is simple: Frank believed he was right and the others wrong. He did so without arrogance or self-aggrandizement. In accord with Aristotle's understanding of happiness, his obligation was clear. Frank was never a partisan of the popular solution, but rather of the right solution, and when he believed the right solution had been ignored, he did everything in his power to see that it retained an advocate. As we reflect on the tenacity of his hold on any given issue, I invite us to ponder how poor our public life would be without such servants as Frank Seaman. Imagine if we agreed always and without embarrassing questions being asked. Imagine the scope for mediocrity and corruption to grow undetected under our very noses. The measure of Frank's virtue is not how many causes he won or lost, but rather how many he pursued in the interest of a thorough hearing of all sides. We have a better public sphere when the Frank Seamans' of the world pursue their inconvenient questions-of that we can all be assured.

Frank was a happy man by the measure of acting virtuously over a complete life.
There was another side to Frank's tenacity that we must not overlook. This very community where we meet today-the local Unitarian Fellowship-would in all likelihood not exist without Frank Seaman. His tenacity saw this community through dark days; he believed when others wavered. Still, in singing Frank's praise, I want to be fair to others who had equal impact on the survival of this Fellowship. Frank would demand no less of me. So I make a point that Frank would have loved. In saying that this Fellowship would not be here today without Frank Seaman, I am saying that his actions were a necessary but not sufficient condition for survival. Others with whom Frank worked were equally necessary, and their actions-together, communally-were jointly sufficient, as befits a "fellowship." Frank would be the first to credit his fellow travelers in this cause. So far I have commented on Frank's sense of duty and obligation, and I shall return to this theme in discussing his legacy to the University of Idaho, but for the moment I want to break away to discuss Frank's wry and winning sense of humor. As I recount some of these items, please join me in envisioning the special crinkle that Frank would get in the corner of his eye whenever he enjoyed the sport of word play. One could see those crinkles even past the thick black frames of his glasses. Frank loved pithy remarks gleaned from his voluminous reading and his many interactions with other people. Counting as much as the remarks themselves were the occasions during which he invoked them. Frank was no stand-up comic intent on directing attention to his own cleverness. Not by a long shot. Instead, he used humor when he thought there was a lesson to be learned or taught, or when a too-tense situation demanded levity. His humor was always warm and embracing, never hot and repudiating. Many of his sayings have become a part of my life in a way that I hope does Frank honor. They are too good not to be used, and so I use them, always with a silent nod of thanks to Frank for having introduced me to them. Apropos of Frank's own tenacity is his fondness for citing Bertrand Russell's conjugation of the verb to be: "I am firm, you are stubborn, he is a pig-headed fool." Perfectly suiting these surroundings and this audience is Frank's love of Alfred North Whitehead's definition of a Unitarian: "A person who believes there is, at most, one god." Often invoked during those interminable committee meetings to negotiate some nuance of faculty business was Frank's observation that "If a diplomat says 'yes,' he means maybe; if he says 'maybe,' he means no; if he says 'no,' he is no diplomat." Many of you will recall that Frank suffered from narcolepsy-an unfortunate tendency, especially in the afternoons, to nod off during conversation. Frank loved telling the story of his visit to a physician n search of a cure. Frank huddled with the physician, explained the problem, expounded on all the details, and then asked for a way of preventing the ailment. "Gee," came the response, "I don't have a clue, but if you find out will you let me know?"

At the root, then, of Frank's happiness, his activity in accordance with virtue throughout his life, was the wisdom to know that he had some answers and lacked others.
Frank's humor was never at anyone's expense, but it occasionally had a bite that the preceding examples lack. When life seemed especially trying, he would sometimes cite Schopenhauer's dictum that "This is, indeed, the best of all possible worlds, with everything in it a necessary evil." When Frank would say this, however, I hasten to point out that it was never with a sense of bitterness or defeat. He spoke it with sadness and resignation-which was as low as I ever saw his emotions take him, at least publicly. These glimpses of Frank's wry humor make for a fine transition to discussing his legacy to the University of Idaho. Frank was ever the teacher and philosopher. He pursued his craft without resort to the high-sounding rhetoric that puts so many people off from philosophy. To him, philosophical understanding was not some high cult to which only a few dare aspire. Drawing on his background in chemistry, Frank conceived of philosophy as eminently practical. The philosopher, Frank believed, has a solemn obligation to clarify concepts in ordinary use, and to be sure that the highest ideals of our civilization-justice and equality, for instance-do not tarnish simply because they are so difficult to grasp and to argue about. Frank had no patience with puffy language that passes for profundity. When we understand Frank's view that philosophy is the most practical of disciplines addressed to the most fundamental issues of our personal and social existence, we are a step closer to understanding his advocacy of the General Studies Program. A student in General Studies could earn a degree from the University of Idaho simply by completing 128 credits with the required minimum grade-point-average. Frank's faith in the program was quite straightforward: he believed that any of us was better off for studying than for not studying. He believed, again with Aristotle, that all of us desire to know. To give up on anyone simply because he or she did not presently act on that desire was akin to selling off a quality automobile simply because its battery had died. I wish all of you could have seen-as I did over the years-the long hours of one-on-one advising and tutoring Frank gave to his students in the General Studies Program. He was ever seeking to find a means of charging their batteries, of inspiring them to take on the liberating fruits of education. But he did so patiently, explaining point after point, issue after issue-never once insulting them by assuming they were somehow deficient or beneath his interest.

Apropos of Frank's own tenacity is his fondness for citing Bertrand Russell's conjugation of the verb to be: "I am firm, you are stubborn, he is a pig-headed fool."

Frank also believed, I think (and here I confess to making an inference, for we never discussed the point), that there was something potentially offensive in the traditional college lecture format-something to be avoided at any cost. That something was as follows: the traditional lecturer presumes to take knowledge from his or her head and pour it into the head of another. There is a danger of arrogance here, for the lecturer "knows," the student "knows not," and the point of the lecture is to elevate the student to a height he or she presently lacks. Frank was famous for accompanying each class with copies of his notes, and so I know much of what he said in class. A lot of it was, indeed, straight lecture-the imparting of information. I don't know how a teacher could avoid it. But another part-by far the most important part-of Frank's lecture notes were anecdotal-stories with a purpose that did not announce itself. In ethics, for instance, he included in his discussion of utilitarianism the example of Henry Ford's raising the pay of his workers to the hitherto unseen height of $5 a day so that Ford's workers, too, could afford the Model T cars that they were building. So far as I know, that was it. Frank let the story stand by and for itself. If a student pursued its "meaning," Frank would shrug and crinkle his eyes and say, "It's just a story." In his wisdom, Frank knew that some lessons were not lessons unless worked out for oneself. But, the traditional lecturer might object, "What if the students interpret a meaning other than the one you intended?" I can see it now, Frank smiling and shaking his head: "Well, I don't see how we could ever have a clarifying argument unless they did draw a conclusion at odds from my own." At the root, then, of Frank's happiness, his activity in accordance with virtue throughout his life, was the wisdom to know that he had some answers and lacked others. He was comfortable in professing, but never comfortable in sanctimony or presumption. In all these matters he was an exemplar of modesty, of finding the mean between the extremes of false humility on the one hand and arrogance on the other. Frank was an educated man who never disparaged or forgot his roots in the working man's world. At the same time, he was a common man who never mocked the value of an education or denigrated the contributions of others simply because he had no hand in them. Frank Seaman was, in a way that I shall always admire, secure in himself and his accomplishments. There were, of course, severe challenges to Frank's happiness in the everyday sense of that word. He was battered psychologically by his daughter Hallie's murder and by his wife, Mary's, choice thereafter to recluse herself from social life. He would have chosen that son Tom pursue an education more conventionally than he has-and that daughter Jill settle down to a physician's life nearer to hearth and home. I cite these things without divulging confidences, for Frank not only mentioned them from time to time, but one could read them in his wistful sighs and body language. And yet for each of these examples save for Hallie's murder-which by its nature must remain raw and random and unaccountable-Frank worked his way to an understanding that he must love and respect the choices of those he loved and respected. Frank was not one to make the already clamorous world more clamorous with complaint. He saw his way painfully to respect choice and autonomy in those whom he had nurtured to think, believe, and act for themselves. And I know that with both Tom and Jill, who must carry on his legacy, Frank felt a special pride that their choices in life are so obviously fired by selflessness and by a passion for

seeing that those who suffer misfortune are treated humanely and with dignity. In a family as in a classroom, I believe with Frank that one learns such lessons by example rather than by lecture. The concluding chapter of Frank's life was consumed by his courageous effort to regain as much capacity as possible following a devastating cerebral hemorrhage. I happened to be with Frank when he suffered that hemorrhage-and I was with the family for much of his remarkable recovery. Only a will as tenacious as Frank's could have led someone even to survive that event, let alone recover physically as far as he did. Early on, especially during the first seven weeks when Frank was in a coma, I sometimes asked myself if it might not have been better had no one been there in the locker room with Frank when he suffered the hemorrhage. Without an immediate operation, death would have come swiftly. Clearly, though, as Frank progressively recovered and inspired us all with his will to do the best with circumstances, my question rang increasingly hollow. As I think about it now, it is the kind of hypothetical on which Frank would not have spent much energy. In outlook and conviction, Frank was a pragmatist and a materialist. He believed the body to be the basis of the mystery of consciousness, and when the body is damaged, so too will the consciousness be damaged. That is a fact not worth disputing or quibbling over. So too for my hypothetical. I did happen to be with him when he suffered the hemorrhage; I did happen, with others, to get him to the hospital in time for surgery to save his life. He would have done the same for me, and so beyond establishing the rightness of the action, there is no point in contending about better or worse with respect to the outcome. Did Frank suffer more or less than in the alternative?-What a weak and ineffectual question. By Aristotle's measure of virtue in a complete life, the relevant question is not how much Frank may or may not have suffered, but how well he did given the circumstances. You did well, Frank. Virtuously well.