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reed magazine logoAutumn 2009


Tom Kelly ’48

Hail to Thee, Blithe Spirit

By Patsy Garland ’48

It is embarrassing to admit it now, but I could never take Tom Kelly seriously, because he did not wear socks. Even with dress shoes, when he took me out for a steak dinner on Sunday evenings, his slim ankles showed white and bare. He was mild-mannered, soft-spoken, and usually gently smiling. He was lanky, fair and graceful in his body. He was, everyone indulgently said, “a character.”

He had come back from the war—not the Great War or the Vietnam War or the Korean War or the Gulf War, but World War II—sooner than the other vets to this small liberal arts college in the Pacific Northwest. He had been left alone too long in the frozen wastes of the Aleutian Islands; the Army had forgotten he was there. And when he came out, something had snapped.


Shelley By Moonlight. Reed students stage poetic demonstration to protest the arrest of Tom Kelly ’48 for reading Shelley at a bus stop.
photo by Ackroyd Photography

Like other students, Tom Kelly took courses. But unlike them, he elected to take certain courses, like Humanities, again and again. He enjoyed them, he said, so why not. He read a lot, but when he wrote papers for class he made up his own references—footnotes, dates, titles, authors, publishers and all. He knew his professors expected a bibliography, so he gave them one, though his writings were his own. This shook the professors a good deal.

The students loved him. He was a breath of fresh air in the mustiness of their thinking. He came as a delicious shock, like the shock of poetry, with the incongruity of his take on everything.

Student contempt for authority in those days, in that small school, occasionally took the form of physical pranks—such as “liberating” a dead and desiccated cat from the biology lab and leaving the stiff flat body concealed in the library stacks to develop its putrid potential.

More often, the gauntlet flung was a verbal one, and pretty mild at that. The Registrar was a frequent butt. It was college policy not to divulge student grades, in order to encourage the pursuit of learning for its own sake. Because most students went on to graduate school, grades were nevertheless maintained in the Office of the Registrar. The Registrar herself was an austere, full-chested, forbidding sort of a woman, who, oddly, blushed easily, and who would send forth admonitory notes from small memo pads inscribed at the top “From the Desk of Margaret Scott”. This habit of hers prompted the circulation of a bit of campus doggerel which ran:

My name is Margaret Scott.
I’m a keeper of records and rot.
If you’re making an issue
I’ll give you Scott’s tissue
That’s not worth a tittle or jot.

And there was the singing of bawdy songs, so daring, so titillating, so lustily delivered in the dining room after dinner.

Reed had many oddballs. Some might say misfits. There was, for instance, a charming boy named Sandy, who believed that he was living in the 18th Century. He wore a jabot at his throat and buckles on his shoes and, on dress occasions, a wide black ribbon at the back of his head and a red one slashing across his grey-sweatered chest. He dated all his papers 1746, or the like, and wrote his senior thesis with a quill pen.

Sandy put tacks in the felt stops of the old upright piano in his dorm, so that it sounded like a harpsichord when he pounded “Rule, Britannia” on it or wafted out Handel’s “Where-e’er You Walk.” He had a small, round cannon in his room. He would fire it off out the window at the height of bachelor parties celebrating the birthday of Thomas Jefferson or Dolly Madison or whomever. When he escorted me to college dances we danced only the minuet, by placing a record in the juke box when the band was taking a break. Needless to say, we were the only couple on the floor. My joy was great when he found that a rustic form of the waltz was introduced toward the end of the 18th century.

reed magazine logoAutumn 2009