Memories of Virginia Crosby
When our daughter Beatrice [Schraa ’06] was applying to college, she received a brochure saying Pomona professors often formed lifelong friendships with students. That was certainly true of Virginia. I took French 51 from her in the fall of 1968 and several classes after that, including a wonderful seminar on the French Revolution, co-taught with Burdette Poland. My wife, Louise [Schraa ’72], remembers her as one of the friendly and accessible professors whom everyone knew. We kept in touch after graduation, and I was working in Paris when she moved there and acquired the first in a series of tiny but exquisite and wonderfully located apartments. We saw her regularly after that, especially in Paris and then when we lived in Brussels.
For Beatrice, Virginia was literally a lifelong friend. Virginia was at her christening in Paris and, although she couldn’t attend Beatrice’s wedding earlier last year, we had lots of interested emails and calls with good wishes and requests for details and pictures. When she was only 95, Virginia was able to attend the wedding of our daughter Eugenia and spent the evening charming new people and dancing.
You might have thought she would be an honorary grandmother to our girls. Although they certainly knew her better than my mother, that was never the case. Rather, she was always, in the best professorial fashion, an adult friend, even when they were little tykes. Our whole family always looked forward to seeing Virginia, with her interest in all kinds of things, insightful conversation, good humor and fresh outlook, even in very old age. She avoided the old person’s tendency to reminisce, but very occasionally something would prompt a perfect anecdote, about the time she saw Hitler, about her one and only deer hunt, about her radio program with her husband, etc. Very occasionally, in the most discreet and subtle way, there came a nugget of advice or guidance as well. We traded articles, political comments and book recommendations with her until shortly before her death. I owed her a book report every year on the annual winner of the Prix Goncourt.
Everybody who knew Virginia remarks on what an extraordinary person she was and what a rich and varied path she had found through life. Louise, Eugenia, Beatrice and I all felt knowing her enriched our lives. We will miss her a great deal.
—David Schraa ’72
New York, N.Y.
I received my Pomona College Magazine yesterday, opened it this morning to the last page and came unglued to see Virginia Crosby’s beautiful smiling face.
All the memories of a long, wonderful friendship came flooding back. Virginia and I met when we were both completing our B.A. in French in the early ’60s. I was a single mom with two young sons and little money for a babysitter, so I would take them with me to Virginia’s house, and the two of us would study for exams—particularly those of our favorite professor, Leonard Pronko. I went on to earn a teaching credential in French at CGU, while Virginia got her Ph.D. and—as we all know—became a professor at Pomona.
We kept in contact over the many years, either in Claremont or Paris. In April of this year, I flew down to Ontario to visit friends and learned that Virginia had been diagnosed with brain cancer. I was able to visit her a few days before she died. As I was leaving after the second visit, I whispered good-bye in French. She whispered back in French, “I love you and am so proud of what you have done.” I will forever hold those last words in my memory, along with the many others of our 50-year friendship.
My thanks to Mary Schmich for her article.
—Réanne Hemingway-Douglass ’63
Thank you to Mary Schmich ’75 for her article about Virginia Crosby, which I enjoyed and which inspired these memories.
In the fall of 1967, I tested into Mme. Crosby’s fourth-semester French class (French 62), which I survived with a generous B. However, I then had the audacity to sign up for her “Renaissance French Literature” class the next semester (spring ’68). Here I was: (1) the only boy (as a callow 18-year-old, I wouldn’t say “man”); (2) the only non-language major (I did economics-math); (3) the least prepared student. However, it was obvious that I was there for the love of the subject, so again, she was generous with my grade.
Toward the end of the semester, an older student (I was still only 18) helped me buy a bottle of red wine, “La Bourgogne de Cucamonga.” I had a silver chalice; so to celebrate Rabelais, we brought this to class, quite against the rules. Mme. Crosby took us off campus across Harvard Ave. and we celebrated: one bottle for about 8 people didn’t get us too drunk. I know she got a chuckle out of the silver chalice.
A couple of years later, she invited my girlfriend and me to her home in Padua Hills to play our “Glory of Gabrieli” (E. Power Biggs) record on her husband’s state-of-the-art stereo system, and for a very pleasant afternoon on her deck overlooking the valley.
Around 1970, Zeta Chi Sigma voted Mme. Crosby as a member. Not a faculty advisor. Member. (At this same time, we also voted several women students as members.) All of this was against the rules, but in the spirit of the times, we didn’t ask.
Did she share with you her story of how she got into writing radio soap-operas while living in a Chicago apartment with “a prostitute in the apartment above and an abortionist in the apartment below”?
I tried looking her up when I was in Claremont a few years ago, but was told that she wasn’t doing well.
Let me end with some verses from a poem we studied in her class (Ronsard: “A Cassandre”):
Las! voyez comme en peu d’espace,
Mignonne, elle a dessus la place
Las! las ses beautez laissé cheoir!
Ô vrayment marastre Nature,
Puis qu’une telle fleur ne dure
Que du matin jusques au soir!
Thank you for the article, and thanks for letting me share.
—Howard Hogan ’71
I am an anguished father, white and privileged, who may lose his adopted, undocumented sons to deportation. My heart is shattered.
—David Lyman ’66
South Pasadena, Calif.
Thank you for the inspiring story in the summer 2016 PCM about Judge Halim Dhanidina, who has steadfastly exhibited the courage to promote the values and enforce the laws of our country in the face of the prejudice and fear engendered by the 9/11 attack on WTC. I’m sure I would not have his courage to do the same. He is a shining example of the values and vision we believe Pomona instills in all graduates. His life is (or should be) an inspiration to all Americans.
—Mike Hogan ‘69
Black Forest, Colo.
“The Cane Mystery” article in the PCM summer 2016 issue was interesting and reminded me of the cane which I now have. The cane belonged to my father, Robert Boynton Dozier (1902–2001), Class of ’23.
The cane has the same dimensions as those mentioned in the article: 35 inches long, with a five-inch curved handle. Attached about 29 inches above the base is a 3/4–inch sterling band which is engraved: “R.B.D. ’23” (see photo at right).
As I recall the story my father told me many years ago, the freshmen class men beat the sophomore men in the Pole Rush competition. The challenge: Which team could have a man reach the top of the pole the quickest? He felt that the freshmen had done so well because they had a plan as to where the men would be positioned and who would climb where and when. The award was a cane. I do not know how many other men received and kept a cane.
My father really enjoyed having that cane as a special memento of Pomona College and kept it on the umbrella stand in his home. He also found it to be a useful walking aid when he was in his late 90s. I am pleased to have the cane in my living room, though I have not yet needed to use it.
—Bobbie Dozier Spurgin ’49
Memories of a Friend
I’m writing to share a few thoughts about the passing of my friend, Richard E. Persoff ‘49 (see Obits). These are perhaps of more interest to Pomona undergraduates than to alumni, partly because there are few of us left from the 1940s, and partly because the present students are now grappling with the same questions that Persoff faced in the aftermath of WWII: “Is liberal education, including the humanities, relevant to those who look forward to careers in technological fields?”
Persoff used his undergraduate work to learn how to think. And because of that, he was able to continue applying his mind in several areas. That luxury is as pertinent today as it was in the 1940s.
At Pomona, he studied hard and then played hard. Once, emerging from his books after midnight, he roared at me from across the room: “Andrews! Let’s go to the snow!” We then exited the world of academia temporarily for some improvised adventure, and then returned with renewed energy to our studies.
He could be critical, but outside his field, he was a champion of tolerance. He liked to strike up conversations with the immigrant workers of the local gravel pits and try to absorb their views on lives so different from ours. He befriended the college gardener, a family man who cared for the plants on campus with as much responsibility as an ancient shepherd might tend to his flock. Richard once visited the hobos who cooked their haphazard dinners on open fires in their “jungle” down by the railroad tracks. In our college days, the Great Depression and World War II were recent history. We knew songs from nations victimized by the war, as well as some older songs collected by the poet Carl Sandburg—songs that reflected man at odds with society, but whose protagonist could still recognize life’s gifts, for castaways often seek community in strange places.
One night, we decided to see what it was like to ride a freight train. We crouched by the tracks as locomotives came by. We felt the earth shake, heard the deafening mechanical sounds and felt the blast of the glowing firebox passing only a foot or so from us. We ran along next to the slow-moving train, hoping to grab hold somewhere and swing aloft into an empty box car. We quickly realized that if we leapt and missed, we might fall under the wheels, and we wisely postponed our plan indefinitely, but we never stopped searching for the answers of that odd life and the freedom that it symbolized
I was taken by surprise when good old Dick phoned me to say, “This is the last word you will have from me.” We had given each other the unqualified friendship that holds much of the world together. Thinking of him as I tried to adjust to the loss of his steadfast support, it occurred to me that Dick had finally gotten a grip on his freight train and was just riding off to another great adventure.
With appreciation of Pomona’s contributions, past and present…
—Chris Andrews ’50
I was saddened to learn that my senior thesis advisor, Professor William Dewitt Andrus, had passed away (PCM fall 2016). Under his able direction, my thesis topic was a study of a unicellular algae, Dunaliella salina. This prepared me for my Ph.D. dissertation on photosynthesis at the University of Bern, Switzerland, in 1966. Prof. Andrus was a brilliant experimentalist and had a sense of humor.
—Katherine J. Jones ’61
Last year a note in PCM suggested that we in the community that appreciate the quality and effort that this amazing publication delivers can say “thank you” by sending in a “voluntary subscription.” The latest example, featuring the Oxtoby years, is such a stunning keeper that I am finally moved to action. So, I wish to add my voice to the cheering throng—PCM is an enormous credit to Pomona. We are flattered and fortunate to be on the mailing list. Thank you!
—Joe Mygatt P’13
Our apologies to Eric Myers ’80, whose name was misspelled in a class note in the fall 2016 issue of PCM. —Editor
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