Amherst Magazine

William Eric Bathurst
William Eric Bathhurst

I hadn't seen Bill Bathurst for a very long time. But we had exchanged letters and at least two phone calls during the year prior to his death in 1996, the imminence and means of which I was then unaware. Obliqueness remained his style to the end. In his last letter to me he added almost as a postscript, "Bob, I'm fading." I didn't get what he meant. Maybe I thought he was signing off for the night, or feeling old, Ralph Lee told me sometime later he had been HIV positive for about ten years, and had chosen to end his life during the later stages of AIDS.

I have very little information about his life after Amherst . But what I do know seems characteristic of his bluff, contrarian, resonant, passionately concerned presence at Amherst . His last name suited him; few used his first name. Who would have thought one of the Spiritus Mundi founders would join the Marine Corps on graduation. When Bathurst 's father complained to Professor John Moore that Bill was dodging a real career -- something his Dad thought Bill's college mentors should have directed him towards -- Moore replied, "Sir, I believe your son IS pursuing a MILITARY career." A line Moore probably delivered in person with his devasting eyeglint. But in 1960-61 Bathurst resigned his Second Lieutenant's rank and spent some time with us in Rome , where my family, Russ Moro '51 and his wife were living. I have a snapshot of Bill taken near the crater of Mount Vesuvius . He is airborne, running along the blasted landscape, looking very happy. He loved to sing, act, carry on.

At some point Bill moved to San Francisco (an excellent match for his talents) where I believe he lived the rest of his life. He was an early backer of video and videotaping and made his living for a while in that line of work. He later worked at a rehab center for drug addicts. He probably both enjoyed and deplored the Haight-Ashbury moment. Though Bill was frequently obstreperous in company, it was often because he was asking questions the rest of us were not ready for, or simply avoiding. His classmates may remember an essay he published in the Amherst Student (borrowing his title, "Confessions of a Second-Rate Sensitive Mind,” from another underrated fellow, Alfred Tennyson) in which he quizzically recounted his fraternity rushing experience. Late in the article he described several genial upperclassmen dropping by his room for an informal chat. He describes the chat, dwelling on the long silences, and ends the piece as follows: "I forgot to say they were all from the same house.”

I wish I knew more of what must have been a life well-lived, distant from larger spotlights but luminous among his mends and within various endangered communities. A story went around to explain how such an odd fellow as Bathurst ended up at Amherst . In a pre-admission interview Dean Eugene Wilson apparently asked Bathurst what he had to recommend himself to Amherst . "Wouldn't I just round out the class?" he allegedly answered. No question we needed rounding out.  Bathurst did that, and worlds more.

-Bob Bagg '57
 

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