Amherst Magazine

John R. Hayden '58

 

John R. Hayden '58 died October 7, 2010.
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John R. Hayden '58
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I first met Jack in fifth grade. His family had just moved to Montclair, NJ, from Newfoundland, where his father oversaw the fueling of transatlantic flights for Shell during WWII.

 

The Hayden's at that time had had a big, strong dog (guess what kind) that they named Pal. After accidentally scratching the face of a little girl in play, rather than being put down, Pal was gifted to the 1st Battalion of the Royal Rifles of Canada. Renamed Gander,the Hayden's dog shipped abroad with his unit and on three occasions performed heroically during the 1941 Battle of Hong Kong, warning of an enemy landing, disrupting an enemy patrol, and finally running off with a live grenade that had landed among his human companions. This last action cost him his life.

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Gander was posthumously awarded the "Animal's Victoria Cross," the only Canadian dog ever to be so honored.  Somehow it seems fitting that Jack would have had such a larger than life dog.

Sharing many interests and being only children of older parents, Jack and I hit it off from the start and became close friends for life. Jack possessed many talents, which he manifested with easy grace, almost nonchalance. He was on Montclair High's undefeated, championship basketball team of 1953-54, arguably the best in the school's illustrious athletic history. He also played freshman basketball at Amherst, though a back injury prevented him from trying out for the varsity. He bowled at a high level in numerous leagues. An avid pianist, he performed solo and in groups, emulating the style of his musical heroes: Brubeck, Garner, Monk and Shearing.

Witty, charming, and just plain fun to be around, he was well regarded by both sexes. The two of us did not set out to go to the same college, but when we found out we both had been accepted at Amherst we decided to ease the transition from high school by rooming together freshman year. After that we struck out in different directions, Jack to Theta Delt and American Studies, I to Phi Gam and English. Jack was one of those fortunate few equally at home in the humanities and the sciences. His mathematical proclivities led to a lifelong controlled passion for wagering on sports, the ponies, games of chance and the stock market. He also participated with distinction in bridge tournaments. More immediately, he handled the Physics/Calculus requirement at Amherst with ease, and did very well academically his first three years. Senior year he decided to reward himself by easing up a little. As he put it, "I played lots of bridge and golf.Hayden%203%20a" Jack waited too long to reapply himself and failed to turn in a satisfactory Honors Thesis. (He wrote the whole thing in three days!) As a result he had to make up the credits in summer school at Columbia in order to graduate.

Jack then went on to OCS at Newport and launched a twenty-seven year US Navy career that included flying out of Newfoundland along the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line in search of possible incoming Russian aircraft or missiles, doing photo interpretation aboard the USS Constellation, two tours of duty during the  Vietnam War and a four year stint at our Tokyo embassy. Jack did indeed "see the world" and take part in momentous events, but such a life can place strains on a marriage. His first two, which produced three sons, ended in divorce.

 

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He also grew estranged from Amherst during this period as he read about demonstrations and pronouncements that seemed to oppose the very values he and his comrades were risking their lives to defend. Only very recently did that chill begin to thaw through classmates' outreach to him.

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In 1985, Jack married Betty Laffey, a union that proved a happy and lasting one. That same year Jack retired from the  Navy. He then did software testing for the Army at Fort Monmouth, NJ. He and Betty resided in nearby Lakehurst, NJ, up until a few years ago when they moved to Ocala, FL.

 

In these years Jack and I  communicated on a weekly basis and exchanged visits at least Hayden%207aannually. In fact, Jack became the focal point for several informal Montclair High mini-reunions that drew alums from all over the US. He extended these renewed friendships through yearly NCAA basketball and NFL prediction contests and spirited email political debates In 2007, Jack was diagnosed with colon cancer, to which he finally succumbed after a gallant struggle. He was a generous and loyal friend, and I will miss him greatly.

 

 - John H. Condit '58

 

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