Amherst Magazine

Letters to Class of 1963 Reunion Books

John Newmann

Amherst Class of 1963 Twentieth Reunion


To the Class of 1963

 Twenty years seem to have passed quickly.  I think it took me at least ten years to come to terms with the inbred, superficial elitism which crept into many of us during our four years at “the fairest”.  I’m not certain I’ve entirely shaken this, as it is often confused with a commitment to quality, which was so ever present at Amherst.  Certainly, it took over a decade to realize how valuable humor can be in the most serious situations.  In retrospect, there was much humor for us at Amherst.  We were not prepared to appreciate it fully, given the seriousness of our assigned tasks and purposes – so effectively elaborated by the faculty during our freshman year.  Yet, I often smile when recalling reactions (which I had long forgotten) by Arnie Arons, Roger Sales, Dean Wilson and Prof. Latham.

However little this page reflects, I do feel Amherst was very effective in opening my eyes to the beauty and importance of language; how well and difficult it is to use effectively, and how much fun we may have with it.  Though failing me now in this impossible assignment which I helped design, language a la Amherst does provide me with much potential for enjoying and understanding more clearly the contradictions, disappointments and victories that we continue to experience in this life process for which there was no Course 101.

I’ve travelled far, and have been very fortunate since we graduated.  I took my “junior year abroad” after graduation by hostelling around Western Europe and the Middle East.  Next, a fascinating year in Kyoto as the Amherst College Fellow at the Amherst House with twenty Japanese students set the direction for the next dozen years.  I worked on economic development issues, management training, and human rights advocacy in Asia for the Ford Foundation after a doctoral program in economics at Tuft’s Fletcher School.

When returning from Asia, my one remaining kidney shut down.  Some of you may recall the first one being removed after freshman year, making it impossible for me to improve upon high school swimming times for the aquatic Jeffs.  While no small trouble to cope with, a life threatening illness can turn out to be the making of us.  I have found such an increased sense of beauty of the most simple and obvious elements of nature and human relationships, since it became painfully clear how mortal we all are.  One’s kidneys need not fail for this to happen, as it is made clear by so many of your thoughts and comments that I had the privilege of reading before you did.

Many of us may be convinced that a few of the economic priorities in the present Administration in Washington are quite off the mark in terms of preserving human health, ethnic diversity, and community cooperation and progress.  And it is a bit frightening to realize that the shape of this country, in large part, depends upon our generation to guide it in the next few decades.  Amherst provided the stimulation for accepting or rejecting that kind of challenge, though as many have remarked, we didn’t get much experience at the College in dealing with important emotions and personal relationships.

I have two wonderful teen-age daughters from a first marriage.  They keep me realizing how important childhood interests and activities are – and should be – to adults.  My second marriage just began, and is enabling me to refrain from repeating earlier mistakes; rather, to make much more of the little time we’re known to have here.  I have found that love is the most precious reality to nurture and protect; without it, my life loses meaning and value.  Years ago, Jay Lord touched me more than he’ll ever know, when explaining that he and his (second) wife, Karen, decided that there wasn’t much to marriage or life unless you spend enough time with the one you love.  My wife, Lisa, and I work together, as the Lords (sic) do, and it’s that less traveled path which has made all the difference.

I started this letter determined to write with humor.  How strange it has been to experience English I-II all over again.  Why might I feel this is some magnum opus?  It is for me, as it is my life which could be taken away so easily and quickly (as yours could).

So, I’ll keep loving, working, playing – trying to worry less while keeping mind and body connected, as they inevitably are.  I didn’t “learn” this at Amherst, but was encouraged to be open to the unconventional.


John Newmann
Chairman of the Board

161 Burill Street ∙ Swampscott, Massachusetts 01907  (617) 598-5559


Amherst Class of 1963 Twenty-fifth Reunion

John M. Newmann, Ph.D.
1698 Chimney House Road
Reston, Virginia  22090
(202) 857-8643
(703) 4371830

                                                                                                December 28, 1987

Dear Frank:

The most exciting news of late came last July 28th when I received a kidney transplant from a man who died from a stroke.  After nearly 16 years using an artificial kidney, the joys and wonders of returning to the world of the real pissers never ceases to amaze me.  I had no idea how extraordinarily euphoric I would feel when relieved of so much which I took for granted while living with dialysis.

How does this relate to Amherst?  Perhaps it has to do with quality.  Amherst emphasized the appropriate use of objective, critical analysis.  I spent nearly one-third of my life attempting that before taking the risk of a cadaver kidney transplant.  Some think I was wise to wait; others may think I waited too long.  I know I have what I want, and it’s immeasurably better than what I had.  However, I haven’t experienced the down side of kidney transplantation, which some 20% experience during the first year;

Perhaps it also has to do with perseverance, which the curriculum required of us to remain in school.  I think I know better than waiting for Godot.  But waiting for a real kidney (there’s nothing quite like one!), and getting it right, have “made all the difference”.  I can’t decide which is more appropriate, the reference to Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, or  to “Stopping by the Woods…” when some Williams(?) critic suggested the rider was really in need of emptying his bladder!  While the rest of you may wish to be freed of that gnawing need, I delight in it.

Reactions of many friends from Amherst to my new found freedoms have been very touching.  It’s never been easier making others so happy or pleased with so little effort.  The scores of common experiences we shared 25 years ago have provided me with the most rewarding friendships and bonding.

Amherst’s insistence on quality through perseverance, resulted in a valued, refreshing bonding.  My years at Amherst with the variety of truly wonderful people gave me what I needed to leave the College on the Hill and always enjoy coming back, particularly to see our classmates.

To quote Jerry Cohen out of context in a note to me a few years ago, “What’s urinalysis?”


 /s/ John