Amherst Magazine

Amherst College In Memory Notice

Flip Kissam


Amherst, Spring, 2005

Philip C. Kissam ‘63

Philip Charles Kissam, known throughout his life as “Flip,” died on December 23, 2004, after a five-year struggle with bile duct cancer. He and Brenda, his wonderful wife of 36 years, were enjoying a sabbatical leave in Burlington, VT, where they had bought a home near their children, Jonathan and Ariane, and two adorable grandchildren.

Flip arrived at Amherst from Greenlawn, Long Island after graduating from Huntington High School, where he was an all-around athlete. He earned his “1963” in baseball, but was disappointed that his skills did not take him further. In Morrow his freshman year, he and Craig Reynolds turned their single rooms into a suite – beds in one room, desks in another. In 1988, he reported he had “followed eclectic and theoretical if not marginal paths” during his Amherst years. He majored in economics, winning the Merrill prize in his junior year, but commented to his daughter that Oscar Lange’s On the Economic Theory of Socialism had affected his thinking more than Paul Samuelson. He was president of Phi Gam, where he was known for an endless stream of blind dates – kiss’em and leave ‘em. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and spent much of his senior year in Churchill House writing on economic planning in Nigeria and expanding his interest in international affairs.

Following our graduation, Flip taught at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, studied economics at MIT, and finally entered Yale Law School. He tried corporate law for two years in New York City (Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison) prior to joining the administration of John Lindsay, ending as deputy commissioner in the Department of Mental Health and Retardation Services.

In 1973, Brenda and Flip moved to Kansas University Law School, where he became a full professor in 1977. Initially he taught and wrote about health and anti-trust law, building on his background and training. However, continuing his eclectic Amherst pattern, he branched out into jurisprudence, constitutional law, law and literature, and legal education. His teaching style expanded beyond the Socratic method common in law schools, incorporating more writing and one-on-one contact with students. His colleagues knew him an idealist and a radical reformer, ultimately convincing them to permit as an option in certain courses the abandonment of grading on a curve in favor of grading based on pre-established standards.

Practically unique among our classmates, Flip appreciated English 1-2. He reported in 1988, “Although I was never proficient at English 1-2, I have come to realize that many of my intense concerns about the words and ideas that one uses must certainly come from there. More specifically, this background helps explain my recent conversion to the ‘writing-across-the-curriculum’ movement in American universities and colleges.” He wrote widely himself and in 2003 published an important book on legal education, The Discipline of the Law Schools: The Making of Modern Lawyers. He spent one of his last days planning with his wife, son, and KU colleagues for the publication of his final three professional papers.

Brenda and Flip spent time at Duke and in Vienna and London. Flip maintained an interest in sports as a participant – tennis, hiking, biking – and as a fan – KU basketball and English football in particular. His interests in international and domestic politics were wide, continuous, and liberal. He was as good a listener as a talker, and he was excellent at both. He loved music and was a first-class chef, working his way through James Beard’s cookbook during his third year in law school and producing many great meals the rest of his life.

At a memorial service in Lawrence in early February, family and friends described Flip as someone who made friends easily and had wide interests and enthusiasms but was also both competitive and modest. How those traits fit together was explained by a mutual friend, “Flip took his work seriously but never gave a sense that he was working because he was pursued by wolves.”

Unfortunately, Flip never made it back for a reunion. Living far from Amherst, he only managed to visit once or twice. Tracy and I frequently enjoyed his warm and stimulating company and wish many others had been equally privileged.

Ted Truman ‘63