Deceased November 24, 2011
Lou Eastman died unexpectedly and way too soon while having Thanksgiving dinner with his wife, Louetta, in San Jose, Cal., November 24, 2011. “Another kind, gentle soul gone,” said Marc Richman.
I’ve lost one of my best friends, with whom I have always been able to communicate – on any level, from serious to fun; literature, politics, music, personal; in good times or bad (and Lou had in recent years some bad times); after years of not having seen each other, in person or by phone – for 52 years.
Lou and I and I bonded during our overlapping stays in Paris immediately following graduation. Lou, I am assuming, was 4-F because of his height; I, because of a purported bad back. We managed not to be rounded up by the gendarmes mobiles (riot police) who were routing out dissident FLN Algerians every night in Paris, although Lou had a couple of hair-raising encounters in some late-night bistros when the gendarmes stormed in with submachine guns in ready-to-fire position.
After I stopped working (at Berlitz), Lou and I spent a month or so traveling through Spain and Portugal in a VW convertible my father had bought (in Europe, to avoid the import duty).
After I returned home in April 1959, Lou continued to spend time in Paris and Germany, including some good times with Joe Davidson. As noted in a picture caption in our 50th Reunion book, Lou almost joined three other young men (one of whom was Yves Tommy-Martin, who graduated with our class as an exchange student) in an ill-fated trip in two Citroën 2CV (“deux chevaux”) across the Nubian Desert. The four men died mysteriously in the desert. Lou’s father, thankfully, talked Lou out of going.
One of my favorite memories of Lou in Paris was the two of us walking down a small street, and a Parisian workman stopping in front of us, setting down his wheelbarrow, pulling out a tape measure and measuring Lou, remarking “Mon Dieu” under his breathand heading off down the street. Lou, with the patience of Job, stood still throughout and said nothing. His verbal restraint said it all.
Lou was best man in my wife Whitney’s and my wedding in 1960 and one of two godfathers of our firstborn, Tony. (Keith Adams was the other.)
Tony Dominick met Lou in Morrow, their shared dorm freshman year. “We talked often about a number of things including our courses, had many meals together at Valentine and gradually developed a close relationship that lasted through the college years and beyond…. What set Lou apart was his ability to talk and write about a variety of topics with knowledge, humor and sensitivity, and being a fine listener always willing to learn, and play when necessary.”
George Willis, a fellow Texan, recalled, “Lou was a good guy. He drove from San Antonio to Amherst with me in my 1956 Ford before the start of our junior year. I spent two nights in his family home so we could take in a high school football game with his two younger sisters. The home had both a walk-in fridge and a walk-in freezer. I was impressed. The drive north was great fun. Lou will be missed by all.”
Lou was born in New York City August 22, 1937, the son of Lucius and Sarah Eastman. He lived most of his childhood in SanAntonio, Tex., graduating from Alamo Heights High School, where he was All-Texas Basketball. High school friend and basketball teammate (#20) Bill Eldridge sent in a picture of some members of the basketball team that won the state championship,“largely due to a heroic performance by #33 (‘Topper’ to us). He had injured his back for much of the season and had been able to rejoin the team shortly prior to the tournament. Handicapped by being younger and less experienced (he was only 16 at graduation), injured and facing an all-state caliber center, Lou rose to the occasion with a performance that made victory possible. None who were there will ever forget it.” He added, ”Topper was much loved by many of us and his loss has hit us hard.”
One of his Texas friends said, “I think I'll miss his wit most of all. What a sense of humor." Lou was a master of irony. He used sarcasm like a surgeon and sometimes followed it off with by a kind of guttural laugh that I can still hear. Lou didn’t suffer fools lightly, but who should? And for me, an inveterate punster, Lou tolerated my feeble attempts with great humanity. He was a perfect companion.
Lou was the fifth Lucius Root Eastman to attend Amherst (1853,1857,1895,1934, 1958), although, as he wrote in our 50th Reunion book, he “attended Amherst by accident,” not knowing about his legacy until he enrolled.
You couldn’t miss Lou. He was very tall (6’7”) and very thin. Throughout his life, his often-serious demeanor and restrained, considered (and to the uninitiated, maybe severe) manner disguised a truly special and caring personality, core sensitivity, a wonderfully dry sense of humor and a host of other admirable virtues.
Lou also was very, very smart. One of his senior-year roommates, John Neihuss, remarked on “his prodigious intellect.” I recall losing to him endlessly in a game of 3-D tic-tac-toe. If lucky, I could think maybe two moves ahead; Lou, on the other hand, not only could plan ahead five or six moves, he knew exactly what my (limited) plan was. Every time.
Not only was Lou quick and incisive, he had a steel-trap memory. Throughout his life, he could pull up obscure moments from our travels together, clear and accurate. He never forgot my birthday, with a thoughtful card, on time all but once.
I asked Texas friend Bill Eldridge if Lou was as smart then as when we all knew him. “Topper was the smartest friend I ever had. I had mentioned he was 16 at graduation, skipping a grade somewhere along he way. He was not our valedictorian because he somehow made a B one time during those four years. The difference was, he never cracked a book!”
Lou majored in American Studies at Amherst and wrote his cum laude honors thesis on Wittgenstein under the tutelage of Assistant Professor Bill Kennick, who was the main reason why Lou ended up in the field of philosophy. (I’m not sure how an American Studies major gets to write his thesis on an Austrian philosopher, but then again, Lou could be persuasive.)
Following a stint as a trainee at Chase Manhattan Bank in NYC in the early 1960s, he completed graduate work in philosophy and got his PhD (1969) at the University of Texas in Austin. His dissertation was on “Entailment,” which one of his close friends and fellow philosophy teacher in California, Jarrett Brock, explained involves the relationships between two words or sentences such that if the first is true, the second must be true. Sounds a bit like Lou thinking two or more steps ahead of me in 3D tic-tac-toe.
Lou began his teaching career at San Jose State University in 1964. He quickly earned a reputation as an outstanding teacher of not only symbolic logic and philosophy, but also American Studies. As his son John wrote in Lou’s obituary, he was “pressed into serving as Chair of the Philosophy Department before being granted tenure, and led the department with a steady and fair hand for 12 years, earning the respect and admiration of colleagues across the university.”
He was named Associate Dean of Humanities and concluded his 46 years of service to SJSU working in the offices of the Academic Vice-President and the Dean of Humanities. Dick Rapson, who found Lou “to be droll, witty and very thoughtful,” noted, “He was always fascinating about the kinds of [university] issues with which he had to deal.”
Despite Lou being the head of the Philosophy Department, Jarrett Brock observed, “Lou didn’t really do philosophy. He never wrote a paper or attended professional meetings…. What he did was teach. He was a very good classroom teacher.”
Lou was an avid sailor in the Monterey Bay area, following interests started during his childhood vacations in Nantucket. Jarrett recalled Lou’s love affair with the waters off Santa Cruz, where he and Jarrett shared a Cal 27 sloop, “Sunflower,” and later with one other partner a Nonsuch 30 – “a sturdy but beautiful 30-foot ocean-going catboat with full standing headroom throughout, a huge cabin below with everything needed for cruising,” named “La Chatte.” Jarrett said, “We would daysail a couple of times every week, and for Lou, the water was a form of therapy.”
Therapy was in order, Jarrett explained, when, near the end of Lou’s career, he suffered a series of debilitating hip operations that kept not working. Three times, the replaced hip popped out. One time, it occurred while they were sailing, when Lou turned to look at sea otters frolicking nearby. The pain was excruciating and the rescue operation quite an ordeal.
Lou went through a series of other medical procedures, including emergency appendectomy during which cancer cells were found and a lot of his intestine had to be removed. On top of this, Lou began to suffer from clinical depression. But there were good days when he managed to get out onto the water and enjoy the beauty and freedom of a man and his boat.
A lifelong New York Yankees fan, Lou also grew comfortable in the stunning PacBell Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. The view of the SF Bay from the stadium allowed him to reflect on sailing with good friends and family off the coast of Santa Cruz.
He is survived by his wife, Louetta, and former wife, Judy; his children, (on board in the picture to the left), Terrell Wilson (c.), John Eastman ‘88 (r.) and Benjamin Eastman (l.); three sisters and four grandchildren. In lieu of a service, a small open house was held for SJSU faculty. Following cremation, his ashes were spread on the waters where Lou loved to sail.
Lou was an integral part of my life. I feel very lucky to have had such a wonderful, complex, thoughtful friend with a wry and very special sense of humor and to have known him so fully.
Allen Clark '58