Deceased April 10, 1995
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Jim Fletcher came to Amherst with the rest of us in the fall of 1957. I first met him on the football field where his impressive physical stature and prior competition as a three letter athlete in Chagrin Falls, OH, made him a starter and a standout.
By junior year we were roommates, fraternity brothers, and friends. By mid-fall of that year, Jim had become one of the Darp's starting ends. He had also caught on academically and had become a dean's list student taking advanced courses in philosophy, history, and English. Tall, good-looking, with an easy manner and keen sense of humor, Jim was coming into his own.
In the summer of 1960 Jim and I joined Jerry Wood for a campsite/youth hostel trip through Europe. The trip was carefree and non-stop fun, with Jim’s sense of humor in full swing. In retrospect, however, the seeds of Jim's terrible illness were just beginning to sprout. Compulsion toward an unattainable level of perfection in his studies had led him to leave Amherst that June with three of his four courses from the spring semester incomplete because the required papers had not been submitted. When we returned to Amherst in the fall, Jim gave up football and the starting slot that awaited him. He became more compulsive about his academic endeavors and struggled to complete projects.
When we graduated, neither Jim nor I knew what we wanted to do. Both of us reported to the army. Assigned to different companies, we marched past one another a couple of times in basic training at Fort Dix and then went our separate ways, Jim into the Army Security Agency and I into Army Intelligence.
After his discharge, Jim still had no firm career plans. He took a job for a while as traveling secretary for the Alpha Delta Phi national fraternity, visiting local chapters in the United States and in Canada. When we met again in New York a few years later, Jim was using his considerable verbal skills at a local publishing house, but in an entry level position. Although I certainly knew by then that Jim was struggling with something, I had no idea that it was schizophrenia. As the disease took greater and greater hold of him, Jim finally returned home to Ohio. He obtained some relief from modern drugs which helped to limit the amount of the institutional care that his illness ultimately made necessary.
Through all of this, his Amherst experience was a source of some of Jim's most cherished memories. His feelings about Amherst were so strong that eventually his family reluctantly requested that he receive no further communications from or about the College because of their effect upon him. He died near his boyhood home on April 10, 1995.
Jim arrived on campus just like the rest of us – a little scared but mostly eager and brimming with promise. Nothing about the freshman I first encountered on the football field contained a hint of his fate. Looking back upon our friendship, I feel grateful for having known Jim, and saddened and even perplexed, beyond words, by what befell him.