Deceased January 7, 2011

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In Memory

John Hiatt arrived at Amherst from Minneapolis with his future life pretty much plotted out in his mind. He knew that he wanted to be a doctor and fulfilled the medical school requirements, but he also enrolled in the English honors program, wrote a creditable thesis and graduated cum laude. Several years later, I flew out to Minneapolis to be a groomsman in his wedding. Despite letters and phone calls, we didn’t see each other until 30 years after, when he and his wife, Bonnie (whom he had married after his divorce from Betsy), visited New York. I found John to be as droll, self-deprecating and sharp as I remembered.

It was evident, though, that his career in medicine had fulfilled more an ambition of his father’s than his own, and although I’m sure that he was an excellent and dedicated physician, I think John had some doubts about whether—if he had it to do over again—he would have chosen the same career. I’m by no means sure what the alternative might have been. It could certainly have been something involving language because John truly loved words—reading, writing and speaking them.

John was well worth listening to. He possessed remarkable perceptions about people, incidents, literature and the human condition generally, and he expressed them (quietly) with often killingly funny humor, slightly skewed, slightly wacky and wonderfully original.

Perhaps one was more surprised at John’s flights of verbal fancy because they seemed somewhat out of character with his extraordinary kindness, generosity of spirit, modesty and understatement; I know how devoted he was to Bonnie and his children by both marriages. He is one of those rare people in one’s life who remain vivid and valued in memory. He is certainly one of my happiest Amherst associations.

Stephen Kirschenbaum ’55