Deceased March 31, 2021

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Bill Kurth died March 31, 2021. Coming to Amherst from San Clemente, Calif., Bill claimed that his admission depended solely on geographical distribution, and he measured the difficulty of an exam by the number of suitcases that he packed, sure he was heading home. Once he wrote an intentionally bad paper with these words: “Who is to say that the man of the end of the 15th century was different from the man of the start of the 16th? They may even have been the same man.” In our freshman throes, he was comic relief. 

Junior year, he roomed at Phi Delt with Clark Hathaway ’68 and me. He amused us with LPs, some (again) intentionally bad, some by Stan Freberg, whose zings at contemporary culture suited Bill’s sense of humor. Bill also looked like Freberg. He majored in American studies and minored in wordplay, keeping us up late with puns. That winter, before Super Bowl I, Bill commissioned from Walt Simonson ’68 a “Madonna and Football,” complete with cherubim (one, a little Batman). He posted this on Phi Delt’s bulletin board—it was destroyed by one of the more devout brethren. I wonder how many Amherst semesters could have been paid for, years later, through the sale of that drawing.

Bill could be fiercely sarcastic, but that fierceness contained no malice—his targets were notions, not individuals. He carried his wit to New York City, into a lifelong career in advertising. I’d say he was channeling Freberg, but by then he was just being himself. A former colleague, after his death, cited Bill’s rule never to have more stuff on his desk than he could snatch up in a huff. I can see that huff. But I will chiefly remember Bill for being playful, for having and creating fun. 

Jeremiah Mead ’68