Tell Us What You Think

We welcome letter submissions that respond to our magazine articles. Letters should be 300 words or fewer. Please send them to or Box 5000, Amherst, MA, 01002.

The Gorbachev Article

William Taubman’s article “Getting to Know Gorbachev” (Fall 2022) should lead readers back to his biography of the last Soviet leader, a landmark book on a historic figure. “More than any other world leader,” Taubman writes in his Gorbachev (Norton, 2017), “he helped end the Cold War.” True, and the corollaries are numerous, as I can offer from my career in the U.S. Foreign Service. Gorbachev allowed a transformation in the practice of modern American diplomacy, broadening it beyond Soviet containment.

A magazine spread showing Mikal Gorbachav

“Gorbachev allowed a transformation in the practice of modern American diplomacy.”

The Gorbachev phenomenon had many facets, as Taubman records and I can attest through my various experiences of traveling to Moscow as a grad student in 1986, a year after his ascent, to sniff the “Moscow Spring”; discovering in West Berlin a “Gorby chic” in fashionable boutiques; coming upon a grief-stricken Gorbachev in a German hotel right after his beloved Raisa had died at the local clinic; attending one of his European speeches in 2004, a denunciation of the U.S. as an imperial “second Rome”; and finally, that next year, witnessing him receive a prestigious award from a grateful Germany for his role in German unification.

Taubman is right to say the Berlin Wall did not fall in response to Reagan’s thunderous “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” For those of us involved in the visit—I had just started my diplomatic career in Berlin that summer of 1987—Reagan’s preceding sentence, now forgotten, was more to the point. It was more policy concept and less rhetorical flourish, a call for the Soviet leader to “open this gate.” Gorbachev gave an opening for the Germans to pull down the wall. History is not always tragedy.

If you seek Gorbachev’s monument in Germany, look around you. If you seek his monument in Russia, look behind you. Taubman concludes by calling Gorbachev a “tragic hero.” Biography, in this great book, ends as elegy.

Fletcher M. Burton ’78
Nashville, Tenn.

Burton is a former U.S. Foreign Service officer whose postings 
include Afghanistan, Saudi Ara-
bia, Germany, Kosovo and Iraq, and as ambassador of an international organization in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The People in the Photos

A black and white photo of four actors in Shakepeaeran dress

My family recognizes one of the masquers in the photo from page 51 of the Winter 2023 magazine! The young man third from the left is my father, Peter Brett Prentiss ’63. He played Richard III in the 1960 production of the play.

My mother, Branca Prentiss, is grateful that she continues to receive 
Amherst magazine and was so happy to spot my father (who passed away in 2015) in the picture. My daughter, Malia Prentiss Chun ’24, attends 
Amherst, so I too have the privilege of receiving the magazine. This is the second photo of my father that has appeared in the magazine during the course of my daughter’s time at Amherst. It has been heartwarming for all of us to see his image. Thank you!

Laura Prentiss
Mount Holyoke ’91
Palo Alto, Calif.

A black and white photo of people playing ice hockey

The photo on page 57 (Winter 2023) depicts a scene from the season finale at the newly renovated Orr Rink on March 5, 1966. Paul Dimond ’66 is eluding Paul Sullivan (Williams ’67) to shoot on goalie Jon Stableford (Williams ’67). Maybe he should have passed to a wide-open John Potter ’68 in the background.

Paul and John were my linemates that night. Unfortunately, we were on the wrong end of a 5–3 score, but we finally managed to beat Williams the next time they came to Amherst, the following year, by a resounding 8–4 score.

Rob Sherman ’68
Charleston, S.C.

Diagnostic Odysseys

Many thanks to Will Greene ’06 and Julia Vitarello ’99 for sharing the diagnostic odysseys of their children with ultra-rare diagnoses and their searches for therapeutic options (“We Were Racing Against Time for Mila,” Winter 2023). I first met Julia in 2019 at an Undiagnosed Diseases Network (UDN) Steering Committee meeting when I was serving as the principal investigator for the UDN clinical site at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

A magazine spread showing a mother holding a child

The UDN is a multi-institutional group sponsored by the National Institutes of Health that focuses on solving medical mysteries through team science. Julia’s courage, commitment and resilience, along with the therapeutic strategy pioneered by Dr. Timothy Yu from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, prompted several of us in the UDN to consider expanding the UDN mission to include therapy discovery. Thanks in part to Julia’s and Dr. Yu’s example, the UDN established a monthly Therapeutic Matching Committee that crowdsources multidisciplinary expertise for discovery and prioritization of the many emerging gene correction/rescue 
strategies that may help patients with ultra-rare genomic diseases.

In the United States, approximately 30,000,000 individuals have rare and undiagnosed diseases. Many of them are children for whom no FDA-approved strategies are available. The story by Will Greene provides a beautifully written example of these courageous affected individuals and their families, the critical importance of pursuing therapies, and the transformational role of 
family participation in scientific discovery.

F. Sessions Cole ’69, M.D.
St. Louis

Cole is a professor of 
pediatrics at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Missing Class Notes

Thirteen classes failed to have any class notes entries in the Winter 2023 edition of Amherst magazine. Is this yet another effect of social media? Is it passé to pen a note to the notes?

Whatever, its effect on the class notes is sad. Sure, members of younger classes may be in touch with selected friends via some social media. But the charm of the notes is that I read about classmates I never knew well when I attended Amherst, including some in classes other than my own. If social media eliminates the notes, it impoverishes the sense of community among the generations of alumni.

Bryant Avery ’64
Surrey, British Columbia