Memorial: A Reminiscence of Former Director Zeph Stewart

A Reminiscence of Zeph Stewart by Patricia Curd, Professor of Philosophy, Purdue University

On the first Monday of the first week of the winter term in 1990, I found in my department mailbox a slim envelope from the Center for Hellenic Studies. Clearly, the envelope contained a single sheet of paper. A skinny letter. Because all my experience of skinny letters suggested that they were rejections, I tossed it on my desk, taught a couple of classes, and went to the library. In the afternoon I braced myself and opened the envelope. The letter was not a rejection, but a succinct and elegantly worded invitation from the Director to become a Junior Fellow at the Center. This was, I think, my first experience of the way things worked with Zeph. The letter that accepted me into the Center was typical Zeph: welcoming, friendly, and economical. Zeph’s economy was famous: it was a great moment for me when, turning off the Library lights at 2:30 in the morning, I heard his voice from the stacks, “Thanks very much for saving electricity, but I’m still here.” Every memo we received from Zeph (this was before email, and before the Center acquired a fax machine) fit on one page – or, better, half a page – so there could be two copies on a single piece of paper. (The fax machine arrived after Zeph realized how inexpensive faxes were compared to phone calls.) Zeph could say what he meant in very few words, and those words would be crystal clear.  When he read my work, and commented on it, I learned from him both philologically and philosophically; one of the best things I learned was to shorten, simplify, and clarify what I wrote. Even now, I worry about what he would have thought about what I have written, just as I hoped that he would approve of the book that I began to write while I was at the Center.    This Zeph sounds rather daunting: scholarly, gentlemanly, economical. But he wasn’t daunting at all: he was tremendous fun. Sitting next to him at lunch was a delight; being invited down to the Director’s house for dinner was a treat. He liked philosophers: he found our contrary and argumentative natures entertaining. Zeph said that he had always wanted a motorcycle: my class of Junior Fellows, told in no uncertain terms by Diana that there would be no motorcycle, gave him the next best thing we could think of (and afford): a black leather jacket. We picked out a rather conservative model but luckily it didn’t quite fit so he was able to exchange for the real thing – he made sure this one had all the requisite zippers and metal fittings. He wore it to walk in the park with the Danish  Ambassador and pick up trash.

Zeph was the real thing: a scholar, a gentleman, and an able administrator. As a scholar, he was deeply learned and deeply committed to all learning and scholarship, not just his own. As a gentleman, he treated everyone in exactly the same way: with courtesy, patience, gentleness.  He wore his learning and his position lightly. He was genuinely interested in everyone at the Center: we (the entire staff, the Junior Fellows, Zeph and Diana) were all part of a good institution, and he was committed to the well-faring of all of us. As director of the Center, he made it possible for younger scholars to have time, space, and peace in which to work.  My thoughts of Zeph will always be thoughts of “Zeph and Diana.”  How lucky they were to have one another, and how lucky we were to have them at the Center.  My time there was the real beginning of my grown-up scholarly life, and for me, the Center will always be the one that Zeph and Diana made possible for the lucky ones of us who were there with them.  Driving away through the gates of 3100 Whitehaven Street in June of 1991, I felt that I had been expelled from paradise.  I was sure I saw Zeph through the rearview mirror, holding a flaming sword, but smiling as he sent us back into the world.

A Reminiscence of Zeph Stewart by Josiah Ober, Constantine Mitsotakis Professsor in the School of Humanities and Sciences (Departments of Political Science and Classics). Stanford University

I first met Zeph Stewart in the fall of 1989, when I arrived at the Center as a Junior Fellow after a long (geographic and psychological) trip from Bozeman Montana. Zeph was in his second year as Director of the Center, and was struggling valiantly to cut costs in order to put the Center on a financial footing strong enough to ensure its continued existence. It must have been, in many ways, a trying year for Zeph and his wife Diana. He had to contend with a Harvard administration that was deeply concerned with red ink, and with a group of Junior Fellows that cannot have been quite what he had expected when he took on the job (surely he hadn’t expected to greet an incoming Fellow from Bozeman). Some of us were working on projects that were a very long way from Zeph’s base-line conception of the field and many of us were very caught up in seeking new jobs. We were, as a year-class, pretty loud and boisterous – there were no children that year, but there was a pack of dogs (belonging to Ian Morris) and frequent late parties. Our spouses were outspoken and independent-minded – they included Tatiana Tolstaya, the charismatic wife of Andrei Lebedev, who was already a prominent Russian novelist and a rising star on the American literary scene. It was a year in which international events, notably the collapse of the Soviet empire, threatened to render the cloistered world of academic scholarship seem pale and meaningless. I will never forget Andrei rushing into my office in the middle of night breathlessly bringing news of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Zeph took all of this completely in stride. His deep passion for all aspects of ancient Greek culture, passionate commitment to saving the Center, extraordinary kindness, and sly wit transformed what might have been a strained and difficult year into an extraordinarily rewarding academic and social experience. He made cost cutting into a light-hearted crusade – personally going around to wastebaskets in the middle of the night to pick out paper that might be cut into notepaper for taking telephone messages in the front office. If a dish of ice cream were left on the sideboard, he would leap from the table and carry it back to the freezer – exclaiming over the near waste of perfectly good food. But it worked: we all sought to save where we could and our stipends were higher than we had expected, the library budget was sacrosanct, and all staff and essential services were preserved.

Zeph’s intellectual generosity was immense – not only to Fellows, but to spouses with an interest in classics. Zeph’s went to great lengths to help my wife, Adrienne Mayor, in her own projects in the field of Classical folklore –his help (then and in correspondence for years to come) helped Adrienne to fulfill her goal of becoming a full time writer and independent scholar. At lunches, and at frequent dinners and social gatherings at the Director’s house Zeph and Diana brought us, as Junior Fellows and spouses together, encouraging us to find commonalities on both the social and intellectual plane. As a result of Zeph and Diana’s wit and warmth, social occasions that might have been dull and uncomfortable, in light of the social and intellectual diversity of the company, were transformed into memorable gatherings featuring conversational fireworks of a sort that I imagined had been lost with Dorothy Parker. I look back on those evenings with wonder.

Those of us lucky enough to be Junior Fellows under his watch still miss Zeph Stewart a lot and we always will be in his debt. If we occasionally grumbled over a menu persistently featuring leftover boiled tongue or the lack of a fax machine in the front office, we also recognized that we were having the time of our lives – and that it was all made possible by Zeph. We miss his deep erudition, his dry sense of humor, his prominently frayed shirtsleeve. We miss his deep pride in his mid-western background, his dedication to Harvard and the Center. Most of all we miss his profound humanity, his willingness to take us and our projects at face value. And we are forever grateful for the immense care he took in enabling each of us to become better Hellenists.

Reminiscence by Geneviève Hoffman, Professeur d’Histoire grecque (Amiens), Junior Fellow, 1990-1991

C’est avec beaucoup de tristesse que j’ai appris que Zeph Stewart nous avait quittés. Patricia Curd a parfaitement traduit les impressions, les émotions et joies de cette année-là qui pour nous tous – je pense en ce moment à Steven Lonsdale – fut vraiment une année d’exception. Nous qui avions des projets divers, qui venions de cultures et de milieux bien différents, nous avons vécu en bonne intelligence, mieux en profonde sympathie, nouant pour certains d’entre nous des liens qui se sont poursuivis malgré nos occupations et la distance qui nous séparait. L’année passée au Centre reste pour moi un merveilleux souvenir. Bien sûr il y avait des conditions excellentes de travail, mais sans Zeph et Diana, sans leur délicatesse, leur humour et leur profonde gentillesse, tout cela aurait été de peu de prix. Zeph suivait nos recherches avec attention, toujours prêt à discuter un point difficile ou à donner un conseil bibliographique avec sa modestie habituelle. Sa conversation était un délice. Son goût pour l’anecdote allait de pair avec un sens de l’humour qui n’était jamais blessant. Je me souviens de ces belles réceptions quand nous étions invités à tour de rôle chez nos hôtes ; je me souviens bien sûr de cette party de fin d’année, des discours et de la jacket en cuir, de nos rires dans la lumière douce d’une belle journée de printemps. Connaissant mon amour de la poésie, la veille de mon départ, Zeph est venu me chercher dans mon bureau pour me faire écouter des poèmes de Verlaine chantés sur une musique de Debussy. Je le revois mettant le 33 tours sur la platine pour me faire partager son plaisir. Zeph restera pour moi ce directeur qui non seulement savait à tout moment se rendre disponible pour ses fellows, mais qui trouvait toujours le temps de partager un moment d’émotion.