Epilogue: My Last Classmate

Epilogue: My Last Classmate McGill University

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Home > McGill News > 2002 > Spring 2002 > Epilogue: My Last Classmate

Epilogue: My Last Classmate

McGill's Stone Age Scholar

by Jim Panos, BA'42, MA'44

Last week (at this writing) I lost the last of my McGill classmates. By that, I don't mean that the entire class of Arts'42 has gone to its rest -- no. I'm sure scores of us are still enjoying our octogenarian years, albeit sustained by a dozen different pills a day. What I mean is that my friend Bob, who died last week, was my last link with my class because he was the only friend I had kept in touch with over the years.

It was an odd friendship, but it lasted from the days of our daily climb of the steps of the Arts Building in the'40s until just last week. It was odd because since the day of our graduation, we saw each other only three times -- and yet we remained lifelong friends.

We started out with a mutual interest in the written word. In fact, it was Bob who introduced me to Joyce and Dos Passos and Thomas Wolfe. We both worked on the Daily, he as a feature writer, I as a columnist. Later, Bob became Editor of the Forge, the annual literary magazine of 1942, and made me an Associate Editor -- which is how I managed to get one of my first short stories published.


After his service in the Royal Canadian Navy, Bob started his working years with RCA. On assignment from RCA once, he came to New York, where we met for the first time since graduation. My brand new wife joined us. We met again in Toronto, his home base. My wife and I had flown to Toronto to attend a Kiwanis convention -- which I never got to attend. Picking up a suitcase on arrival at the airport, I pulled my back and spent the weekend in pain. By then, Bob had married, too. He and Anna picked us up at the hotel and took us on a tour of the city, painful back and all.

The third and last time I saw him was in Vancouver, B.C., where my wife and I had gone to pick up an Alaskan cruise. In my ignorance, I had asked Bob and Anna to come to Vancouver from Nanaimo, B.C., where they lived, assuming that Nanaimo was a suburb of Vancouver. Bob and Anna dutifully made the trip, involving a car, a ferry and a bus ride, to have lunch with us -- which I had the instinctive wisdom to host.

Our friendship was nurtured by correspondence. We exchanged long letters, infrequently but without fail. He always apologized for being tardy in this -- which he was. But no matter, we followed each other's passage through life with letters. At one point, I noticed with alarm that Bob's handwriting had deteriorated from a bold script to an old man's shaky scrawl, although he was still far from an old man's age.

I had been getting the impression right along that Bob was never well in his health, though he rarely talked about it. When he suggested in one of his letters that we should communicate by phone rather than mail, I was alarmed. Bob was a born Scotsman, so trading the postal service for the more costly telephone must have been somewhat painful for him. At any rate, that did not improve his occasional health reports. When I called him early one January to wish him a Happy New Year and asked how he was, he replied, "Great! I haven't been to the hospital yet this year."

Our friendship was odd, too, because it survived space, if not time in the end. We lived three thousand miles apart, he on the west coast of Canada, I on the east coast of the United States. Usually, friendships like that wind down to an exchange of annual Christmas cards. Not ours. We each had a friend at the other end of the continent for over half a century -- with the broad landscape of McGill between.

On occasion, we wondered how we had first met. Neither one of us could remember. It could have been in an English class or on the Daily or some social occasion, like a Sadie Hawkins Day. But nothing ever marred my image of Bob as the last of my classmates that still tied me to my youth and my school like an ethereal umbilical cord.

Then, last week, came that terrible call from Anna. When she identified herself, I knew right away. "Last night we lost Bob," she said simply. I controlled myself and said the right things. It was when I hung up that the tears started to flow. For a man who couldn't cry at his father's funeral, I wept for Bob.

Why? Because many things had been gravely wounded with Bob's death. Friendship. Youth. Ambition. A time of learning and exploration. A good chunk of McGill itself. And I no longer had anyone with whom to share the memory of those wonderful years.

Now, I can only look forward to seeing Bob again some day, as I know I will. In good time, of course...

Jim Panos is a retired travel agent and freelance writer who lives in Port Washington, N.Y. The column on campus life he wrote for the McGill Daily was known as "Yoohooditties."

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