Dear Friends,

Take off your shoes, come inside and meet Mr. Gaudino. He was a California boy from an immigrant family who somehow landed at remote Williams College, in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, where he died in 1974, far too young. He taught for less than two decades, but in that time he influenced legions of students and others , profoundly so, as you will see. Read on and be prepared to be humbled, for this oral history is a reminder of what can be accomplished in a life. Not fortune or fame—the man had neither. Nor did he publish much. He mostly asked questions, in the softest of voices. And when your head was spinning he’d add one more, with an impish twinkle, “What to do? What to do?”

Robert L. Gaudino was a man with flaws, absolutely. He seemed annoyingly cryptic to some and too biting to others. Some colleagues were suspicious of the devotion of his students. “Acolytes,” they called them, “disciples.”Certainly he made many people uneasy.  His job description said he was a professor of political philosophy but he termed what he did “uncomfortable learning.” He took the children of privilege from their idyllic New England campus to India, Appalachia and the like – from the warmth and comfort of home to the unsettling place he called “otherness.”

He was a gadfly too, a subversive in many ways. So much as we thank those who lovingly recall how he hung lollipops from his tree for the children of fellow professors, we thank those who share their doubts, as well. This is not meant to be a deification of Bob Gaudino. True, we allow some audacious comparisons to Gandhi and … well, you’ll see. But the skeptics have our ear too, as Mr. Gaudino would have insisted.

There is much to ponder here: about how we learn and how we teach,  whether in the classroom or outside of it; about campus culture and its tensions; about different generations of students and tumultuous moments in our nation’s history ; about the nature of memory and what stays with us; and, not the least, how we handle the end of our time on earth. But mostly we ponder the single human life we recall here from start to finish. “Attention must be paid,” as Arthur Miller said.

Tackle Mr. Gaudino’s story however you wish. It is okay to jump ahead, if you must, to the wrenching finale, to the accounts of his illness and death at just 49, both shared to an extraordinary degree with a college community that served as his surrogate family. Learn how students nursed him and tweaked him – that went both ways – and even painted his house. Of course, Katie Guthorn did that slowly, for he was paying by the hour, you know? Check out too Bill Loomis’ recollection of how Mr. G. promised the college chaplain that he would report in, after death, on the existence of God . Perhaps we can settle that issue once and for all, right here.


Final Note