It was during the fellows and faculty line-up at Yale about 10 years ago that I rushed into place and didn’t realize I was walking with Paul Newman until I saw those eyes.
Yale does not announce those who are to be given honorary degrees. Many people learn the night before either at the Baccalaureate address, at the President’s dinner, or through a whisper. For some reason — which truly escapes me right now — we were by the Provost’s office walking to our respective colleges.
The routine with honorary degree recipients: All the colleges line up on campus before we march through the Downtown Green — and then we create a border as the President, Provost, and honorary degree recipients walk past us. As an associate fellow at Ezra Stiles College, it happens that we are always in the front rows.
But this time we were rushing down the stairs towards campus. The special person in my life was not so discreetly pointing to me and nodding his head from the sidelines. I just waved. Finally he mouthed a word that sounded like “Paul.” I shrugged not quite understanding him and he waved good-bye.
Blue stars twinkling: We quickened our pace and there was no chatting. We had a destination. But suddenly the lines slowed and we had a minute to catch our breath.
I exchanged some pleasantries with the gentleman next to me shielding my eyes from the sun. And that’s when it happened. In the middle of a morning of blue sky and sunshine, the stars came out and twinkled blue. “Oh, I seem to know you,” I uttered. “I’m Paul,” he said, extending his hand.
The man next to me was not nearly the giant I perceived him to be. Perhaps his stature is something I attributed to his character and the fact that I loved the devotion that we saw with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
Beer-drinking buddies: How is it that Roger special person recognized him immediately? It seems that before a movie, Paul needed a Texas twang. He was at Yale visiting and so one of the directors pulled together a few friends from Texas. Roger still has a bit of a Texas drawl and after he and Paul talked through the night — with pitchers of beer — by morning, both Roger and Paul could have hailed from Fort Worth.
I remembered this story just last week after learning that my neighbor’s daughter has had the priviledge to work at Camp Hole in the Wall, which Paul Newman supported.
As I reflected on this today, I realize that through his movies, his charities, his larger than life humility — he has left us a breath-taking legacy.
Copyright 2008 Rita Watson