Photo Credit: ©1988 Yousuf Karsh
Remembering Thad Tate
I founded the Commonwealth Center for the Study of American Culture at William & Mary with Thad after his retirement from the Institute. I worked closely with him during the three years of his directorship (I was hired as Assoc. Director), which happily coincided with the glory days of the founding of American Studies (Thad’s contribution to that enterprise have never, to my mind, received sufficient recognition). I succeeded him as Director and ran the Center for the next several years.
I came to know Thad pretty well and possess some very fond memories of him. We travelled much together and dined frequently. On one occasion, we were visiting Charlottesville and decided to try what was then among the “hottest” new restaurants in town. This proved to be literally the case. We arrived, attired in our seersucker suits, to discover that in the middle of an exceptionally warm August, the restaurant’s AC had collapsed. Moreover, none of the windows in its second-floor dining room opened. We decided to bull it through. By the middle of the meal, I was soaked through, and had to peel off my jacket. “Thad,” I asked, “How’d y’all put up with this before there was air conditioning?” Without missing a beat, Thad looked me square in the eyes and replied, “Well, Chandos, we just learned to sweat like gentlemen.” I damn near blew my wine through my nose. It remains among the wittiest comments that I have ever heard.
You may know that Thad had a thing about trains. He simply loved them. I learned over time that, like those idiot savant baseball fans who can recite every statistic related to the game, Thad possessed an eidetic memory of every meal he had consumed in a Pullman diner. Every meal! He could tell you what he’d had for dinner on the Northwestern Limited in the summer of ’48 en route from Raleigh to Providence. It was astonishing.
Thad was one of a quartet of post-war grad students at Brown. They studied with the young Ed Morgan and the even younger Donald Fleming. John Shelby (the only non-vet, though he served in the Air Force after the war) was the baby. The others were Bill Stanton and Charlie Crowe. Charlie and Joyce’s son, Thad, is Thad’s namesake. I imagine that he will be at the memorial, along with Mick Nichols and his son, who is also named Thad. Thad was the last of this gang to go. I am a fortunate man, indeed, to have known all of them pretty well, especially after a memorable weekend many years ago at the Crowes’ beach house in Virginia Beach. God, for the first time, I begin to feel the crushing weight of time passing and the inexorable press of mortality. Too soon it will be a matter of “Jefferson still survives.”
Upon Thad’s final retirement from the College, I quoted the line from Emerson that proclaimed that “an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man.” I can hardly contemplate this place without seeing something of Thad in it. He was a fine, fine man, among the best I have ever known.
To my near infinite regret, his memorial service conflicts with my 2:00PM class on Thursday. I have wracked my brain for a way out, but it is simply too late in the semester to make up for the material I must cover. I am confident that Thad would have understood.
Department of History and American Studies Program, W&M