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That’s OK Stuff

New York Times obit of Samuel Hynes, a longtime professor at Swarthmore, reminded me of this regret: Students rarely know much about their professors, even at a relatively small college like Swarthmore.

I was lucky that Hynes taught me in 1951–1952; he was then figuring out how to teach, and I was figuring out how to study. I did not know he was a heroic fighter pilot who endured 78 missions during World War II. Obviously, I didn’t know he would go on to be a brilliant writer (Flights of PassageThe Soldiers’ Tale, etc). I went on to write nine books; I would have enjoyed knowing of his literary aspirations. Or knowing him.

I remember Hynes as a brilliant guy, a little gruff and remote. Reading his obit underscored this reality: I wish students could have more insight into the lives and interests of their professors. We students are strangers to them; it doesn’t need to be mutual.

By the way, when Hynes liked something I wrote, he would say something ebullient, like “That’s OK stuff.”

—PETER BART ’54, Palm Springs, Calif.