Beyond Cameron: School Spirit in Gotham


It was called the DukeIdea, held on Thursday, March 5, in New York. The hits were Gotham Hall, a seven-story elliptical ballroom with a gold leaf dome in the former Greenwich Savings Bank, the sumptuous food, and the people I met – including several with ties to Princeton.

If Judy Woodruff (of the McNeil Lehrer report) and John J. Harwood (of the New York Times and CNBC) ended up having to rehash the problems of the old media rather than stick to the previously announced topic (the new media), oh well. I had a fabulous time doing my buttonholing photographer thing, snapping shots of folks who looked interesting in order to have an excuse to find out who they were. (The photographs are online, and here is a good Harwood/Woodruff anecdote.) Our engaging ex-Yalie college president, Richard Brodhead, made everyone feel good about having attended – or paying for their children to attend – Duke.

The collation — mussels, carved roast beef morsels, and more kinds of appetizers than I’ve ever seen in one place, plus an open bar – was lavish. Guests had been asked to pay $25 for this shindig (less if you were a recent grad), but it must have cost quadruple that amount. Perhaps I should add an extra digit to my measly two-digit annual contribution.

Young grads and parents predominated, but there were lots of baby boomer alums, including my prize find, New York Times columnist Peter Appelbome, alumnus and parent. I located a couple of women from the Class of ’62 but searched vainly for anyone older than I.

Then I spotted an elderly gentleman near the door. Aha. I zeroed in with the small talk. He said wasn’t a Duke grad, but was a Princeton grad, so we talked about my home town and joked about how Princeton was the Duke of the North. Finally I realized I was speaking to Anthony Drexel “Tony” Duke, the trustee emeritus who, it had been announced, was in attendance.

That really made my evening, because I have a thing for Duke family history. I’ve written about Doris Duke and her father at Duke Farm in Somerville, and last fall Hawaii we made sure to visit her Shangri-La enclave.

Mr. Duke told how he had been recruited by Terry Sanford to the Duke board, and how much he loved the university and was proud to be a Duke and to be wearing a Blue Devil tie. Later I learned that he had founded his own charity, Boys and Girls Harbor, when he was just out of high school. In this original summer camp, for immigrant boys, the counselors were his friends and classmates — Senator Claiborne Pell, Mayor Robert Wagner, Bishop Paul Moore.

The other Princeton connection was Richard S. (Dick) Miller and his son. Russell grew up at my Methodist church, followed his older brother to Duke, and is now working in the city.

Near the very end of the evening, I did find a classmate whose name I recognized from the Class of ’61, Shelly Conklin Ostrowski, who also had been a reporter and writer. And I recruited a woman from the Class of ’07 to do admissions interviews. Not a bad investment for $25 plus a $7 senior citizen train ticket to Manhattan.

Speaking of investments, you couldn’t forget you were in a bank, a very grand bank, built in 1922 in Classical Revival style. The brass bars of the teller windows encircle the back rows of chairs, and the granite writing shelves still line the walls, studded with candles for this evening. Overhead, four cautionary sayings (epitaphs for a drowned economy, it might seem now) are carved in limestone, like commandments. Each is better than the next:

“It’s what we save rather than what we earn that insures a competence for the future.”
“Having little you cannot risk loss. Having much, you should the more carefully protect it.”
“Waste neither time nor money but use both for your own and your neighbor’s good.”

Washington Duke would approve.

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