Good Fighters

Sam Maitin FA’51, who is featured in this issue’s cover story by senior editor Samuel Hughes, was the furthest thing from belligerent or threatening, but the few times I met him he always put me in mind of an old fighter. He had that kind of physical presence and grace and strength about him, an air of treading lightly and yet being very solidly set on his feet. You couldn’t knock him down. (My first reaction, on learning of his death from cancer in late December, was simple surprise. It truly didn’t seem possible.)

Most of the wonderful work he did for the Gazette was before my time here, but I came to appreciate his art when we were researching our 100th anniversary, and I saw the many covers he had done over the years. Given his history with the magazine, it seemed more than appropriate that we approach him to do one of our Centennial issue covers, but I confess I was a little leery. I was afraid he wouldn’t come through, or would toss something off, considering the work beneath him by then, and resist making any changes.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I remember him coming—I want to say bounding—into the Gazette offices in Sweeten Alumni House toting several different all-but-finished approaches, eager to show and talk about them, totally open to questions and suggestions, completely present in what he was doing. A bit later, I was pestering him to write up something for an “Alumni Memories” feature, and he agreed to let me to run the tape recorder and edit a text from that. He talked a blue streak about going to night school with returning soldiers on the GI Bill, who were “voracious for education” and all that Penn could give them. Though he was only 16 at the time, he could as easily have been talking about himself.

I thought of that energy and enthusiasm at the opening of the show of his work that opened on campus in February. It was there on the walls, from the earliest pieces from the 1950s to the most recent ones from 2004. It came through clearly as well in the many tributes from Sam’s family, friends, and admirers who packed the Zellerbach Theater at his memorial service in January—and, I hope, in our story and the accompanying photography of Greg Benson, who shot most of the images of Sam’s work as well as the evocative view of his studio on the cover.

The subjects of our other feature articles are also fighting good fights. Allen Keller C’81 runs the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, which provides medical care, counseling, and other services to victims of torture who manage to make their way to the United States. The program has helped more then 1,500 individuals from 70 countries since its founding (by Keller) in 1995, with no end in sight. “Right now we’re more in demand than ever,” Keller says.

Marc Morial C’80 grew up watching his parents fight for civil rights in his native New Orleans, where his father would become the city’s first black mayor. Morial himself was elected to that office at 36 and became one of the city’s most popular mayors. He now heads the National Urban League, where he has initiated efforts to raise the organization’s profile and attack the continuing economic disparities between whites and blacks in this country.

Finally, in a combined “Alumni Voices/Elsewhere” column, alumni and faculty write about the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia on December 26. Despite the extensive media coverage of the disaster, small details can still freshly evoke its continuing toll: “The children need writing materials, shoes, and bags for school, so we decided to use some of the initial contributions for those things,” wrote an alumna working to rebuild a pre-school destroyed in the tsunami. “On January 14 we will light many small oil lamps for people who passed away and for those who lost loved ones.”

—John Prendergast C’80

©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 03/05/05

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