Letters to the Editor
Editor's note: The following letter, while not typical fare for the letters that appear on these pages, struck the editors as a particularly moving summation of the life of a Kenyon graduate, one who had numerous ties to the College, written by a fellow alumnus, his son.
Remembering Ed Southworth
In keeping with the very best Southworth family tradition of giving more information than is ever needed (my sisters and I have always joked about the fact that even the simplest question posed to my father resulted in a looong answer) I am sure I have written more-far more-than you will ever need. One of the only sadnesses of Dad's last years was that the degenerative arthritis in his hips prevented him from any kind of travel, making impossible his much-loved trips to Gambier. I have no doubt at all that at the moment of his death, when his spirit was freed, his very first stop was Kenyon.
The facts of my father's life are the easiest to write about, so I'll do those first, leaving some more personal remembrances till last. I'll use some quotes from my father's memoirs, or what he called his "recollections." (When quoting from those I have inserted some bracketed comments of my own when I thought they might help explain something.) He and his twin sister, Elizabeth Anne Southworth, were born October 2, 1907, in the Cincinnati suburb of Glendale to Rufus and Alice Williams Southworth. He was Kenyon right from the start. From his recollections: "The Southworth and Williams families came together at Kenyon College. George C.S. Southworth came to Kenyon as professor of English in 1880 and sent his sons there. Constant was in the class of '1898, Rufus '1900, Melvin '1907, and so on. [Yes, there were others, but because my memory isn't like my father's, I can't remember them all.] Ben Williams '1893 [Mary's brother] went to Kenyon because the family was strongly Episcopalian, and his mother's relatives, the Aveses, had gone there. Ben was followed by his brothers Herb '1896, Dayton '1899, and Hal '1905. Alice was in the Class of 1900 at Harcourt Place School in Gambier. Rufus Southworth married Alice Frances Williams in Monroeville, Ohio, on October 2, 1906."
Dad grew up in Glendale, attending elementary school there. When the time for high school arrived, he made the daily round trip into Cincinnati to attend Hughes High School, from which he graduated in 1925. That fall, he would enroll at-where else?-Kenyon, where he majored in English literature, followed the family tradition by becoming a member of Delta Tau Delta, and continued to develop his life-long interest in drawing. Some of his drawings can be found in the Reveille for his graduation year, 1929.
That year, as my father would often say, "was not a great year to be fresh out of college and looking for a job." He was fortunate enough to land a job on a Procter and Gamble sales promotion crew working in Michigan. Following a short stint in that business, he moved to Cleveland, where he worked for several agencies that had been formed during the Depression years-the Civil Works Administration, the Works Progress Administration, and the National Youth Administration. In 1936 he went to work in sales for Towmotor Company, which was pioneering the gasoline-powered fork-lift truck. Forklifts became his business for the rest of his working life. He remained with Towmotor in a variety of capacities until the early 1950s, when he left the corporate world and started his own business, Southworth Equipment Company in Norwalk, Ohio. He would run this one man operation until his retirement in the mid-1970s.
Dad married Barbara Anne Eberth in December 1938. If there wasn't enough Kenyon in this man's life already, my mother surely added more. Again, from his recollections "Barbara Anne Eberth, born April 25, 1910, was the daughter of Henry Jacob and Halcyon Bradbury Eberth. But more important to the point here is the close association of our [Southworth and Eberth] families, many of whose members had known each other since college years at Kenyon, beginning in the 1880s. Henry Eberth entered Kenyon in 1884, studied under Professor George C.S. Southworth, joined the recently formed Chi Chapter of Delta Tau Delta, and helped it through some early crucial years, making him a legendary figure in th fraternity. Some of that success came from having pledged to membership Ben Williams, whose brothers, Herbert and Dayton, soon followed. Their friendships with Constant and Rufus Southworth helped to bring that family into Chi Chapter, eventually adding four more in the early 1900's. Considering how closely tied both sides of my family were to the Eberths, how it happened that Anne [my mother never liked the name Barbara] and I did not meet until my first year at Kenyon was something about which we often speculated. Our first meeting happened when she came with her parents to visit her brother, Kenyon. [Henry Eberth was as loyal a Kenyon alumnus as there ever was, naming his first born child after the college and then making sure he went nowhere else!] He asked if I would entertain his sister while he and his parents went on some errand."
The rest, as they say, is history. My parents produced four children: Anne Southworth McFarland, a law librarian who lives in Cleveland Heights; Jennifer Lee Southworth, who died of illness in very early childhood; Alice Southworth, a systems analyst who lives in Richmond, Virginia; and me-Thomas Dayton Southworth '71, an educator living in Windsor, Connecticut. There are four grandchildren. My mother died in 1958.
So, those are the details of his life; the essence is a bit harder to capture. There wasn't much that he was not interested in. He was very mechanically inclined; there wasn't an engine he couldn't fix, nor little else for that matter. He loved working with his hands. If something in our home broke, he fixed it. If we needed something, he built it. I remember when I was in about the fourth grade, I wanted a kicking tee for my football. So, down into the basement workshop we went, and a couple of hours later I had an "Ed Southworth designed and built" kicking tee.
Dad was also a gifted artist who could draw virtually anything. He put these talents to good use by designing an engagement brooch for my mother, as well as the dining table and chairs that were his wedding gift to her. He loved to read, and I swear he never forgot anything he ever read. He was fascinated by history, by politics, by economics. If you ever wanted an update on any current event, he could give it to you. He knew more politicians, both local and national, than just about anyone I ever knew. He loved being outside, particularly being on the water in a sailboat.
I suppose a proper way to summarize Dad's time here would be to say he led an informed life. He was deeply curious about the world around him. He wanted to "know" about things, about issues, about people. It was this in him that caused him to believe so passionately in Kenyon. The ideals of a classic liberal-arts education are precislely those ideals that directed his life. The College's commitment to those ideals brought his commitment to Kenyon. In the early 1970s, the College published a compilation of essays, entitled What Shall We Defend?, by Denham Sutcliffe. My father thought these essays to be the finest defense of the liberal arts, and thus his beliefs, that he had ever encountered. I have no idea how many copies were printed, but he must have bought half of them, for he delighted in giving a copy to anyone he thought might be even remotely interested. I believe one paragraph from one of the Sutcliffe essays, "Born Offspring of Revolt," offers a fitting description of my father. "They will come to a knowledge of those standards by acquaintance with high models. What, to many, passes for thought is usually a compound of prejudice, desire, and whim. A few, having some acquaintance with the best that has been thought and said in the world, will have a different idea of thought. For most men, novelty is a prime, though transient, virtue. Perhaps you will be content with the trivial illustration of popular music. The men I speak of, having acquired a substratum of principles and values, will know how to distinguish novelty from excellence, or, at the least, will not think them synonomous. One characteristic mark of such men will be an uneasy sense of their own ignorance. Their knowledge of the past may cause them to wonder, now and then, whether modernity is the mark of excellence. They will not suppose that ideas, any more than jukeboxes, are self-created; or that ideas, any more than jukeboxes, sustain themselves. They will know that the idea of a car preceded the creation of the car, and that cars will be improved not by ignorant enjoyment of them but by critical analysis of the physical principles on which they are constructed. And so of politics, religion, morals, and the arts-of the ideas of the just, the divine, the right, and the beautiful. They will, in short, know their own origins not merely as physical creatures but as humane creatures; they will have a sense of the past."
I believe that my father's life was a Kenyon life, not just because of all the family ties, but because he took to heart the lessons the College exists to teach. Since his death, I have though often of the many, many hours he and I spent in Gambier together, both during my time there and after. Nowhere was his smile brighter.
Thomas D. Southworth '71
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