A Colleague Remembers Professor Bob Fallaw

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Bob Fallaw and I met on the basketball court. One afternoon as I was putting on my sneakers, I watched him taking shots, first a two-handed set shot, then underhand free throws, then a turn around jump shot. He made them all.

“They are,” he said when I introduced myself, “from an all star team in my mind. Bill Sharman from the Celtics; George Mikan from Chicago; Dolph Schayes from Syracuse. Others.”

“I have a Clyde Lovellette hook shot from the University of Kansas,” I said and, from the middle of the paint, I made it after warming up. “Also a Bob Cousey running set shot from when he was with Sharman in Boston.” I made that one as well.

“Pretty good,” he said. Then the all of his of my one-on-one to a , to , to , at , after which , to Montaigne, of his Walter Mitty mine.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 1.56.53 PMThe year was 1970. Bob and I had been hired along with more than a dozen other faculty, the largest incoming class at the time, and perhaps even now. In that group were Larry Logue, and Dan Premo who, later along with Barry McCardle, Alan Berg, John Conklin, Ed Athey and others made up a Faculty Basketball team to compete with the Washington College fraternities. We were old, we were slow, but we had been well coached from playing high school basketball (or, in Alan Berg’s case, college ball), and we kept our professorships on the court.

“Excuse me, Professor Premo,” a fraternity player said when Dan Premo set a screen for Professor Fallaw, who then sank a Bill Shaman set shot. “I’m sorry, Professor Fallaw” said another student to Bob, who had set a pick by abruptly stopping at the top of the key to take a hit, which resulted in a charging foul on the student. At 5 foot 8 inches and close to 200 pounds, Bob didn’t budge when run into. “Excuse me,” Professor Fallaw.” In those days we called Bob, Fats Fallaw; but after he lost 20 pounds, he renamed himself Slats Fallaw.

Our team was not so much a starting five as a rotating ten; we would take ourselves out when we got tired by running toward the sidelines while a replacement was heading onto the court. And instead of cheerleaders, we had our wives watching from the bleachers, one of whom (Rita Premo), observed that she’d seen so many of our games she didn’t recognize us with our clothes on.

To his students, Bob Fallaw was Google before there was the Internet. He seemed to know all there was to know about American History, and more than one student told me how they’d conspire to learn from him in ways beyond whatever lecture on, say, Post World War Two America, he might have prepared that day: “Professor Fallaw, is it true that the pumpkin papers were buried in Maryland?” And that would start Bob off on a mini course about the Whittaker Chambers/ Alger Hiss scandal, the students fascinated not only by the lurid details (including that Whittaker Chambers once lived in Professor Tatum’s apartment on Water Street), but about Bob’s delight in recalling them: He held their attention with what Coleridge called “the glittering eye” of the story teller, but in Bob’s case that eye was his knowledge of American History, his teaching subject which, in those days, was the primary requirement for appointment, promotion and tenure at Washington College.

I remember when the Ken Burns film on The Civil War came out, promising in all the T. V. ads that it would reveal never before known facts about the long conflict. I happened one day to be sitting next to Bob in the Faculty lounge shortly after the series ended and asked what he made of it.

“Very well done,” he said. “But there was nothing new.” You had to be Bob Fallaw to be able to say that.

It was also in the faculty lounge where Bob and I would swap jokes, trading them back and forth like passing the basketball as we ran (well, jogged) down court. Our colleagues in those days took politically incorrect pleasure in hearing us, so much so that one of them, (John Taylor, I think) dubbed us the Bob and Day show.

Then there were his ties; not that they were as ugly as mine, but worn over and over again they gathered burn holes from the small Muriel cigars he smoked in class (it was that long ago). More than one student told of Bob putting out his smoldering tie fires, never stopping his teaching in the process.
Bob knew what he knew about American History because he read books on American History. With glee and pleasure. You could hear it when he was asked “How’s history?” probably meaning his department. In response he’d quip: “There is more of it every day.” And I recall he delighted in a passage from Kingly Amis’s novel Lucky Jim where the Chairman of the History department answers the phone with: “History Speaking.”

I suspect that he had more books than any of us in those days. In his office in G.I. during the early 70’s, they were stacked in boxes in front and around his desk, the bookshelves being full. For awhile, students sat on the boxes instead of using the chairs. Later, when Fergerson Hall was built, he had all the wall space in his office filled to the ceiling with bookshelves. After about a year I noticed there was a slight bow to the floor in Bob’s office as if the bookshelves were depressing the load-bearing walls, which it turned out they were. Bob would jump up and down (not his Slats version) to show me how the floor joists bounced. It wasn’t long after that his entire office floor collapsed, the books and the desk (but not Bob, as it occurred during a Department meeting) falling into a hole under his office. Ever unflappable, Bob looked at the mess, flipped his cigar, and said: “That’s History for you.”

When my wife Kathy’s son Beau Orme graduated from Washington College we had a party for him and, at Beau’s request, invited Bob who was his favorite teacher. There is a basketball goal in our driveway, and as Bob was leaving the party, I brought out a ball and we played one on one, our teams tying as usual, but because it was getting late in the afternoon, we did not go into overtime to settle the matter.

Tonight, when I go home I’ll get out the basketball and, in Bob’s honor, play for both of us, shooting his shots and mine for the memory of who he was at Washington College, on and off the court, in the classroom and beyond into the lives of his students where his legacy now resides. Slats: Goodbye.

Bob Day retired in 2007 from a career teaching creative writing at Washington College. He was the founder of the O’Neill Literary House.

Letters to Editor

  1. Marty Stetson says:

    Editor,

    Well said.

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