Jim Kolesar '72, Assistant to the President for Public Affairs

A Legend Brought to Life

Into our age, when the digital capture of people’s lives runs practically from birth canal to columbarium, drops this rare animation of a key figure in the college’s history. It’s fascinating.

Reading Jack Sawyer’s often eloquent words is one thing; seeing him think out loud is another. He presents himself in this film as almost everything a 21st century college president could never be—deferential, low-key, laconic. Philosopher king has always been a good gig, if you could get it, and Sawyer looks here like someone who maybe did.

After seeing him on screen, you can let your mind project back to the young Jack Sawyer, showing early promise, being culled from the privileged New England class and prepared for leadership with a long and elite education. He was appointed Williams president at an early age with what would now seem scant administrative experience.

Unlike modern-day college presidents, who are expected to be half CEO and half Dad (or Mom), Sawyer’s persona was alien to this member of the Class of 1972, since if he’d ever shown up at a student event, we’d have assumed the world was coming to an end. He was instead, I assume, as with Plato’s ideal ruler, off mulling “the eternal and unchangeable,” his hand guiding the ship of state.

That hand, by all accounts, was a firm one. We’re told that Sawyer never entered a meeting without knowing where all the votes were. And don’t forget, his training included a stint during World War II with the OSS, precursor to the CIA.

Future generations won’t have to wonder what Adam Falk was like. His manner will be there for all to experience, by then perhaps in Princess-Leia-like holography.

But almost all we have of Jack Sawyer is this one-hour film, and it’s tantalizing in the ways that it brings him to life.

You wonder what it’d be like to see a film of Mark Hopkins. Would we marvel? Be appalled? Both?

 

Back to full article: What Sawyer Said