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Jaffa at 93

I talked to Jaffa the other day. He will be 93 years old on October 7th. He called me and we had a good talk, at the end of which he said with broken voice: "Marjorie died exactly a year ago today and I can't get over it. I guess I'm not supposed to after 68 years of marriage."  I couldn't say much to such pathos. The Old Man has said that July 14, 1941, was an important day in his life for two reasons. First he "reported for salaried employment for the first time in my life." The second reason is this: "But on that morning at breakfast in the boarding house in which I had become an inmate the night before, I found myself looking into the eyes of the most beautiful and wonderful girl I had ever seen. I made a date for that evening and never looked back." He got the job in Washington because he passed the Civil Service Exam in Public Administration.  He passed that exam because he took public administration classes which he loathed and found infinitely boring. He only stayed with the courses at the recommendation of his professor, Frank Coker. Jaffa writes: "This advice turned out not only to be good advice, but the foundation of every good thing that has happened to me in all the years that have followed. I remain grateful to Coker, but even more alert to the mystery of the ways of Providence, which often proceeds by the most inauspicious indirection to accomplish its ends." Allow me to quote part of Sonnet 104, for both of them:

"To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still."

Below is a photograph of Harry and Marjorie in 1942.

Discussions - 11 Comments

I have often wondered who took that photograph. I don't think I ever saw one that did more justice to two souls . . . and at the same moment without them even looking at each other. The earnest, eager ambition of the one contrasts perfectly with the tranquil satisfaction and inner strength of the other. I think this must be what happiness looks like.

Thank you, Peter, for posting this.

The last part of Dylan Thomas's "Fern Hill" suits:
. . .
Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would
take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Years ago when I was administering the Publius program at Claremont we took the fellows to visit with the Jaffa's at their house. That photo, in enlarged format, was leaning against the fireplace awaiting framing. Everyone found it extraordinary. However, one young "Pube" told me he found it ineffably sad. On further inquiry he explained that seeing Harry and Margie in their current state (they were then well into their 80's) compared to how they looked in that photo was wrenching to him. Somehow, the perfection of that photo was too jarring to him, having just met the real-life old-person versions. I'm not sure why I remember this so vividly, but I recall thinking that lessons of life and death and nature and time don't always occur in the classroom.

Bit of a brain malfunction in the previous entry. Somehow that last line came out upside down. "Lessons of life and death and nature and time almost always occur outside the classroom."

maybe that particular Pube was too young to understand anything taught outside the classroom, Glenn. To me, that photo has always represented the continuity of time. Their physical aspects had changed by the time they hit their eighties, surely. But in every way that mattered, they had only improved and in exactly the vein indicated in that picture. Their eyes had the same twinkle when they were together a year ago as they had in that photo. I guess beautiful things can sometimes make us sad . . . but sadness, in the face of that kind of beauty, might be a weakness on the part of the beholder. Though I think it no unseemly to indulge in it from time to time, don't forget the beauty.

I wonder how Heaven works, but hope that the next time they see each other, may it be with those sweet and happy faces.

This is a absolutely wonderful. I met Dr. Jaffa in the summer of 2010. We had a number of good talks. Many about Churchill, Lincoln of course, and, surprisingly, Woody Hayes - one of his good friends during his time teaching at OSU. I always learned from him whether it was in his office or the canned goods aisle at the little Claremont corner store. In light of all that, I knew his wife was ailing. You could see the sadness in his shuffle.

Thanks for the tribute and the photograph. Of course, the greatest tribute is the marriage. Harry showed a photograph of Marge from years ago to my late wife and me when we visited their home. Her eye was affected by a very cold Chicago winter. That twinkle was there when I first met her in 1968 and it never left. The clarity of Harry's thought never ceases to amaze me.

I've never met Jaffa, but I've read his books and met many of his students. If these are any measure of the man's soul, then he is great indeed.

Peter, thanks for this.

I saw Jaffa this summer in Newport Beach with the Pubes. He is still, absolutely, "Jaffa" and as I listened to him tell that new class many of the same stories that I first heard in 1994 I was transported back to what I first found so compelling about the man.

His latest work of quasi-autobiography, "Straussian Geography," is a marvelous piece of work. It reminded me, after a long period of not thinking much about these things, why I will always remain proud to have been able to learn from the man and prouder still to consider myself a "Jaffanese American" and to evangelize for his cause, to the poor extent that I can.


An extraordinary man. Just his persistence and dedication alone are awe-inspiring.

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