Remarks at Allen Torrey’s Funeral
by Ken Rosenthal
March 16, 2013
After 21 years as Amherst Town Manager, in 1975 Allen Torrey became Treasurer of Hampshire College, its chief operating officer. He wasn’t Hampshire’s first treasurer, but he was the first treasurer of a college that had outgrown its infancy and begun its long adolescence. When you are a brand new institution and growing fast it isn’t always easy but, at least in financial terms, growth helps to mask some problems. By 1975, Hampshire had reached its full size and stopped growing, the basic campus building projects were done, and the federal investment in higher education that helped to make Hampshire College possible had mostly dried up. Hampshire’s early entrepreneurs were moving on or soon would be, and strong management was needed for the steady state college that Hampshire had become.
Hampshire College President Chuck Longsworth looked over his South East Street back fence into Allen and Sylvia’s Middle Street back yard, and Chuck knew he had found his man. Chuck would later say that Allen provided authenticity and believability and respect to Hampshire College.
When Chuck Longsworth began his work on the new college, maybe even before the college had its name, he called on Town Manager Torrey and asked him if he thought the Town would welcome, or object to, a third college in town. Chuck said Allen replied without hesitation, “The Town would welcome it.” Allen was one of the people in town, such as Town Moderator Toby Dakin, who had to balance their enthusiastic support for the new venture with their obligation to protect the Town’s interests. He was the one the College dealt with first in town-gown matters. In deciding, for instance, which of the college’s new farm land and orchards could come off the tax rolls and be tax exempt and, as importantly, which land could not be exempt. And when some feared that extending the town’s sewer line to Hampshire would open up all of south Amherst to intensive residential development, Allen worked out the route that satisfied almost everyone. When he became the college’s treasurer, he brought with him his invaluable knowledge of our local government and its politics, along with the special understanding of Hampshire’s relationship to its town.
Opening the new college in the early 1970′s meant adding another locus of Vietnam war fermentation to an already bubbling community. It was a time when symbols came loaded with heavy baggage, no symbol more overburdened than our American flag. Hampshire had a flag pole. And it had an American flag. When the college opened to its first students in the fall of 1970, Sylvio Conte, our congressman then, gave the college a birthday gift of a flag that had flown over the Capitol in Washington. But it had never flown over the college before Allen became treasurer. That flag had resided under the treasurer’s desk for over five years. It’s probably hard, now, to understand why.
As our country approached its bicentennial in 1976, Allen decided that the time had come to fly that flag. He sent a secret message announcing the date and time. He wrote it in code, and you had to hold it up to a mirror to read it. I have seen some unreadable memos from college administrators and have even written some myself, but never before or since have I seen one intentionally written in code.
And so it came to pass that at 7 a.m. on July 4, 1976, Allen Torrey raised Sylvio Conte’s American flag on the Hampshire College flag pole for the very first time, in the presence of just two human witnesses, and Dick Warner’s dog. And then Allen went off to meet Sylvia and lead the bicentenary parade around the South Amherst Common.
And by the way, for those who might think I’ve exaggerated the powerful symbolism of the American flag in those days, there’s this. It was important to Allen to raise that flag for the positive message it would send. He chose a sleepy summer holiday for the first flag raising because he thought he could get away with it. He was wrong. At noon that July 4th bicentennial day, when Allen returned to the flagpole to admire his good work, the flag was gone. Stolen. Never to be seen again.
When Allen was about to retire from Hampshire after 15 years the College dedicated one of its most important spaces in his honor: the public courtyard of its very first academic building, Franklin Patterson Hall. Now as you approach the building you’ll see his name in granite at the entrance to this lovely plaza. And as you turn to leave that spot your eyes are drawn upward to the magnificent Holyoke Range. Allen always loved the view of the Pelham Hills from the deck of his South East Street house and I think the view of the Range from the Torrey Courtyard must be a close second.
For me, Allen was much more than a professional colleague. He and Sylvia befriended me when I was pretty new to town. They remained among my closest Amherst friends when I left town in 1976 and for the thirty years I was away. And they welcomed me when I moved back in 2006.
I am grateful for all that Allen and Sylvia taught me, and for all the good times we shared.
It will not be the same without Allen. But I promise you, Sylvia, that though the good times will be different your family, friends and I will make sure that there will be plenty of good times ahead.