Deux petites — et grandes — dames
by Philip Stewart
They were hardly a pair. Indeed they had little in common except for their age, the fact that they both had gone to Smith, and their visceral attachment to Hamilton.
In fact, to Ellie and Patsy it would make virtually no sense to discuss them together. It is our point of view, not theirs, that joins them in some way, and them to us. You could say it was just coincidental cohabitation, but that would understate the combined effect.
Still, the singularities must be acknowledged. Patsy had little of Ellie’s outspoken verve. It seemed she saw good in everyone and everything. She effused kindness and warmth, which is not exactly something you would say about Ellie. Yet Ellie was anything but a mere village commentator. Beneath her tough and determined demeanor was a giving person who had time, attention and advice for just about everybody.
They came here by different paths, but in both cases by marrying men who were deeply allied to Hamilton. Ellie was the long-time denizen who raised her family on the Hill; she and Sid were well known to generations of Hamilton students over several decades. Patsy and Dick, though never too far removed, pursued most of their endeavors elsewhere but moved back to Clinton in retirement, which happily proved to be of long duration.
The image of both Ellie and Patsy that will stay with us, however, owes much to the fact that they outlived their husbands by several years, sharpening their individual identities in their many subsequent goings and comings on the Hill.
Ellie was no wallflower, and wanted to make sure that she, and any other woman who had something to say, got to say it. To her, things were just better said than not said. That sometimes sharp critical sense was usually accompanied, on the other hand, by encouragement and energy. Her candor was in itself an inspiration.
Patsy, though not opinionated — at least not overtly so — was unassuming but certainly not retiring. She was not always determined to get her word in, but she was determined not to miss anything College Hill had to offer. In particular, that meant enjoying the arts, but to her, without cowering, it also meant plunging in amongst the students and learning with them.
Strong wills on both sides; very different manners, each awesome in its own way.
And now, alas, they are gone, and with them an era defined, in large part, by their very presence.
Philip Stewart is the Benjamin E. Powell Emeritus Professor of Romance Studies at Duke University. Both he and his wife, President Joan Hinde Stewart, will miss their special relationships with Patsy Couper and Ellie Wertimer.