April 20, 2012
by Jonathan M. Moses '88
Over lunch at the Signet, Peter offered to teach some of us a course on rhetoric. It was our last term, senior year. I’m quite sure the course never made its way into the catalogue. And, John Marquand, then secretary to the Faculty and another long-time friend of the Signet who sadly passed away a number of years ago, told me, also over lunch at the Signet, that Peter never properly registered it. Somehow, with John in the position he was, the credits still counted. I also think we all had the good taste to take it pass/fail. In any event, in sessions at Sparks House, the Signet and Memorial Church, Peter tried to impart some of his rhetorical gifts. So think of this as my final exam.
I can’t say I remember the lessons—other than don’t write out com-pletely what you plan to say. It ruins the rhythm.
Alas, failure already.
As with all of us in the College, my first introduction to Peter was four years earlier--first term, freshman year. But what I remember most was not his welcome to the freshman – I probably didn’t attend; rather, what I still remember clearly, then a cub reporter at The Crimson, was reading about and being struck by Peter’s giving the blessing at President Reagan’s second inaugural. That was, of course, Peter at his rhetorical heights. Above us – literally the entire nation then – on a pulpit; his voice booming; the cadence perfect; clarion calls to our greater selves.
The next year I met Peter at The Signet. Around these tables. Over lunch. It was here that Peter’s warmth, intellect, wit, charm and above all else his ability to make a personal connection came through. Like a true pastor, he was kind and welcoming to all. His bold greeting. His full laugh. His smile. He loved the company of others and it was infectious. Yes, there were the rhetorical flourishes--at events like these and even around these tables. At our senior-year Strawberry Night, he read a funny and pitch-perfect poem that he had crafted to honor our graduating class. It used to hang on these walls. But, most importantly there was always a sense, at least for me, of someone who valued and recognized the importance of true human relations—of the need for human connection on a smaller scale, beneath the pulpit; of the importance of friendship, even if only for a few years. Over many lunches, over three years, it was something I cherished.
When I learned of Peter’s passing, I truly felt a sense of loss. As if a relative had died. I really hadn’t stayed in touch with Peter. He had warned me that would happen. And it wasn’t because he had been my religious leader. It was because, I realized, he had been a friend, someone who, through all the rhetoric, was able to make, and cared about making, personal connections. This is the Peter I will remember. The friend. This was, at least to me, the Signet Peter.