iconFellows Reunion

Remarks from Randy Barton at the Laird Fellowship 35th Reunion:

I want to thank Ann for a delightful and touching retrospective of the life of Geordie Laird that she presented to all of us last night. It captured quite beautifully Geordie's spirit, his sense of fun, and his life of hard work and accomplishment as pure enjoyment.

I've spoken in the past about Geordie; tonight I want to talk about the Laird Fellowship, and from a personal perspective.

The wonderful recounting of Geordie's life appropriately did not talk about the end of his life. But I want to tell you how it affected me, and I have a good reason to do this. There are events in our lives, public and private, that are of such enormity that we will forever remember everything around us when we heard of it: where we were, what we were doing, the details of the conversation that was interrupted by this news.

Geordie's death is one of those moments for me. The small details remain in my mind with a sharp, total recall that I wish would someday blur, but I know they won't. A few days later, when Peggy and I were driving to the church for Geordie's memorial service, I said to her "this is the saddest thing that I have ever known in my life," and to this day it still is.

But then, over the following weeks and months, the Laird Fellowship was conceived and began to take shape. Ted Ashford, whom many of you remember from his years on the Selection Committee, deserves enormous credit for this vision and for transforming the vision into reality.

And then a wonderful thing happened: scarcely six or seven months after Geordie's death, Jim Zumsteg became the first Laird Fellow. Jim had a feeling for the Laird Fellowship that seemed uncanny, and having Jim come into our lives at that time as the first Laird Fellow was a great joy.

And then, following Jim we have had… (and here, recited not read, follows the list of the next 34 Laird Fellows after Jim – see list attached).

I will never cease to be amazed by how something so powerful and positive could emerge from what was truly a great tragedy. The opportunity to know these 35 people, and become good friends with many of them, has changed my life.

The Laird Fellowship has evolved over time. While it was conceived with a very clear vision, and has not deviated from that vision over these 35 years, it has still grown in ways not anticipated at its inception. After ten years, we decided that it would be fun to see these first ten Fellows again, together, and see how they were moving along in their young careers. Also, we wanted to "show them off" to the many friends and family members who had generously endowed this Fellowship, and so the first Laird Fellowship Reunion was held.

As this reunion took place, we realized that this was an opportunity to create a bond among a group of people who had one key thing in common, the title of Laird Fellow. We were hopeful that they would enjoy getting to know each other, and we further hoped that all would come to feel that the sum of the Laird Fellowship could be greater than the sum of its individual components. We also looked for ways to involve Laird Fellows in the selection process, so in the eleventh year, we started inviting Laird Fellows to serve on the Selection Committee. By now 22 Fellows have participated and without exception they have greatly enjoyed the experience. Opportunities for this participation will increase in the future as the composition of the Selection Committee evolves.

And as you realize, we have now held Laird Fellowship Reunions every five years, ever since that first one 25 years ago. Our original vision for the Fellowship defined the selection criteria and those have never changed – in fact, we refer back to them almost every year as we go through the often agonizing process of selecting the next Laird Fellow. What has evolved is our vision of the Fellowship as a cohesive body, and how that concept can be nurtured.

When the Fellowship is awarded, it is awarded with no strings attached. Years ago, when Michael Kazz, the 12th Laird Fellow, decided to leave the University of Delaware earlier than expected, with the Laird Fellowship fresh in his hands, Dean Byron Pipes went nearly ballistic and wanted to revoke the award in response to this perceived betrayal. Ann and Ted and I all told him, "No, Byron, Michael should go where he decides he needs to go," and off Michael went to Arizona, with his Fellowship still in hand. Recently we have had other "fresh" Fellows decamp from the University to seize new opportunities, and we wish them well. There really are no strings attached to this award.

On the other hand, this Fellowship is also a privilege, and with privilege comes responsibility.

We hope that the Laird Fellowship is not just something nice that happened to you once, but is something that you carry with you forever. And we hope that you find value in associating with other Laird Fellows, and that perhaps as a group you discover that you can do things and make contributions that surpass what you could do as individuals.

The message I'd like to convey to all of you is that the Laird Fellowship belongs to YOU, and its future really rests in your hands. Ann and her children, and I as well, will always be involved, will always care, but what happens with the Fellowship will be done by the Fellows. It will be as much as you make of it. Please take good care of it.