Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Larry, the legend

I always found it strange when I was a student at Princeton in the 1970s that my best professor was not on the faculty. I had great teachers, but Larry was the best.

Like every new arrival to the ‘Prince’ I sought to prove myself to Larry. At the beginning nothing I said was right (and I am pretty sure that at least some of it must have been). One night he even insisted when I said it was Tuesday that, no it wasn’t, it was Wednesday. Eventually, I realized Larry really was disagreeing just to disagree.

He was teaching: the ultimate practitioner of Hegelian thesis-antithesis-synthesis. He eventually explained that the paper we were working on was for Wednesday. From the twinkle in his eye, I could tell he had thought of that explanation only long after he had disagreed that it was Tuesday, but the point he taught better than those I studied in philosophy courses was to look at things in less-than-obvious ways and then decide what you really think.

Another night he insisted, when talking about his father, Papa DuPraz, who founded Lahiere’s, that despite the fact that he knew no French he was sure that the common French last name DuPrez is routinely mispronounced while according to French rules of pronunciation his own name, DuPraz, had to be pronounced due-pray (rather than the due-prah that French majors on the staff kindly informed him was correct).

After many disagreements during the night, he laughed his gravelly laugh, demonstrated he was fluent in French, and explained it was true in the dialect of the region his father came from.
Everyone who works with me now, three decades on, periodically hears about Larry, as often as not when they don’t meet reasonable standards and I explain to them in my favorite Larry-ism — referring to a hand-pasted line of corrected type in a now-obsolete technology — that something “is crookeder than a hen’s ass”.

Newspapers by their nature are ephemeral, like lives. Very occasionally, exceptionally, there is something legendary about them and they go on, casting ripples long into the future through those they touch, lessons they illuminate, or the truths they tell. Larry is that exception.

— Nicholas A. Ulanov '78, editor-in-chief emeritus


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