Clam Chowder and Freedom, by Roger Kaplan
Thoughts about Randy Richardson, by Roger Kaplan, to his Children
Clam Chowder and Freedom
It must have been more than ten years ago I saw your father at a birthday celebration organized for him, and it was warm — warmhearted I mean — a bit nostalgic, but he was not a sentimental man. So we talked the same way we talked when I first met him in his little office on East 32nd street, when he said to me, “We’re going to do what we must to maintain a free society,” in the same tone he said, when we were downstairs at his local favorite, “The clam chowder here is okay.” Clam chowder and freedom, indeed. He was a man whose priorities were clear and whose equanimity was remarkable.
He was intent and calm at the same time, and brought the same intensity to everything without ever saying more than he had to in that quiet voice he had… with a wry sense of humor that punched through the stern reserved demeanor, a twinkling grin just hinting at what lay behind the handsome, lean, almost Calvinist face. It was a Calvinist face come to think of it, for he was made from the elements, and with the temper and the courage and the stubborn insistence on sticking to what matters, what endures, that made our country free, that makes a free society and maintains it.
Once you got it that, under the stern Calvinist demeanor, you saw there was a warm and friendly man who worried about people, beginning with his family, but was not the demonstrative type. He had an understated manner. “that bird doesn’t have his head screwed on right,” he used to say after we met with typical grant applicant.
He rarely proffered advice directly, but I learned a lot from him, above and beyond how to recognize birds with loose screws. He was good at brevity, a rare quality. If you did not get your idea down clearly and simply, he grew suspicious that you did not know what you talking about, which usually is the case as a matter of fact.
Your father’s conservatism was in the real American grain, I don’t have to tell you. He was a Davy Crockett conservative, happy to be himself and the hell with what people thought. Well — he didn’t go out of his way to be offensive or anything, and he had the simple straightforward courteousness and the grace of the old-fashioned gentleman that he was.
It was an honor to ride with him, as used to be said, and we will keep talking about him and in our minds and hearts we will remember and even talk to him as long as there is freedom, as long as there is a fight to maintain a free society.