Thursday, July 30, 2009


A notice of Bill Gaffney's death appeared in my high school alumni magazine.

Bill was a fellow member of the honor class, the smartest 40 kids out of a graduating class of 280.

Based on academic achievement as freshmen, we received a special curriculum, and stuck together, for the next three years.


Within our honor class, kids were free to be as nerdy and weird as we pleased. SI was the smartest Catholic high school (for boys, in SF) and we were the smartest of the smart.

Some of us honor class kids expressed disdain for the low IQs of, not our fellow students, but of the faculty. And with justification--the average IQ of the honor class kids seemed significantly higher than that of the teaching staff.

Bill Gaffney was affable but otherwise very low profile. I was very high profile.

I remember only two interactions with Bill. One was a prank I played on him that caused him to spill some milk on the front of his shirt, which I'm ashamed of. The other is a fond memory.

At the height of my BMOC-hood I engaged in a mini-debate with Bill as an assignment for Public Speaking class: Pay TV, pro and con. [This was 1965.]

I was con, and coolbreeze me figured everyone else would be, too. I didn't prepare, and I didn't even look up the procedure--order of speaking, etc.

I did terrible and Bill did good.  And the class, many of whom were members of the (nerdy) debate club, took great delight in voting, overwhelmingly, Bill the winner.

I was actually (stupid) kind of surprised.  But I'm laughing right now just thinking about it.

I saw Bill Gaffney only once in the forty some years since graduation.  It was on the Muni Metro platform at West Portal, evening commute, maybe twelve years ago.

He approached me, and after establishing who we were, Bill seemed quite pleased to see me.

After brief exchanges about career and domociliage, Bill said that he was a "single dad." Then he told me about his daughter, who was the star pitcher of a championship high school softball team.

The detail sort of fades, but Bill was so expressive, he was clearly in love with his kids, and so proud of their achievements.

This chat took place within a mile or two of where we both grew up.

Bill worked thirty two years for the State. He must have had a comfortable retirement awaiting him.

By contrast, my irregular work history has allowed me to do and experience things that many people put off until retirement.

It's really not fair that Bill is dead and I'm alive.

----- o -----


sfmike said...

"Name me ten things in life that are fair," was a favorite phrase of a (deceased) friend who taught at a private high school in San Francisco in the 1970s when the privileged brats would start whining that something "wasn't fair."

sfwillie said...

Dear MIke,

To forbid me to rail (sp?) against life's unfairness would be really... unfair.

nmaffei said...

I think you would enjoy reading an excellent book about aging and intelligence: Aging Well, by George E. Vaillant, M.D.

It is a Harvard Study of Adult Development.

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