One of the benefits of my Ford Foundation scholarship was meeting well-known guest speakers at UNH. As a verbal Ford Scholar, and--I suppose--the Program's "fair-haired boy," I was occasionally asked to be the student or among the students hosting a guest's visit. Thus, when the great Protestant theologian, Paul Tillich, visited campus in 1962, spring of my second year, I was requested to sit to his left at a dinner for him. And when the British laureate, Sir Hugh Taylor, who was heading the Woodrow Wilson Program, visited, I was one of several students to talk with him and pose for a publicity photography with him.
Tillich spoke to the assembled campus on a topic that touched, at one point, miracles. I was "up" on miracles. For the history of philosophy class with N_, I had recently read selections from David Hume's Dialogues on Natural Religion and witnessed N_'s enthusiastic participation in Hume's demolition of natural theology.
At the dinner at the Memorial Union Building, following Tillich's late afternoon talk, I was seated beside the elderly theologian. This was, in part, because I could be counted on to carry my share of a conversation, while most of the other students could not. I was happy enough about this--although somewhat nervous. During the dinner of fried chicken and peas and potatoes (was anything else ever catered at the MUB?), I asked Tillich a question about miracles, relating to a point raised in his talk. Now, the old man, who had spent generations fencing with students in Germany and Harvard, was quite prepared to parry me. He put down his fork, looked aside to me without shifting in his chair, his eyes sparkling, and set out the trap. He answered me by asking, "How do you define 'miracles'?" Fast as the trap snapped shut, I was faster still. I was prepared for the question from my reading of Hume. I looked at him and smiled, "a miracle is the suspension of natural law by a deity."
Tillich obviously was not expecting me to reply to his question. He momentarily looked disappointed and appeared to lose his sparkle. The thought rapidly crossed my mind, stimulating some guilt, that perhaps he thought I had set him up, and he detected an intellectual insincerity in me.
But suddenly, Tillich looked pleased and smiled at me gently, even paternalistically. "You mean," he said, pulling his trap back to him, " 'the' deity."
On another occasion (my junior year?), I met Sir Hugh Taylor. He had come to the campus to speak on the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Program, which supported students, intending teaching careers, in their first year of graduate study. The UNH faculty involved in the Ford Program clearly hoped that some of Ford Scholars would eventually win Wilsons; these would provide evidence of the intellectual quality of the campus. (Eventually, I would win one, along with several other UNH students.)
During Sir Taylor's visit, I was requested to join in a University publicity photograph. This photograph, which showed our guest talking with me and another student in the comfortable lounge of the Memorial Union Building, was released to New Hampshire's many little weekly newspapers. The Laconia Evening Citizen, which I had once delivered, carried the photograph and the brief story accompanying it, as a front-page item. Clearly, they had no idea who Sir Taylor was, or why his visit to UNH should be important. But the newspaper did know who I was. So the newspaper carried the photograph and story with a headline which I have always loved--and laughed over: "Sir Taylor Meets [Me]." (!)