Everett Hafner 1920 - 1998

My father wasn’t afraid of death, rather he was afraid of not living. On his 70th birthday I wrote him a short story about how Death came to find him, but he charmed Death and so Death let him go.

My father was as fond of the checkout people at the Williamsburg Market as he was the physics people / math people at Hampshire College where he was a founding Dean, or the people at UMass, where he got his second PhD in music. (I used to tease him and say, “why don’t you just say Phds?”)

I loved him as much as I have ever loved anyone. And everyone loved him. There was standing room only at his memorial service.

He did everything for everyone, he brought food to people without it, he sang in the Church choir and if my bread dough wasn’t rising he told me to check the expiration date of the yeast. If my hollandaise sauce curdled he said to add boiling water. He knew a lot about everything: he had his fingers in so many pots. He rode his ten-speed bike from Williamsburg to Amherst until he died.

He wrote for the Hampshire Gazette, the Valley advocate, and had New York Times “letters” published. He played almost every type of musical instrument.

He had a Fulbright scholarship, as well. He got his second PhD in music when he was nearly 70. His local PBS radio station, WAMC, was a way for him to vent anger or simply give his opinion.

One year he came with me to Baltimore, to help with a craft show. He would go into the city of Baltimore and get people food, lights, whatever they needed and the year after that everyone asked me where he was.

If he began playing the piano in a cocktail lounge, people thought he was the entertainment; they thought he was getting paid.

Sometimes I would ask his advice on something he felt was unworthy of my time, and he’d say, “This is what you think about?” There are letters in his personal file suggesting that he worked at Los Alamos, but that was so long ago, and he never mentioned it.

Not only did he write a book of riddles, called Sports Riddles, which was published: his sense of humor, his jokes, were awful. But he delighted in them, and laughed.

He did magic tricks that were impossible to figure out, and made me try to figure them out. In his house were walls and walls of books—and when my husband asked him if he’d read them, he said pick a book, any book and I’ll tell you my favorite passage. And he did!

Words can’t do this justice. It’s hard writing about someone you love this much; it’s similar to getting too close to a screen door, and not being able to see through it.

He wasn’t a perfect person, but that doesn’t matter. In my mind he was so close to perfect that it didn’t have much significance. He loved me. He was very loving and respectful of Katie. And when he died I, as well as others, simply froze.


At some point my father sprained his ankle, and I went to help out, and I said,

“We’re going to see this movie, Tootsie.” And he refused. Watching Dustin Hoffman in a dress was apparently not his cup of tea. So I said, “fine—I’m going home,” and he came to the movie with me, and he laughed so loud, he wanted to see it again. He wrote C.O. letters for anyone during the Vietnam war. It was similar to Einstein who would write a letter of recommendation for any Tom, Dick, or Harry. Later he took computers to Hanoi and your firm represented him when he got into trouble.

I counted on his advice: I called him daily for his view on politics. His instincts were good. He was raised in Brooklyn; he was street smart as well as intellectually smart.

Everett was both kind and intelligent, something I have observed is rare in a person. My father was always the opinion we trusted—if we were fighting over X vs. Z his answer was considered final.

When I was very young he said that he found me on a stool doing dishes, while my mother was in bed, drunk. So he hired babysitters for us, if he wasn’t at home. He taught me how to sail, and dig for clams on Cape Cod. He made me smell the fish I bought at the Williamsburg market and even when I apologized, the man who sold fish said, “We love Everett.”

He taught me 2 very important lessons when I was a young woman. I asked him for money once, and he said, “You’re going to have to sink or swim.” He was almost in tears. I came very close to drinking. But a friend of mine said, “No you have to process this.” And I did, and I became independent financially as a result.

As I got older, divorced, etc, I asked him if he disapproved of me for not even having a Masters degree, and he said, “You could wash floors, and I would be proud—as long as you did it with dignity and honor. The PhD is nothing more than something you get handed after being curious about a subject.” He was not a snob. He believed that getting a PhD was just a piece of paper one got after years of being curious about a subject.

When the Challenger exploded in the eighties, he was in his car, and he pulled over in tears. He had the right stuff. He was a democrat his entire life, and explained to me at an early age, what McCarthyism was, and how close he’d come to being blacklisted. He lost respect for physics after we bombed Japan. He could teach it, he could be the Dean of science…. but he was a pacifist. He saved a copy of the 1969 moon landing that was on a postcard he wrote to himself.

Every single person I have called regarding this upcoming trial has a story about Everett. (It’s exhausting.) Everyone wants to come and I have this burden of if I don’t call someone they would feel left out. He touched so many lives, he did so many things, and he loved so many people it’s impossible to actually write this without feeling that I left something out. Just look at his business card-- which looks like a joke, and add 100 things he left out on it. He was a good person, and would never hurt anyone. He would go out of his way not to hurt anyone. He loved life, he loved people, and he did good work. He was valuable to the nth degree.

Sarah Hafner