How We Say Goodbye

Every year, on the first Sunday in June, Williams welcomes approximately 550 new members to the Society of Alumni at the close of Commencement exercises. Six days later, at the annual meeting of the society during Reunion weekend, another group is welcomed to the society as honorary members. These are the surviving spouses and life-partners of alumni who have died since the previous year’s meeting. If we think of our alumni community as a family, how we say goodbye to deceased members of our family is as important as how we welcome people to it.

I’ve been fortunate to work at Williams for almost twenty years. The most rewarding aspect, by far, is developing relationships, often close friendships, with members of our alumni community.

When that time to say goodbye comes, we try to be deliberate in honoring our fellow Ephs. We ask a lot of our class leaders but no role is more difficult than sharing news of a classmate’s death. When the college receives such a notification, class officers are alerted and endeavor to get word out via the class listserv as quickly as possible. Of course, networks of Eph families and friends are often the first to know and have almost always already been deployed in support.

Williams People has been an outlet for celebrating our deceased family members and it will continue to be so. Tributes to classmates will always be part of class notes and we will be adding a listing of alumni deaths, similar to the format you see for alumni weddings, and births and adoptions. The college will no longer write and publish Williams-specific obituaries; in their place, we will introduce a robust online presence designed to best honor our fellow Ephs.  Friends will be able to post their own remembrances and the site will hold those memories in perpetuity. We’ll introduce the site this summer and you’ll see changes to this publication in September.

I’ve been fortunate to work at Williams for almost twenty years. The most rewarding aspect, by far, is developing relationships, often close friendships, with members of our alumni community.  When I started, that included alumni who graduated in the 1920s, all now departed along with alumni from the 1930s, excepting individual stalwarts from that decade. Celebrating a life well lived can be easier than saying goodbye to those who leave us too early. All of us can conjure memories with those we miss, regardless of the circumstance.  Those memories started at Williams at an incredibly formative time in our lives, and we continue to build on those bonds and to make new ones along the way. How lucky we are to have our Williams friends in our lives.

Best wishes from Williamstown,

Brooks Foehl ’88
Director of Alumni Relations