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A Dynamic Quiet

Faculty Profile

By Alan H.grossman

When the hollow sound and meaningful fury of the Second World War had died away, a mature young British Columbian lawyer, who had served in the Royal Canadian army for five years, was weary of the din, and reflective, and not quite ready to go back to his law practice. So Captain John J. Conway, a company commander at the heroic Battle of Monte Cassino and winner of the Military Cross, left the colorful regimental kilts of the Seaforth Highlanders and came to Harvard to study history.

Conway found a spiritual kinship with what he calls the "dynamic quiet" of the University's academic community. His highly intellectual cast was enthusiastically welcomed here, but, on the other hand, his colleagues have recognized his need for reflective solitude and quite detachment, and have never violated it.

In 1947, Conway was appointed as first section man in Professor Beer's Social Sciences 2 course. Beer, who served on the committee which awarded the Jay Prize in American and British History to Conway, was impressed by his academic ability, and introduced him to his Eliot House luncheon group. Conway also impressed the Eliot staff, and--as Master John H. Finley puts it--"he grew on Eliot House like the ivy on our walls." Finley appointed him as the House's first Allston Burr Senior Tutor in 1952. When he became Master of Leverett House this summer, Conway ended a ten year association with Eliot; Finley called this loss "an unmitigated calamity for the House."

At Eliot House, Conway developed a deep interest in the antiquities of Greece. ("This is inevitable when you are under the influence of Finley," he says.) He spent the past summer traveling in a rented car through Greece and Sicily with a friend, inspecting the relics at Syracuse and Palermo, and visiting Athens, Rhodes and most of the Aegean area. Conway has also travelled extensively in rural France, and "can't quite choose between Rome and Paris as the most beautiful city in the world."

Last year Conway took a leave of absence to work at the Institute of Historical Research in London. He lived with a Polish family, the Starzewskis, and belonged to several London clubs. Starzewski, the Foreign Minister of the Polish government-in-exile, was "a warm and friendly person, but he and his family lived in a vanished world," Conway says.

As a bachelor, Conway found London club life very pleasant, and almost indispensible. He enjoyed the warm atmosphere at meals, and made regular use of the club libraries. "England is a world of institution," he says, "and a bachelor always has his clubs."

Conway is a serious student of British and Canadian history, and has a well-conceived vision of the Common-wealth. He is often commended for his "understanding of the transition from Empire to Commonwealth." His Ph.D. thesis was a study of "The Round Table," an important group of publicists and politicians which emerged from Oxford in the late 1890's and joined in an association in London. They were influential in settling the Boer War and in writing the new South African constitution.

Conway, who still thinks of himself as a Canadian, is now writing a book on the Commonwealth theory of sovereignty, which will be largely based on Canada's "constitution," the British North America Act. He has worked for the Progressive-Conservative Party, and his good friend and former canoeing partner, Davie Fulton, is Canadian Minister of Finance in the present Tory Cabinet.

Much of John Conway's personality can be understood in terms of his great love for the "emptiness" of the great Canadian Northwest. This area, where he has lived--canoeing, camping, and working at logging camps during the summer--is famed for its natural grandeur. But its quiet, vast peacefulness is nonetheless instinct with a sometimes awesome vitality.

Thus a feeling of isolated, individual dignity has been superimposed upon Conway's highly developed intellect. Many of the students who have come in contact with him comment upon his "genuine concern and wonderful humanity." Master Finley commends him for having achieved "a wonderful balance between the moral and intellectual aspects of University life." He has also balanced his acceptance of Francois Mauriac's skepticism with his own devout Catholicism.

Although Conway will say that "I can't hear myself think in the modern world," and condemns too much "activism" in the University, his detachment has no inherent element of apathy. Conway's "dynamic quiet" insists upon an eloquent voice.

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