LAST WEEK I volunteered to write an article about President Kennedy on the tenth anniversary of his death. While I was writing the article I started thinking about personal heroes. I don't have many, and Kennedy certainly doesn't fit the bill. In fact the only real hero I've ever had in my life was a fellow named Stewart Doig.
Stewart Doig taught me American history in eleventh grade. He is a hero to me not because of his political beliefs, which I once admired but which I have come to disavow. He is a hero to me because he is a fine and decent man who firmly believes in the goodness of his fellow human beings and because he is one of the few people I know who is unswerving when it comes to acting on those beliefs.
Mr. Doig is tall and skinny and if I remember correctly he has a mole somewhere on his long face. He is of Scottish descent and he laughs loud and deep at things that are only vaguely funny. He smokes a pipe all day long; if you catch him at any time after eleven o'clock in the morning you will find that he stinks from the odor of tobacco.
Mr. Doig's favorite subject is the American labor movement. He is neither a Marxist nor a socialist: he is a registered Democrat who loves to spin yarns about great and good Americans. For Mr. Doig, no American was ever so great as the laborer who fought big business during the thirties and forties.
MR. DOIG'S HERO is his father. The elder Mr. Doig was a union man who eventually rose to a position of leadership in whatever local he was in. Stu Doig would tell us about his father all the time. There is one story that he never tired of telling.
The story goes something like this:
The shop that Mr. Doig's father worked in was on strike. The boss who ran the shop called the elder Doig into his office, supposedly to negotiate a settlement. But what the boss really wanted was to buy Mr. Doig's father off. The boss waved a wad of twenty dollar bills--a thousand dollars worth of depression era currency--and told the union leader that the money would be his if he would only convince the men to call off the strike. After a long silence Mr. Doig's father looked at the boss, and with tears welling-up in his eyes he said, "If you think that I would sell out these hard-working men who have put their faith and trust in me, if you think I would sell out these good and decent men for your filthy money, if you could even think these things you are even more miserable a human being than I ever imagined." And Mr. Doig's father, who by this time had tears pouring onto his face, got up and turned his back on the boss and his was of money and walked out of the office without speaking another word. He didn't come back into the office until the strike was over and the union won its demands.
Whenever Mr. Doig would tell us this story, when he told us of the tears in his father's eyes, tears would appear in his own eyes. When the story was over Mr. Doig would stop talking and he would sit and think for a while about the good thing his father had done, and finally he would move on to a new subject.
UNLIKE HIS students who grew up with all the comforts that suburbia had to offer, Mr. Doig was not cynical or doubtful about what a decent human being could achieve in this world. He did not talk about progress in terms of dialectical materialism or historical forces; he believed that honesty and faith in humankind were the only essentials in the conquest of human injustice. All else took a back seat in his thinking about the world.
My history teacher was inspired by the courage and the soildarity of the American labor movement of the thirties. He did not try to be objective about the strikes and the violence they entailed. The laborers were fighting for an honest living and for their self-respect; the bosses were fighting against those things. There was no question of who was right and who was wrong.
The inspiration passed from father to son was passed from teacher to student. Mr. Doig liked to teach us old union songs. He had an awful voice, but he enjoyed the songs and he was not ashamed to sing out loud even though he sounded like a love-sick bullfrog. He would stand up on his chair and lead his abashed students in the chorus of "Solidarity Forever" and "We Shall Not Be Moved."
Mr. Doig is an incurable optimist and an incurable liberal. He believes in American democracy like a missionary believes in the goodness of Christ. He believes in the good sense of the American people. He believes that one day good would win out over evil.
I used to get annoyed with Mr. Doig's optimism. It seemed silly and unjustified to me. It still does seem too simple. Nonetheless it is good to know one so faithful as he.
Mr. Doig was one of the first people I told when I got into Harvard. I was beaming with pride and he beamed back and congratulated me. He looked at me and said, "You know, you can always tell a Harvard man." I smiled and said nothing and he said, "Yes, you can always tell a Harvard man, but you can't tell him much."
Mr. Doig was probably right. And it's too bad because there's a lot Mr. Doig could teach the 10,000 sons of Harvard.