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At a fete celebrating his eight years as dean of the College Thursday, Harry R. Lewis ’68 was compared to the Frankish emperor Charlemagne as attendees enjoyed jokes at the expense of the top administrators.
About 75 people mingled in a tent outside the Science Center sipping wine and munching catered hors d’oeuvres.
Lewis greeted, reminisced and laughed with the guests for nearly an hour. However, the top administrators who were responsible for Lewis’ March ouster, including Dean of the Faculty William C. Kirby, were notably absent.
“Your being here today is a gift to me,” Lewis said. “I didn’t want this to be about me. I’m just one of the crowd in service to the College.”
After Lewis concluded his remarks, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals Peter J. Gomes made light of the fact that Lewis was in fact hosting the party for his staff.
“Dean Lewis is under the impression that this is his party,” he told the crowd.
In a speech of about ten minutes, Gomes transformed the gathering into a wry tribute to Lewis, who will leave the administration on July 1.
Gomes called the gathering “a circus tent full of poo-bahs and elephants and charlatans.”
“And for eight years, you presided over this menagerie,” Gomes said to Lewis.
In addition to teasing the dean, Gomes made several jabs at those responsible for firing Lewis.
“Harry by and large trusted the system,” Gomes said pointedly. “He was a child of the system.”
In the past, “we worried about the structure first, and what came next later,” Gomes said, noting that there is not yet a structure in place for the new College administration. Most of the audience applauded the comment.
Gomes compared Lewis to Charlemagne and spoke of hostile invaders who wished to destroy his European kingdom. Gomes also mentioned the Emperor’s incompetent successors who had such memorable names as “Charles the Fat.”
“I think of Harry as our Charlemagne, and I worry for the future of Europe,” Gomes said.
The comment elicited laughs and cheers from nearly everyone.
Robert P. Mitchell, spokesperson for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), was the only member of Kirby’s senior staff in attendance. Mitchell’s reactions to the jokes targeting his boss were muted compared to the raucous laughter of the crowd.
After Gomes’ speech, the preacher presented a box containing a gift for Lewis.
“It suits you, Harry. It’s weighty. A little awkward,” Gomes said with a soft shake of the box.
Lewis laughed and, with the help of two guests, proceeded to unwrap his gift—17th-century tiles from the roof of the College’s first building.
“He reshaped the College experience and left us better for it,” read the framed statement that came with the framed tiles.
“There’s nothing you could have given me which would have made me so happy, except the language you used to describe me,” Lewis told Gomes and the rest of the audience.
After the presentation of the gift, a performer sang the 1920s tune “I’m Just Wild About Harry.”
“We are too!” someone yelled out from the back of the tent.
The weather cooperated for the event, which, like Gomes’ speech, received positive reviews from the audience.
“I think Reverend Gomes was delightful,” Secretary of FAS John B. Fox, Jr. ’59 said. “He skillfully explored the edges of propriety.”
Many said the event was a success even if they were not thrilled by what prompted it.
“I think it was extremely fitting for the occasion,” said Anne M. Lewis ’07, Dean Lewis’ daughter. “It was unfortunate to have to have the occasion, but still.”
—Staff writer Alexander J. Blenkinsopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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