Those who read the first email that Interim Dean of the College Donald H. Pfister sent to the college may recall that he’s a big fan of fungi jokes—just don’t tell him a fungi “fun-guy” joke (the man’s heard it before, and is looking for something new). But, who is Pfister really? Eager to hear more of Pfister’s stories and quirks, FM sat down with him in the lawn chairs outside Hollis Hall.
1. FM: What was a favorite moment from the past few weeks?
DP: I did office hours for the first time yesterday and I had made a joke at some meeting and said, “You know, you should come by University Hall, come by at office hours. I’m really lonely there.” So a couple of the students showed up and said, “Well we didn’t have anything on our minds particularly, but we just wanted to come and sit down and get to know you, and you said that you were lonely, so we came by.” So that was a high point.
2. FM: What was your most embarrassing moment?
DP: When I was in high school and I tripped and fell on a tuba, that was pretty embarrassing because we had a tuba with a big dent in it.
3. FM: Do you believe in love at first sight?
DP: In a way. I believe that people kind of click, whether it’s love at the first sight or whether it’s just recognition. I’ll tell you how my wife and I met. I was a graduate student at Cornell and used the library quite frequently and she was one of the library assistants. She was working in the library and I’d check out my books. She decided that she needed to figure out where I worked and who I was. So we came to be friends over our library books—the rest is history. That may be her love at first sight, but it wasn’t mine.
4. FM: What was your best Halloween costume?
DP: One year I wore my mother’s fur coat. I looked like a big furry animal out on the street.
5. FM: If you were a kitchen utensil, what utensil would you be?
DP: Do you know the spatulas that you clear bowls with? My kids always called them scoopy-uppies—real functional description of it. So I guess I’d be a scoopy-uppie.
6. FM: What’s on your reading table?
DP: So I’m currently on P.D. James’s “The Private Patient.” Louise Penny writes mystery novels and I like those, too. I often have two or three books going on at the same time.
Pfister reaches into his jacket pocket and pulls out an index card where he has listed some of the other books he’s reading. More titles are written in pencil: “The Flower of Empire: An Amazonian Water Lily, the Quest to Make it Bloom, and the World it Created,” “Sugar in the Blood: A Family Story of Slavery and Empire.” Pfister writes in big, capital letters.
7. FM: What is your favorite HUDS meal?
DP: I haven’t eaten that much in the dining hall other than in the summer. What I found in the summer at Annenberg is that [my favorite meal is] chickwiches and potato tots... because I never have that otherwise. These are really special occasion meals.
8. FM: Chocolate or vanilla?
9. FM: Quad, River, or Yard?
DP: Oh my allegiances are many here, they are many! I lived 18 years in Kirkland House so I can’t really turn my back on the River, on the other hand now I have this purview and what do I tell students? I tell them that I love the Quad: it’s quiet, it’s residential, you can stay in touch with the world around you. I think it’s an unfair question.
10. FM: Dean Hammonds used to bring burritos and pizza to Lamont every semester. Is this a tradition you will continue?
DP: We’ve talked about it. We’re going to do something. We may be inventive and try something else. We’ll see.