'69 honorary degree recipients were quite an accomplished group
When it comes to star power, the lineup for honorary degrees in 1969 may have set the standard. Among the 10 degree recipients were legendary CBS newsman Walter Cronkite, poet Archibald MacLeish and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who gave the Commencement address.
The other degree recipients included Lucy Wilson Benson, of Amherst, national president of the League of Women Voters; Spanish literary critic and poet Damaso Alonso; noted social scientist David Riesman; G. Joseph Tauro, chief justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court; Harry C. Solomon, a former University trustee and former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health; Howard Johnson, president of MIT; and campus legend Ellsworth “Dutchy” Barnard.
Whoever recommended the honorees for recognition, they certainly had an eye for talent and potential.
Ted Kennedy, now in his 43rd year in office, is second in seniority in the Senate. He was first elected in 1962 to fill the remaining two years of the Senate term of his brother, John F. Kennedy, who was elected president in 1960. He has been a leading voice on health care, education and labor issues for many decades.
As anchor of “The CBS Evening News” from 1962-81, Walter Cronkite earned the reputation as the “most trusted man in America.” His coverage of major events, including the Cuban missile crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, the 1969 Apollo moon landing and Watergate forged his image of one of the iconic figures in broadcast journalism. Cronkite was so highly regarded by the public that when he editorialized against the Vietnam War, President Lyndon Johnson said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” Cronkite retired as the CBS anchor in 1981, but has continued to be involved in broadcasting and public affairs initiatives, such as an effort to promote free air time for political candidates.
Archibald MacLeish, a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner, had a remarkable career as a lawyer, poet, Librarian of Congress, Fortune magazine editor, playwright, essayist, Harvard professor, assistant director of the Office of War Information, assistant secretary of state for cultural affairs and the Simpson Lecturer at Amherst College. He also won an Academy Award for his work on the screenplay of “The Eleanor Roosevelt Story.” A longtime resident of Conway, he died in 1982.
Lucy Wilson Benson, a Smith College alumna who still lives in Amherst, later served as undersecretary of state for security assistance, science and technology in the Carter administration. She was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, International Institute of Strategic Studies and a trustee of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and Lafayette College.
Damaso Alonso, long recognized as a leading scholar, poet and critic in Spain, was honored with the country’s top literary award, the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, in 1978.
A year after receiving his honorary degree, Tauro was appointed by Gov. Francis W. Sargent to be chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, a post he held until 1976. During his term, he helped create the state’s Appeals Court. He is the only person in state history to serve as chief justice of the Superior Court and Supreme Judicial Court. Tauro died in 1994.
Harry C. Solomon was a pioneer in the development of techniques for psychiatric treatment. A professor at Harvard Medical School, he served as the state’s commissioner of Mental Health from 1958-67. As president of the American Psychiatric Association in 1958-59, he called for radical change in American psychiatry by advocating the elimination of large mental hospitals, which Solomon said were “antiquated, outmoded, and rapidly becoming obsolete.” As state commissioner of Mental Heath, he laid the groundwork for the state’s community-based mental health care system. He died in 1982.
A sociologist, David Riesman was the co-author of “The Lonely Crowd,” an influential study of post-World War II American society. In 1949, he was invited to join the social science faculty of the University of Chicago. “The Lonely Crowd,” was published in 1950, and became a best-seller and put Riseman on the cover of Time magazine. Riesman taught at Chicago until 1958, when he was named the Henry Ford II Professor of Social Sciences at Harvard. He taught at Harvard for nearly 20 years and died in 2002.
Howard W. Johnson was president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1966-71. He came to the faculty of MIT’s Sloan School of Management in 1955 after teaching for seven years at the University of Chicago. He became professor and dean of the Sloan School in 1959, serving until his appointment as MIT’s 12th president. His public service includes membership on the National Commission on Productivity, the National Manpower Advisory Committee, the President’s Advisory Committee on Labor-Management Policy, and the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Massachusetts General Hospital. He has also been a trustee or director of public and private institutions including the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Radcliffe College and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Ellsworth “Dutchy” Barnard transcended the development of the Amherst campus from Massachusetts Agricultural College, where he graduated in 1928, to Massachusetts State College, where he taught English from 1930-33, to the modern University, where he returned to teach again from 1968-73. He was also the campus’ first ombudsman. An outspoken advocate for education and social justice, he died in 2004 at the age of 96.
Photo: (back, from left) Harry C. Solomon, Archibald MacLeish, Ellsworth “Dutchy” Barnard, Howard W. Johnson, Damaso Alonso and G. Joseph Tauro. Front row, from left, Walter Cronkite, Gov. Francis W. Sargent, President John W. Lederle, Se. Edward M. Kennedy, Lucy Wilson benson and David Riesman. (Courtesy of Special Collections and University Archives)