Rhodes Reunion

Dr. Johnson, Percy Bysshe Shelley and T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia), all loyal Oxford men, would have soundly approved, and certainly Cecil Rhodes would have been pleased. Even the ancient tower bells seemed to peal with special resonance, and the cheers for Queen and country were unusually heartfelt last week as 850 out of 4,000 former Rhodes scholars from 17 countries and five continents gathered together at Oxford. They were there to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the scholarships endowed by the British millionaire and African empire builder as a way to seek out and train “the best men for the world’s fight.” Rhodes, the quintessential imperialist, would have enjoyed the garden party attended by Queen Elizabeth that touched off the three-day celebration, not to mention the pomp and solemnity of the services at Christ Church Cathedral.

The scholarships Rhodes willed into being have turned out four generations of distinguished men, and since the passage of the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act in the British Parliament, women are now accepted. Alas, Rhodes’ students have not advanced the goal as Rhodes once articulated it: “the extension of British rule throughout the world [including] the ultimate recovery of the United States of America as an integral part of the British Empire.”

In fact, the greatest beneficiaries of Cecil Rhodes’ bequest have been Americans, who receive 32 scholarships a year, or just under half the annual total. The careers the graduates usually follow are likely to be academic (20 percent enter some field of education), even though Rhodes frowned on “merely bookworms” and asked for intellectual-minded students who also had a “fondness of manly outdoor sports…moral force of character and instincts to lead.” Among living Americans who have attained celebrity since their Rhodes days, there is a solid quorum of politicians: Senators Bill Bradley of New Jersey, David Boren of Oklahoma, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, Larry Pressler of South Dakota and Paul Sarbanes of Maryland; Congressman Elliott H. Levitas of Georgia; Governors Bill Clinton of Arkansas and Richard Celeste of Ohio. Other former scholars who found fame are New York University President John Brademas, Supreme Court Justice Byron “Whizzer” White, novelist-poet Robert Penn warren, TV commentators Charles Collingwood and Howard K. Smith, and writers Willie Morris and “Adam Smith” (né” George Jerome Goodman). Military Rhodesmen include Brig. Gen. Pete Dawkins (who will retire July 31) and Gen. Bernard W. Rogers, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. White and Dawkins were All-America football players, thus measuring up to Rhodes’ ideal of the intellectual athlete.

The lofty-minded founder of the program, who lived from 1853 to 1902, might have been astounded by the influx of women, who now make up one-third of the U.S. contingent. “Being a Rhodes scholar is clearly an emblem of ambition,” says Alison Muscatine, 28, one of the first Rhodes coeds and now a Washington Post reporter. “It carries the most prestige, has the biggest myth, is the best door-opener.”

A Rhodes scholarship is also one of the best ways to gain the proverbial gentleman’s (and gentlewoman’s) education. The two-year program is a civilized mix of individualized study under Oxford’s tutorial system, spirited sherry hours with fellow students and dons in wood-paneled studies, and delayed exams (they come at the very end). Then, too, it is a way to see the world. The generous $15,000-a-year scholarship allows students in the program the chance to travel extensively through England and the Continent during breaks and vacation periods. One peripatetic scholar, Oklahoma’s Senator Boren, visited 60 countries during his two years at Oxford. Another, Georgia’s Representative Levitas, chipped in with a few fellow students to buy a 1930 London taxi for $90, drove it through Europe and back, and sold it for $92.

Others found pleasures at the university itself. Karen Stevenson, the first black woman in the program, recalls being impressed by “the different races and cultures and backgrounds, which created a wonderful kaleidoscope.” Collingwood was particularly attracted by the coeds at the women’s colleges at the university. “Also, there were two soubrettes in the Oxford repertory company [both of whom became well-known English actresses], one called Deborah Kerr and the other Pamela Brown,” says Collingwood. “I used to take them punting.” Some Rhodes scholars learned the pleasures of cricket, rugby and, on occasion, the mental gymnastics of defending American politics to skeptical foreign friends. Some celebrated scholars who went on to fame in a variety of fields reflect here on the meaning of their days at Oxford.

Pat Haden

Scoring touchdowns one month and academic points the next, Haden, now 30, managed to be simultaneously a quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams and a Rhodes scholar from 1975 to 1978. (To do so, he stretched his Rhodes to three years.) Now retired from pro football and working for a Los Angeles law firm, he recently received a letter from one of his old tutors asking him to endow a Pat Haden Chair for $250,000. “I sent them a check for $250,” says Haden. “They do have a distorted view of American athletes.”

J. William Fulbright

“It was a tremendous shock to go from Fayetteville, Ark. to Oxford,” recalls Fulbright, 78. “It was like Alice in Wonderland.” So appreciative was Fulbright of his years as a Rhodes scholar that he later sponsored the 1946 Senate act creating the exchange program for U.S. and foreign students which bears his name. “There is a major difference between regarding people as representatives of an ideology and seeing them as human beings,” says the Senator. “Going and living in a different culture humanizes it.”

Kris Kristofferson

He was, declared Kristofferson’s Oxford tutor early on, “one of the most favorable specimens of Rhodes scholarship.” The kind of well-rounded scholar Rhodes himself dreamed of, Kristofferson was a Phi Beta Kappa from California’s Pomona College, star of football and rugby, a Golden Gloves boxer, winner of four Atlantic Monthly short story prizes, and an aspiring novelist. But his Oxford career proved disappointing at times. “I never felt like a scholar or part of the academic world,” says Kristofferson, now 47. Still, when he looks back on his life as a student in England, he is grateful for the Rhodes experience. “I’m a word junkie and I didn’t get into poetry until I was at Oxford,” says Kristofferson, who especially liked the rhythms of Shakespeare and Blake.

Daniel J. Boorstin

Oxford’s 700-year-old Balliol College lacked central heating when Daniel Boorstin arrived from Harvard in 1934 (he studied swaddled in blankets), and the plumbing was as ancient as some of the books on his reading list. Yet Boorstin, 68, now the Librarian of Congress, took happily to English life and decided he would stay on and become a barrister. By the time he passed the English bar, he had changed his mind. “I decided I was an American and wanted to come home,” says Boorstin, who never bought a barrister’s wig but had the distinction of being one of the few Americans qualified to plead cases in the English courts.

Carl Albert

As a boy in Bug Tussle, Okla., Carl Albert once heard his local Representative speak, and proclaimed that he would someday go to Congress. In high school he learned about Rhodes scholarships and decided that Oxford, too, sounded good. He eventually won a spot in both places, and in 1977 wound up 30 years of public service when he retired as Speaker of the House. At Oxford from 1931 to 1934, Albert, now 75, traveled extensively. In Granada (above) the scholar befriended a group of Spanish Gypsies.

Stansfield Turner

At Annapolis, Jimmy Carter once recalled, classmate Stansfield Turner was “so far ahead of us we never considered him competition, or even a peer.” But when Turner, now 59, started at Oxford, an instructor had to help him with his studies. “Everything was new,” he remembers, “particularly in contrast to the Naval Academy—going from a quiz a day to a quiz every two years.” In 1949, though, his proud parents saw him graduate. Turner was then off and running for an admiral’s stars and the top berth at Carter’s CIA.

Hedley Donovan

“It was a fabulous period in my life. My children wouldn’t believe it when I told them I only studied an hour a day for three years. The lectures were optional,” recalls Donovan. Like most Rhodes scholars, Donovan, now 69, traveled widely and even played ice hockey for Oxford (right) in South Africa. He worked as a reporter for the Washington Post, an experience that helped launch his career as a journalist. Donovan, who retired in 1979 as editor-in-chief of Time Inc., served as senior adviser to President Carter.

Dean Rusk

For former Secretary of State Dean Rusk, his time in England was a welcome respite from his rigorous years at Davidson College in North Carolina. “At Davidson, I worked my way through school waiting tables and bookkeeping in a bank. At Oxford, I learned to enjoy life,” Rusk recalls. “When I was there, breakfast was served in your room, lunch was served in your room, and we wore jackets to dinner.” Rusk, now 74, also enjoyed biking through the Cotswolds, where “there was always a pub to stop in.”

Bill Bradley

Towering (6’5″) Bill Bradley had to duck to get under the time-worn arches of Worcester College. Otherwise, he fit comfortably into the academic life at Oxford, a time he regards as a pause for reflection between Princeton and his later decision to play professional basketball for the New York Knicks and, ultimately, to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate. He somehow managed to stay off the basketball court at Oxford…until the hotly contested match with Cambridge. Bradley, 39, claims not to remember the score but says, “I think we won.”

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