Oh, the People I've Known

One of the enjoyments of being a storyteller is the collection of people you come to know over the years, an ensemble of individuals who have invited you into their lives, to be observed and queried and perhaps understood a bit better. I have interviewed Hollywood actors, Supreme Court justices, star athletes, senators, teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, circus clowns, rodeo riders and the first girl who ever played Little League baseball. To name a few. 

Often, the most memorable assignments don’t involve the famous or epically successful but rather people whose lives are characterized by extraordinary circumstances and unusual grace or courage. One brilliant summer day almost 20 years ago, I rode a mail boat to a remote island off the coast of Maine to interview a petite woman who had captained a very large swordfish boat through one of the worst Atlantic storms in recorded history. She fed me homemade stew and regaled me with tales of shipwrecks and marooned sailors saved from certain death by her ancestors who lived in an 18th-century lighthouse a short walk from where we sat. Did I mention I got paid for this?

More recently, I had the privilege of spending a day with a 102-year-old rheumatologist who was the last remaining member of his Stanford graduating class of 1933. The same qualities that made him a precocious teenager were still evident as a centenarian. The twinkle in his eye was as bright as ever and I marveled at the energy he mustered to work three days a week at UCSF medical school. Ephraim Engleman and I became friends. From time to time he would send me an email offering some nugget of wisdom or simply to check in on me. He signed off in each one with the epigram “Keep Young.” The story we did about him was one of the most popular ever on our Facebook feed, which Eph took great delight in despite having never seen a Facebook page himself.

Stories about people animate this issue as well. Example: Robert Strauss, MA ’84, MBA ’84, a longtime contributor to the magazine, digs into the life of former Marine Jake Harriman, MBA ’08, who gave up the prospect of a comfortable career (and a potential mate) to live in Kenya and help poor farmers. On its surface, that description may sound familiar—we often hear about people who have gone off to some distant land to try to change the world, or one small piece of it. Harriman is different in some important ways, including his motivation—stopping terrorism. I won’t reveal here how those two seemingly disparate goals are connected, but read that story and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

And toward the back of the magazine, in a section we call Farewells, you’ll find another story worth your time. It remembers a man who lived long and well and left a lasting mark. When he died, he was six months short of his 105th birthday, leaving behind his wife of 70-plus years who will turn 100 in December. And with him went the final living memory of the Class of 1933. 

I happened to know him, and I am grateful to have had the chance. So long, Eph.

Kevin Cool is the executive editor of Stanford.

Email Kevin