"Those damn Americans" were the first words out of his mouth after reading an article about U.S. intervention in Iraq. This was my introduction to Walter Fairservis, a large striking figure with thick white hair and bushy black eyebrows. Although my relationship was brief, it has had a lasting influence on my view of the world.
Prior to his death last July, Mr. Fairservis had been a well-known and highly respected professor of anthropology and Asian studies at Vassar College for 25 years. I became aware of this intellect through his reserved, but warm character. He had been an actor, director, producer, scholar, playwright, linguist and author of scores of books. He was the epitome of the Renaissance Man, though his motives were altruistic. He achieved more in one lifetime than most people could in three. His monumental example, his encyclopedic mind, his eclectic artistry and boundless energy have had a lasting impression on me.
Two summers ago I worked under his direction at his East-West Fusion Theatre. I volunteered my time making costumes, organizing stage lights and videotaping performances. Not only did I learn directly about the technical and practical aspects of the theater business, but also I learned about other cultures. His cross-cultural values and knowledge were a rich resource. I vividly remember him explaining to me the origin of Javanese Gamelan. In addition, I learned about my potential and the infinite possibilities there are in life. Mr. Fairservis allowed me to discover that there are no limits of what is possible. I learned more from him than I have in most school classes.
Although you could hear him criticize Americans for their ethnocentric values, he was an idealistic person who genuinely believed in people. He was able to break through any obstacle. Walter Fairservis was an exceptional example of this: always doing something new at age 73 as though he was 23. Just this past year, he completed a book on Mongolian culture and was in the process of writing a new play. Periodically during the year he gave lectures on many subjects. His lectures on Islamic civilization and Zoroaster and Persian cultures were dramatic, exciting and educational. Mr. Fairservis gave knowledge to those who knew him. I highly value what I received from this creative, intelligent individual. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.