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Father Walsh as I Knew Him

 by  Carroll Quigley, Ph.D.

The 1959 Protocol,
the yearbook of the
School of Foreign Service,
School of Business Administration,
and Institute of Languages and Linguistics
of Georgetown University.




   It would be presumptuous for any of us who were his juniors to write of Father Walsh except in the limited sense indicated in the title of this essay. He was far too broad, too versatile, and too subtle for us to attempt a full portrait.  For that reason we must speak in a limited and subjective fashion of how he appeared to us.  

   One of the first impressions which Father Walsh made on his faculty was one of great energy and drive. When he  became interested in a subject he threw himself into it, day and night, week after week, until he had got from it what he wanted. In this process he never spared himself, and spared his co-workers only because of his unfailing personal courtesy. Just when these co-workers began to flag in zeal, he would return to the task with a new burst of enthusiasm, having, as likely as not, obtained his new energy from a solitary night-long vigil over the problem. In this way Father Walsh lived through a series of lives associated with the Foreign Service School: the Russian Revolution, geopolitics, Washington "society," Washington real-estate, maps, speech, The Institute of World Polity, the Nuremberg trials, and the Institute of Languages and Linguistics. I am sure that there were other enthusiasms of which I am ignorant.  

   Father Walsh's habit of approaching anything which attracted his interest with unremitting enthusiasm had both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, his drive and concentration on each enthusiasm while it held the center of his attention resulted in almost unbelievable achievement in that matter, but, on the other hand, once a new enthusiasm attracted his attention, the previous one became relatively neglected. Having obtained from each enthusiasm the stimulation and knowledge he needed, he left it pretty much to its own resources as he turned to something new.  

   It would be a grave error to infer from what I have said that Father Walsh was fickle. Nothing would be more untrue. One of his most impressive qualities was loyalty -- loyalty to his intellectual beliefs and spiritual values, to his associates and faculty, and to his own past. Whenever he turned the focus of his attention to something new, this did not imply in any way a rejection of the old. His attention, like a searchlight shining on a dark, complex, and fascinating world, moved slowly from one object to another, illuminating each with a blinding concentration of energy, but as it moved on, left each as a firm and undeniable part of reality.  

   Father Walsh's loyalty was no narrow or restricted quality. In fact, narrowness in any sense was absolutely foreign to his outlook. He had an essential bigness about him which reminded me of some of the clerical figures of the Renaissance of the Sixteenth Century, a versatility, largeness of outlook, and diversity of interests which fell just short of being extravagant or flamboyant. And with all this went a self-assurance which was not egotism but simply a firm knowledge of where he stood.  

   The loyalty to which I refer included a profoundly convinced allegiance to his own country, to his Church, to his Irishness, to his family, and to mankind. When Bernard Shaw made deprecating remarks about the Irish, Father Walsh did not hesitate to challenge him in newspaper controversy. Yet above all he was cosmopolitan, at home with all kinds of people and intensely interested in them. He had lived, for extended periods, in Italy, Germany, Iraq, Mexico, Japan, and Russia and, except perhaps for the last, felt quite at home in all of them. Close friends from all parts of the world, speaking a wonderful variety of accents, streamed into his office almost every day he was here on the campus.  

   I have emphasized this quality of loyalty in Father Walsh because I have come to value it increasingly as the years pass. From personal knowledge I can say that his loyalty to his faculty, a loyalty which remained undiminished through months of absence and apparent neglect, was one of the things which made teaching at the Foreign Service School worthwhile. In time of personal, professional, or financial difficulty any member of the faculty could appeal to Father Walsh and receive instant help. Because of his extraordinary broadness and flexibility, such an appeal could be made at any time, day or night, on any subject and receive the same sympathetic reception.


A favorite pastime of Father Walsh was his pet Doberman, Prince. in 1943

A favorite pastime of Father Walsh was his pet Doberman, Prince. in 1943


   In 1943, when I had been in Washington two years, the rented house in which I lived with my family was suddenly put up for sale. Lacking sufficient cash for a down payment on any house and unable to find another one in war- crowded Washington, I was puzzling over what to do. I mentioned my problem to Father Walsh one day, in a rather incidental way because I felt that it was my problem, not his. He asked, "How much money do you need?"  I answered, "With what I have, $1500 would do." He at once picked up a checkbook from his desk, wrote out a check for the amount I had named, and, as he gave it to me, said, "I'll take this back from your paycheck, $500 a year, for the next three years."  

   Perhaps the most typical part of this story occurred a couple of months later when Father Walsh stopped me one day and said, "No one else knows about that $1500 so if I were to die suddenly there would be no record of it. Won't you write me a letter stating the arrangement as we agreed it, and I'll leave it among my papers for my successor?"  

   Father Walsh did many kindnesses like that, often to people he knew only in a distant way. To those whom he knew even better he was always available. His loyalty to his associates never wavered, even when it was not reciprocated. In many cases he must have known that people deeply indebted to him were not supporting him or his projects, but I never saw it influence his attitude toward them. This attitude he held because it seemed the proper one, not because it depended on any quid pro quo relationship. And just as quietly, when it seemed proper, Father Walsh struck back like lightning, so quickly that the victim hardly knew what hit him, but there was never any personal animosity in these reactions. I remember one occasion when Father Walsh discharged a full professor who had been on the faculty for many years. I do not know the details; I doubt if anyone does; but I am sure there were good reasons. The point is that the case occurred in the middle of the semester, with courses  meeting daily. It came to a head one afternoon; the professor was fired that night; and the same evening Father Walsh called up a friend and placed the discharged professor in another job at a substantial increase in salary.


A well-traveled personality, Father Walsh poses with Vatican Guards.

A well-traveled personality, Father Walsh poses with Vatican Guards.


   The motives for this last act were largely rooted in loyalty, but there was also another factor. No priest was more fully aware than Father Walsh of the problems of living in the secular world. This is something which men in Holy Orders may easily lose. Father Walsh never did. In this matter his awareness continued to grow until his last illness. It was really much more than awareness, our late Regent was a very sophisticated man, fully at home in very diverse social conditions and completely master of almost any situation. He was like some legendary Old World prelate, tolerant, wise, and self-assured.  

   This was a part of his personality which was widely misunderstood and sometimes resented. Father Walsh enjoyed sophisticated social life. He was on a basis of personal friendship with some of the most influential persons in this country and abroad. I have heard him criticized on the grounds that his association with the wealthy and the influential was a kind of snobbery or even of social climbing. It was nothing of the sort.  

   Father Walsh enjoyed brilliant social affairs, elaborate parties, even what might be called "high-level intrigue," but he never ceased to be fully objective about it. It always remained to him enjoyable without becoming important. He was fascinated by people, but he was just as happy working alone all night in his study.  

   This leads to another aspect of this complex personality. Father Walsh had that child-like quality which seems to be universal with all very great men. This quality made it possible for him to approach everything with a freshness of outlook as if he had never seen it before, even when he had lived through the same experience many times. This quality appeared equally readily when he went to one of Mrs. McLean's parties as when he went poking about in a Georgetown slum -- and he did both frequently.  

   This childlike quality was the basis for his enthusiasm for so many diverse things and the key to why so many  persons who barely knew him loved him. I remember one day five or six of us, including Professor Leahigh, the Regent's assistant, my wife and myself, were standing in his office. My wife and Father Walsh got into an animated discussion about children's games and why they had been so quickly forgotten during the last ten years after having survived with only slight changes for centuries. We were all standing in a circle when suddenly Father Walsh went down on his hands and knees, demonstrating the various ways that marbles were played in different regions and the relative advantages of two different methods of "shooting" a marble. That wonderful ability to forget himself and his company was the key to his enthusiasm and one of the chief reasons for his success.  

   Some of these enthusiasms such as the Russian Revolution, the Foreign Service School, geopolitics, or the Institute of Languages and Linguistics are well known and need not be mentioned. But there were others. At one time Father Walsh was filled with enthusiasm for local real estate. Each day he clipped from the morning papers the advertisements concerned with real estate sales in the area bounded by Rock Creek, Chain Bridge Road, and Massachusetts Avenue. Each clipping was glued to the top of a sheet of 8" x 11" paper. Below was jotted down all the information obtainable on the property and his reactions to it. If he was not personally familiar with the property, he telephoned to the agent for information and often went to inspect it. As a consequence, Father Walsh acquired an amazing knowledge of houses and real-estate values in the area mentioned. This could be matched by few persons. I have myself heard Father Walsh ask someone to give his address and then he would proceed to tell the amazed individual all about the house and its neighbors: where the stairway was, how the kitchen was situated, the number of closets, the relationship between bedrooms and baths upstairs; or the age of the heating plant downstairs. And as he did this, Father Walsh's face would sparkle with mischievous enjoyment at his listener's amazement. Once I foolishly asked why he made this detailed study, and he explained to me with an appropriate mixture of mischief and gravity that his brother, who lived in Boston and was blind, owned a house in the area, and it was necessary to protect that investment by keeping up with real estate developments around it!  

   Father Walsh was an enthusiastic builder and renovator. When the two temporary annex buildings outside the main gate were erected, the Regent spent a good part of every day among the workers, asking questions, giving instructions, and planning decorations. Later, when the Institute of Languages and Linguistics was installed on Massachusetts Avenue, he spent much of each day, and night, on the task of supervising the work. He personally mixed paint to get the colors he wanted and designed decorations for the interior.    Twenty years ago much of the area between Thirty-fifth street and the University's main gate was slum, inhabited, to a considerable extent by Negroes. Directly opposite the main gate, on the south-east corner of Thirty seventh street and O street, a colored family with many children lived in a decrepit building which lacked foundations, plumbing, electricity, and probably heat. It was an offense to the nose as much as to the eye. This area has now been largely rebuilt, a process which still continues.


Frankfurt, 1946. Father Walsh is photographed with the German Minister of the Interior, Hans Venedey, Major Wessels of the U.S. Army, and Professor W. Hallstein, Rector of Frankfurt University.

Frankfurt, 1946. Father Walsh is photographed with the German Minister of the Interior, Hans Venedey, Major Wessels of the U.S. Army, and Professor W. Hallstein, Rector of Frankfurt University.


   It was by no means unusual, while renovation was going on in such a building, for a passer-by to glance into its destroyed interior and see Father Walsh in animated conversation with some carpenter or electrician, surrounded by piles of broken laths, plaster, discarded boards, or obsolete plumbing. A strange place, one might think, for such a fastidious man, and, yet, on such occasions he sometimes seemed to be happiest. He was a great builder and was, indeed, most content when he was building either people or edifices.  

   The Founder of the School of Foreign Service was a regular attendant at auctions. Sometimes he bought what no one else wanted or things for which he could see no use himself at the time. But when the time came to decorate a renovated building, Father Walsh would recall his earlier purchases and find a place for them. Even today we use many heavy old tables, book cases, clocks, filing cases, and other objects which were obtained in this way. When the annexes were equipped much of the interior had such an origin, including most of the decorations of the main lounge, where students reclined on the old steamer chairs of the transatlantic liner Normandie quite unaware of their history. One product of Father Walsh's auction exploits are the two stone pillars at the foot of the stairs leading to the medical school path near the northwest corner of White-Gravenor Building. I pass between those pillars many times on my walk home and invariably think of Father Walsh bidding them in at that auction so many years ago. Another of Father Walsh's enthusiasms which is now rarely remembered was maps. He dearly loved maps and could hardly ever resist a map or a map salesman. Father Walsh once told me, again only partly seriously, that he lectured every winter to the ladies of Washington on the Russian Revolution in order to get money to buy maps. The wonderful relief maps in Room 9 Healy or the excellent German map of Central Europe opposite Hirst Reading Room are remains of this interest. The German map is in two parts; ordered before the war, one part came immediately, while the other arrived after the war was finished. At one time Father Walsh used his lecture fees to engage a man to make hundreds of hand drawn and colored maps of small portions of the earth on glass slides for a projector. I first heard of these when the Regent took me into his inner office, tenderly unwrapped them from their boxes and with loving care held several dozen of them up, one by one, to the window's light so that I could admire them.


Japanese students listen attentively as Father Walsh teaches in a Tokyo high school

Japanese students listen attentively as Father Walsh teaches in a Tokyo high school.

   The most persistent and most pervasive of Father Walsh's enthusiasms was his interest in communication. By this I do not mean technical matters of electronics, but the old and far from simple problem of how a feeling or idea possessed by one person can be communicated to another person. This concern resulted in a constant interest in speech, in words, in connotations and in all the emotional overtones in conveyance of thoughts and feelings. His awareness of the meaning, the implications, and the usage of words was very highly developed. He went over his own writings again and again, pondering shades of meaning or the niceties of word order. In some ways, the basis of this interest was poetical rather than prosaic, for he frequently sought ambiguity or multiplicity of meaning rather than simplicity or clarity, seeking to heighten the effect of the sentence or to include a larger area of appeal to its readers. Father Walsh frequently suggested changes of words in the writings of others, or jotted comments of this kind in the margins of printed books which he was reading. There can be little doubt that he could have been a highly successful editor, as he had been an outstanding teacher of English Composition in his early career.  

   He would have been an even greater success as an actor. For Father Walsh's interest in the spoken word surpassed his interest in the written one. This interest went much further than the word itself as a vehicle of expression and included all aspects of speech -- tone, cadence, bodily pose, lighting, background, and everything else associated with the impression to be made on the audience. His own speeches were carefully written out before delivery and were read and re-read, both silently and aloud, by himself and by others. At each reading, changes were made and notes digested to guide delivery. All the old oratorical or rhetorical devices which he had learned in the study of the Classics were used, manipulated, considered, or rejected. The whole environment was carefully considered -- the light radiating his silvery hair, the gestures with his delicate hands, the hang and sway of his clerical cloak. The result was a performance rather than a speech, but the result was also, very frequently, a sensational success. He gave lectures on the Russian Revolution, year after year, in Washington, to enthusiastic audiences of paying customers and, also, year after year, to the Army Command School at Fort Leavenworth. It would be a mistake to imagine that these lectures were weaker in content because of the speaker's concern with the manner of presentation; in each case the content was as carefully prepared as the manner, always being geared to the level of the audience and achieving, in most cases, exactly the effect which had been planned. I have been told by Army officers who attended his lectures at Leavenworth that they were highly valued parts of the course there, and were received with such great enthusiasm that the question period following the lecture would sometimes run for an hour or more beyond the time allowed.


As a consultant, Father Walsh served his country throughout the Second World War

As a consultant, Father Walsh served his country throughout the Second World War.  

   At one time Father Walsh's concern with speech led him to establish a "Speech Institute" whose remains can still be seen in Room 21 of Old North. There he set up a stage with curtain and footlights, control booths on each side, a huge clock to guide the speaker on the rear wall, and elaborate recording equipment backstage to preserve the speaker's efforts for instructional analysis later. Few students who now marvel at or suffer with the tape recordings of the present Language Laboratories realize that the remote seed of that elaborate organization rests in Room 21.  

   Father Walsh was a devoted student of the United States Constitution. He was constantly reading and re-reading it, usually in the Government Printing Office's large annotated edition, which constantly lay on his cluttered writing table. This devotion to the Constitution was combined with his enthusiasm for renovation in the so-called "Constitution Room" (Healy 8), another remainder of his personal enthusiasms. While Father Walsh had a profound recognition of the more significant merits of the Constitution, I have no doubt that part of his admiration rested on the fact that a document, apparently so brief and so clear, could have such varied meaning in its words as has been revealed in 170 years of history. When he wrote university regulations, catalogues, or brochures he tended to seek a similar mode of expression: words brief and clear which could change their meaning if conditions ever required it.  

   This tendency to feel that words written to-day must never become barriers to activity to-morrow rested, I believe, on the fact that Father Walsh was a man of action rather than a scholar. I do not mean that he was not a thinker, for he was constantly thinking, planning, and organizing with a remarkably quick and able mind. But I do mean that he was never satisfied merely with thought or merely with words. He felt that thought must lead to decision and decision to action. Thus he was a man of action and, as such, a leader. In any group, he became, almost at once, the center of attention and of decision. As a man of action and of convictions, as a leader and an actor, it was as natural for Father Walsh to take the direction of a situation as it was to breathe. And it was always done with such consummate skill and such elegant courtesy that it was a joy to watch. Nothing that he did of this kind was ever done in any brash, vulgar, or offensive way, but always with grace, consideration, and good humor.  

   In this, as in other things, there was always an aristocratic element about his actions, his tastes, and even his foibles. When I think of him today, I often recall the injunction of the fifth General of the Society of Jesus. "Tenacity in purpose, suavity in manner." That, at least, is how he appeared to us who worked for him in his later years.




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