President McPhee and making a personal visit to India

Editor’s note: This is a series of columns by John Malcolm on his “50 years at Fredonia.” Retired, he is a professor emeritus at SUNY Fredonia.

I want to segue to the McPhee years. President Don McPhee was another Californian. (Dr. Porter and former President Dennis Hefner were the others.) He, in looks, was everything a president should be, but his years on campus will be remembered because his wife, Betty Jo, took a very active role. She even had an official title.

This probably is as it should be. Like a minister’s wife, the president’s wife has to put up with a lot of stuff, like crazy hours and having to deal with all kinds of people. (Dallas Beal, for example, had a disgruntled student roll her glass eye across his desk and another faculty member threatened to burn himself on Fredonia’s whitehouse lawn.)

I’ll give the McPhee’s credit, they opened up the president’s house like no couple before and their opening receptions, (on the stage of Marvel Theatre for one) were quite memorable. But Don wasn’t as interested in media as I was, so our connection was quite different. It was during this administration that I stepped down from both administrative positions and returned to full-time teaching.

I did get a moment in the sun when I became the Mace Bearer for the college. The Mace Bearer is the senior member of the faculty. Actually, I was second but number one deferred to me. In this role, I led the faculty down the center aisle of the field house and then led them out. When Don McPhee retired we had a bagpiper. And at the closing he led down the aisle followed by me and Don AND Betty Jo. It was quite a show. (After I retired, the college had to bring me back to instruct my successor since he led the faculty down the wrong aisle. Of course, I used to tease that since I was the youngest Mace Bearer ever, I could twirl the thing and then I would refer to that memorable scene in the movie Animal House.)

I guess the McPhee years to me were a return to being an academic man. Probably the most memorable was my Fulbright to India.

Actually you could call it a half-bright. It was supposed to have lasted three months and only lasted three plus weeks. My wife, Linda, thought from the start that I was making a mistake, but I was lured by the fact that my father had served in India with the British Army and I loved Rudyard Kipling’s stories and his poem “Gunga Din.” (“And he guv me arf a pint o watergreen.”)

So I jumped through all the hoops, like getting a passport and a working visa from India, numerous shots, and of course, numerous forms. I flew to India shortly after the Lockerbee disaster on the same airline – Pan American. Since I had never been out of the country before, with the exception of Canada and a toe dip into Mexico, everything was a surprise. In Frankfurt, our first stop, the German authorities were obviously upset that they were being blamed in the press for not searching the downed plane. They certainly searched ours. I found out that a lot of Indians are named Singh. From Frankfurt, we flew to India and were diverted to Bombay. It was a 16-hour flight. After arriving in Delhi, I was taken to a “hotel” to await instructions. As it turned out many of my possible assignments had been cancelled since it was thought that my first one would be enough. (Putting together a studio was thought to take three months – it took 30 hours with the help of a very competent Canadian engineer.)

Perhaps including the letter I wrote at the time would help explain what happened.

January 30, 1989

To: Dean Will Rocket

From: John Malcolm

Re: I’m Back

No, I’m not sick. I have never felt better given the amount of sleep I have had or the time spent in the sun and a good vegetarian diet. My living conditions were excellent. I lived in a private home as the guest of the widow of an Indian Admiral. I had a room with a terrace and a private bath. I was served by a cook, maid, gardener, laundress, and the services of a roving shirt and pants pressing operation.

I’m home because I completed everything I could do professionally in India. My program has been significantly revised and I have reached the state where I need the resources of Fredonia.

John Malcolm is a Fredonia resident. Send comments to