The Last Man of Letters
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who benefited the most from John Espey's version of Cecil Rhodes'
"qualities of manhood" were UCLA's students. His students (and there
were hundreds, no, thousands of them) say without fail that he was
the best professor they ever had. Janet Zarem '67, M.A. '75 took
him for sophomore survey English. "He was never condescending,"
she says. "He treated us, even though we were only 19- or 20-year-olds,
like we actually had minds in our heads. His office was dominated
by a huge, chintz-covered chair - for the students! He sat stuffed
behind a desk in the corner of his own office, with his long legs,
just so his students would feel comfortable." Devotion to duty,
sympathy, kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship.
Saltzman '51, M.A. '53 had read John's stories in The New Yorker.
"I was impressed. There were no creative-writing classes at the
time, so when I saw that he was teaching 'The Short Story,' I enrolled
immediately." Saltzman remembers Espey as "a terrific teacher. Very
laid- back. Nothing was structured, he just chatted about writing
and writers, and about how he had done it."
lucky enough to have him as their graduate adviser, my mother included,
state definitively that his generosity, his humor and his kindness
changed their lives. John lent poor Ph.D. candidates money, never
expecting to be paid back. He wrote them long, encouraging letters,
nudging them gently to finish what they'd started. He bought them
meals and shared wonderful, funny stories with them.
times, teaching would require a heroic effort. He suffered crushing
depressions throughout his life, and for years treated them with
healthy doses of gin. His battle with depression, inherited from
his father, would provide harrowing material for one of his later
novels, Winter Return. John would ride out his darkest days determined
to continue to teach and write, no matter his personal pain. Exhibition
of moral force of character.