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Spring 2001
The Last Man of Letters
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Those 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.

Philip 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."

Those 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.

At 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.

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