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Vincent M. Badger

Died: February 5, 2016,
Newburyport, Massachusetts

Vin Badger died on February 5, 2016, at home in Newburyport, MA. He leaves his widow, Jennifer Beard Badger. Vinny grew up in Greenwich, CT, graduated from Taft School, and then from the University of Chicago Law School. Returning to New York, he worked at the New York City Parks Department, at Webster & Sheffield, and briefly at Tufo & Zuccotti. He roomed with John Coolidge and Richard Kunst sophomore and junior years and then, as a senior, with Jeff Lewis and David Milch. Vinny was active on the Lit, in Zeta Psi, and was a member of Scroll and Key.

Dan Badger remembers:

Living with MS for 35 years was a cruel fate, but Vin’s mind and spirit were fully alive to the end. Thanks to the loving care of his wife Jenny, he was able to die at home in Newburyport, Massachusetts, from where, across the street, Vin enjoyed watching the Merrimac River rolling on. Vin was also delighted to hear, just before he died, that gravity waves had finally been detected.

Jeffrey Parish remembers:
Vin was a real literati, a wit. He spent a portion of his career (for as long as his MS permitted) at a big white shoe law firm in New York.

We (members of the Class in Scroll and Key) have all missed Vin’s wit and warmth, lo these many years. I think he was one of the three smartest people I ever knew. I am glad he kept his mind and spirit, which were always the best at the table.

Godspeed (possibly via the gravity waves).

Jeffrey Lewis remembers:
I didn’t see Vin often during the long years when MS crippled him and finally locked him in; but when I did, I was always struck by how he maintained a cheerfulness and a vivid interest in the world, even as the simplest communications became tremendously difficult for him. Up to the last week of his life, he was sending out bad Donald Trump jokes.

About a month before his death, I was clearing out some basement storage and came on a letter he wrote me in October of 1966, after we’d scattered from Yale, when he was at Chicago Law and I was teaching in Greece. Vin was a marvelous writer, easy and graceful. I’d like to share a couple of excerpts from that letter here, as to me it brings Vin so vividly to life.

But, in another sense, all my plans are in ruins, ruins, and I cannot even weep, though that be the greatest cause. My room was to be alive with “baronial clutter,” a really great room, you know, the kind of room other guys construct that you wish were yours. It was to mirror the other half of my existence. When I came home each day from law school, I was to become a Shakespeare Scholar, preparing my great work…I did set out to buy the necessary stuff for this venture. I have fresh new Penguins of all the early comedies and spent hours and hours hunting for a working table and a wardrobe closet, and other things. But it never could work, because my room here in the Broadview is adjoined to the next room by a paper thin door where dwells a real assman from UVA who goes to business school. No, that’s just one annoyance. The room is so awful, kind of inevitably Danish modern, it looks like a cheesy motel room, and is not the kind of place where flourishes the aesthetic spirit. I have abandoned the whole gambit….

I wonder now whether Greece really is so great. I mean, maybe it is, but maybe not because it’s Greece, but because of something else, something you didn’t expect. Sartre (Danny gave me all his philosophy books to bring back on the boat) (and I read the back cover of Being and Nothingness) talks about the problem of the man who longs to be back in Paris, and then finally the day comes when he returns to Paris, and all his friends are glad to see him, and say, we’re glad you’re back in Paris, and all, and still he cannot feel he is back in Paris, everyone else is in Paris, everything is there, but he is missing, he is a gap, he is not in Paris. Maybe it would have to be like that in Greece, it would for me, it seems so great, I can just see myself there in the hills, with the dithyramb, you know, the sun, the sea. But it must be different to actually be there, sort of, a Yalie, a little room, I don’t know. I’m in a kind of distracted mood, I’m really suspended for a while, I think.

Vin also wrote with beautiful insightfulness about the onset of the disease that would eventually kill him, in our 25th Reunion Class Book:

One day in 1969 I noticed a strange tingling on the soles of my feet, which persisted for a few months, then went away as silently as it had come. But I soon forgot about that unnerving episode, as I gradually came to realize that now I was actually out there, in the real world. The teacher had taken away my crayons, and left me with only real tools to make my mark on the tough world. I soon came to think that practicing law was not my cup of tea, but still I kept beating my head against that fortress.

This too, I believe, was unremarkable enough: a young lawyer receiving money, security, prestige and the promise of more to come, and giving up nothing serious, except perhaps his time and his mind. A world of young lawyers, all trying to get out from under…

…At Yale I majored in English, and my simple childhood question acquired some refinements, having to do with the nature of literary art. What, I wondered, was the ultimate enduring value, the true force or power, like a physical force or power, of something as immaterial as Literature? Was there any way to compare the “force” of Shakespeare’s Tempest with, say, the “force” of an M-1 rifle? We know, and can quantify, what a gun does in the world. Can we ever know, in a comparable, quantifiable way, what a work of art does?

I think I’ve said enough for you to gather that as I embarked on my struggle through life in the real world, I was “conflicted.” I never knew what I was doing, or why I was doing it, but always hoped that there would be time to figure that out later, if only I could “get out from under.” I think that’s not unusual. What is unusual is that Life, in her perfect majesty, saved me the shame and inner degradation of never finding anything out. Just when it was beginning to look like I was never going to amount to anything, Life waved her magic wand and cried: “time out!”

In other words, she gave me Multiple Sclerosis. That curious tingling in my feet returned, with a vengeance. For years I’ve been confined to a wheelchair, and if asked to describe my state I say: “Can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t read, can’t write;’’ which is pretty much the truth — but there are ways around it. The main thing is, that Life permitted me to retire without dishonor from the Rat Race.

And this has truly been a marvelous movement of grace for me, since it has allowed me to preserve what was slowly dying out there, in the Real World: My “shaping spirit of Imagination.” It is a me that was most alive — it seems that way now, though I never would have believed it then — in my days at Yale. I can even tell you my most lasting academic achievement: it was a paper I wrote on  The Tempest, for Professor Thomas Greene. I’ve often thought about the inspiration of that moment.

Now, it occurs to me to ponder how even the buildings, the neo-Gothic walls and windows, the stones themselves, and the echoing voices of their tenants — students and faculty — through the years — how all this has been the product, not of money and power, not of what we call Success, but of something deeper, which has been Yale’s “shaping spirit of Imagination.” For what would all the money and power mean without that, what could have brought it all to life but that?

I have something yet to do, out there in the real world. I hope I succeed; and if I do, you’ll know. It has nothing to do with wealth or power — it’s more to do with, well, Imagination.