Thursday, April 13, 2006

IN MEMORIAM: R.I.P. William Sloane Coffin

I MET WILLIAM SLOANE COFFIN briefly when I was growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich. He was speaking at my church one Sunday and he was one of those larger-than-life figures who you didn't realize you were in the presence of until many years after the fact. But yet, you still knew he was someone who was a great figure. When I heard the former Yale chaplain speak, I was very much unaware of his past as a Vietnam War activist. But really, that's not really relevant. In an era of the pre-screened perfected sound bite, Coffin will always be someone who I remember as a great orator, thinker and philosopher, regardless of politics. I yearn for public figures who can stir popular passions by the pure use of thoughtful language and intelligent oratory, often times delivered on the fly. Mr. Coffin was one of those people who could do such things.

I would have loved to have heard Mr. Coffin speak at the great pulpit at Riverside Church in Manhattan. A dignified man for a dignified space and vice versa. Alas, that will not happen.

William Sloane Coffin Jr., 81, died on Wednesday of congestive heart failure at his home in Vermont. The Post's obit is here.

Image of the William Sloane Coffin from Columbia University


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