Letters to the Editor: The Influence of Ann Wightman

I recently co-wrote a book (unrelated to my studies), and realized that whatever ability I had to write clearly and economically I owed to my college advisor, Ann Wightman, and her ruthless editing skills. In trying to send her a copy, I learned of her death last year. I was gutted, to say the least. I had stayed in touch for perhaps 15 years after graduating—I remember letting her know of the birth of my son, now 24. But sadly, despite often thinking of her, I had not been in touch in many years.

Her praises have, I’m sure, been sung by many, both at her retirement and after her passing. I can’t overstate her influence on me. As a sophomore, I stumbled on her class on Caribbean History. I was completely transfixed by the subject matter and, more importantly, by her and her teaching style. At the time, I doubt I was aware that she was still relatively new to all this as well, and her powerful, often-intimidating stance in the classroom disguised any uncertainty she may have felt about her abilities back then.

I immediately switched my area of study, quickly trying to catch up in Spanish. I can’t remember how many classes I took with her, but there were many. She also dragged me to the finish line with my senior thesis, and helped me formulate what were probably some over-ambitious arguments for a college student to be attempting.

Beyond the classroom, I remember how anxious I was during the summer, knowing she was doing research in Peru at the height of the political violence there. I pored over the papers for any mention of current atrocities there, grateful that it seemed to be far from her beloved archives.

Clearly she spent the decades after I lost touch continuing to transform young lives; I was very happy to learn of the scholarship fund created at her retirement. She was also a fierce champion of those she felt had been wronged or denied opportunity, especially “non-traditional” students. I even remember her outrage at some injustice done to a football player—hardly an oppressed minority, even at a Division III school—because she felt he’d been denied his due process, and her serving as his backup. And of course her wicked sense of humor, and the pleasure she took at provocation, is etched in my memory as well.

I have been lucky enough to find other mentors along the way, but it’s safe to say that none has had anywhere near the impact on my life as Ann. Her light will shine for a long time in many, many hearts.

Dan Kolbert ’86
Portland, Maine