Potash Hill

In Memoriam

John MacArthur, boondocks professor of physics emeritus
By Bob Engel, professor of biology emeritus

“Robert’s brother, John, teaches at Marlboro,” said Joe Connell, my colleague and one of the most important ecologists of the last century. I knew of Robert MacArthur—he and Joe had written an introductory population biology text together—and was pleased to learn about brother John. I was talking to Joe because there was a biology position open at a place called Marlboro College, and he was “happy” to write me a letter of support.

Two months later, I was ushered into Dean Corky Kramer’s office to meet with him and John MacArthur. I was sweating, but dared to make eye contact with John, and, as I’ve said many times, felt like I was being measured for a new suit. His eyes were cool, but not unfriendly.

That night, at a party at the MacArthur farmhouse home, John was feeding the woodstove, and now those eyes were twinkling (they did that a lot). His arms were full of wood, and he said, “You’re a biologist; what species are these?” Yikes. It was a joke, but it was also aimed to make me jump a little. I did exactly that; I hadn’t a clue.

As explained to me by chemistry professor John Hayes, John MacArthur was the “dean” of the science faculty at the college. Everyone understood that. He did nothing showy to command our respect, but we all felt the quiet gravity of his mind, his infrequent but powerful suggestions, and the almost limitless curiosity he possessed. Perhaps more compelling, though, was the fact that he had chosen to work at Marlboro College.

Sure, he had a few sabbaticals at “big” institutions, but John always quickly found his way back to a farmhouse on the dirt road that bore his name. His brother had chosen the Ivy League, but John was content in the boondocks of Vermont. Where else could a “mere physicist” tinker on an electric car, put up a makeshift windmill, brew a good lager, and study the birds? His reliance on “found” objects, rather than anything new or high-tech, was always on display— he got his hands on a telephone pole for that windmill.

And where else but in a place like Marlboro could he watch his eclectic family prosper at the edges of the farm, or make instruments for his much-better-knownthan- he folksinger wife? He had happily and confidently chosen a quiet, contemplative way of life over the often narcissistic, self-promoting luminaries roaming the halls of the academy.

Clearly, it was John’s family that came first. The climate and the cosmos could wait. He took enormous pride in his brother’s scientific contributions, his “Living Treasure” wife’s concerts, and the clocks, guitars, houses, and solar arrays built by his sons. His daughter’s unforgettable singing voice always caused his eyes to glisten.

For the rest of us he was a neighbor, friend, teacher, and mentor. One day I went to him trying to figure out how far the pollen of a wind-pollenated plant might be expected to move. “Oh, that’s just a circumference.” Sure enough, but I would never have thought of it that way.

See a full obituary of John MacArthur

Robert Hamner ’52
A resident of North Tonawanda, New York, Robert Hamner died in July at the age of 86. Robert worked as a chemist for Elkem Metals for over 40 years. He was an avid golfer and former Cub Scout and Boy Scout leader. He was the husband of the late Elizabeth Jane “Betty” Hamner, father of four, grandfather of nine, and great-grandfather of seven. “He was my roommate for three of four years at Marlboro, and we had many good times together while there,” says Chris Brown ’52. “We had not seen each other very often, but kept in touch. He will be missed.”

Kristin Hodson Maloney ’73
Longtime resident of Chilmark, Massachusetts, Kristin Maloney died at her home in October, after a brave stand against cancer. She was 66. Kristin was born in Paris, where her father was working with UNESCO, and grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Kristin received her master’s in education from Lesley College, and in 1978 she married John Maloney in Vineyard Haven and moved to Chilmark, on Martha’s Vineyard. From 1991 until her retirement in 2016, Kristin worked at the Chilmark Public Library, where she was the assistant library director and children’s librarian— she loved teaching and nurturing young readers.

Paul Potter ’76
Consummate actor and designer Paul Potter died in his home, of natural causes, in February. Born in New York City to diplomat parents, Paul spent many of his early years abroad in Saigon, Hong Kong, Dar es Salaam, and Nairobi. At Marlboro he applied his extraordinary artistic gifts to acting and set and costume design. Paul was very involved in the burgeoning theater scene in Washington in the 1970s, and acted in the Merchant Ivory film Slaves of New York in addition to being a part of the set design team. Besides being an accomplished window display artist in New York City, Paul was an unforgettable conversationalist and poet.

Amy Koch ’91
A dedicated educator, Amy Koch died in her parents’ Wisconsin home in December at the age of 47. Amy graduated from Marlboro with highest honors and a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies, and subsequently earned a master’s in curriculum and instruction. She traveled to Chile, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Thailand, England, and Canada. Amy spoke fluent Spanish and functional Japanese, and served as a bilingual teacher in Los Angeles, Japan, and Milwaukee. Most recently, she was an instructional coach specializing in reading instruction in Milwaukee. She is survived by her parents, sister, three brothers, and many other family, friends, and co-workers.

Scott Lawrence MSM ’04
A resident of Jericho, Vermont, and graduate of Marlboro’s MSM program, Scott Lawrence died in October. He was 45. Scott was born in Rockingham, Vermont, raised in Westminster, and graduated from Bellows Falls Union High School. He earned his bachelor’s degree in small business from University of Vermont before attending Marlboro. He married Daniella Noyes in 1998. Scott was employed as a project manager with IBM for 20 years, and was also a faculty member and chair of the BSMIS and MSIT programs at Marlboro for almost 10 years. Scott had a curious mind, a quick smile, a wicked sense of humor, and an unbridled love of life.

Carl Christensen, former staff
A valued member of the maintenance crew from 1989 to 2001, Carl Christensen passed away in January after a sudden and brief illness. He was 57. The loving husband of former development director Lisa Christensen for 34 years, Carl found great joy in his family, writing and performing his own music, and “messing about in boats.” He worked as a landscaper, in construction, and as a caretaker for the family’s Vermont property. He had many fond memories of Marlboro, and particularly of the alumni who had worked on his maintenance crews over the years.