Remembrances of
Larry Hoey
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Remembering Larry Hoey: The Early Years

Don Elfenbein - Morgantown, West Virginia

Larry Hoey was my oldest friend. We were born within one day of each other in 1951, and our friendship began eleven years later when we found ourselves assigned to the same sixth-grade classroom in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. We remained friends for the next thirty-eight years.
Around the time of his forty-ninth birthday, Larry wrote me an e-mail letter in which he said he felt relieved that he had lived past the age of forty-eight because that was the age at which his father had passed away. His relief and the apprehensions underlying it seemed unwarranted to me. I felt certain that it would be thirty or forty more years before his time would come.
It was when Larry and I were between the ages of eleven and eighteen that we spent the most time together, and for this reason my memories of his formative years are especially vivid to me. Not surprisingly, the fact that stands out most clearly is that even as an adolescent, he was astonishingly knowledgeable. As someone who did not discover the joys of intensive reading and research until later in life, I was in awe of his seemingly encyclopedic mastery of the subject areas that interested him and of the self-generated drive and determination with which he pursued that mastery. While most of us were reading only what our teachers assigned, playing baseball, twirling batons, and watching imbecilic television programs, Larry was doing experiments with his chemistry set and teaching himself the history of the world. From the first it was apparent that he was destined to be a scholar.
From time to time, when we were in our early teens, Larry would call me and suggest that we take a hike. Then we would walk for miles, exploring the suburbs beyond our own urban neighborhood and the fields and mountains beyond the suburbs. During the trek I would say something like "The War of 1812--now what was that all about?" And Larry would then treat me to a fascinating disquisition that would last for hours. If I asked for more details on, say, tactics or weaponry, he had them at his fingertips. Out in the woods he couldn't consult any notes, of course, but he didn't have to. His mind was his notebook. Even then, he could retain, synthesize, organize, and extemporaneously present large bodies of complex material, and he made the whole process seem effortless. By the time he was thirteen or so, Larry was disconcertingly comfortable playing the role of professor. And I, curious about history but too lazy and undisciplined to study it on my own, felt equally comfortable playing the role of one of his first students. "Someday," I remember thinking, "they're going to pay him to do this."
When Larry and I were in tenth grade, our high school launched an experiment in curricular reform, which consisted of an ambitious interdisciplinary humanities course. The idea was to replace the traditional, separate world-literature and -history courses with a more comprehensive and more integrated survey of Western civilization that would include not only literature and political history but also generous chunks of art history, architectural history, the history of philosophy, the history of religion, and much else. The two teachers offering the course did an excellent job but were, as they freely admitted, far from fully qualified in all of the subject areas they were trying to cover. Nonetheless, the course was a great success, in large part because Larry Hoey was on hand to pick up the slack. Whereas the teachers knew a little about Giotto and Michelangelo, Larry knew quite a lot. Again and again, day after day, questions would arise that would stump the teachers, and they would call on Larry for answers. And more often that not, he would supply, from his seat in the classroom, whatever knowledge was needed. The following year, when we took a similar course on American culture, Larry made an equally invaluable contribution. By the age of fifteen, his career as a teacher of the humanities had been launched.
The other early achievement that stands out in my memory is Larry's remarkable effort during his junior- and senior-high-school years to turn himself, without any help from anyone else, into an accomplished pianist. In elementary school he studied the trombone, but before long the limitations of that instrument began to get in his way. So he set out to teach himself the piano. 

No teachers, no lessons, just dedication and long hours of hard work. The hours must have been very long indeed because he progressed with amazing rapidity. As a tenth-grader I sang in the school chorus, and one day, after we had rehearsed a Christmas piece called "Hallelujah, Amen," I heard our director lamenting the fact that none of his student accompanists--all of whom had taken piano lessons for years, of course--could handle the difficult accompaniment. "I know someone who can play it," I said. I gave Larry a copy of the sheet music, and within a day or two the chorus had a new and more capable accompanist. This was one of the first of his many accomplishments as a musician.
The reverse side of this coin of precocious independent achievement was social isolation. When he wasn't helping to teach the courses, Larry used to present himself to most of his junior- and senior-high-school classmates and teachers as a brooding loner who preferred keeping company with his own thoughts to interacting with other people. Was it shyness? Sadness? Resentment? Arrogance? Incipient madness? Genius? None of us knew. One theory was that he withdrew into himself so that he could make more productive use of his time. While the rest of us were chatting or joking around in our homeroom, Larry would read Hardy or practice playing Bach on his desktop. But it also seemed clear that something was troubling him. I never asked him what it was. At the very least, he must have felt out of place, and who can blame him? The educational environment, though positive in many ways, was hardly designed to accommodate students with Larry's high-powered intelligence, intense thirst for knowledge, and keen appreciation of culture. Perhaps he thought that most of the other students would not have wanted to befriend him because his interests were so different from theirs. Whatever the causes of his discontentment might have been, I was much relieved when his social life began to normalize later in life. By the time of our thirtieth high-school reunion, Larry had transformed himself from the classmate who would have been voted "Most Reclusive and Antisocial" into the one who would have been chosen "Most Likely To Enjoy Himself at a Reunion" and "Most Likely to Be Still Hanging Around at Closing Time." Yet another example of his remarkable capacity for growth and development.
How much growth and development can we achieve in a single lifetime? How much can we expand our minds and our capabilities? Larry taught me early on that if we make a serious commitment and an energetic effort, there are no limits.
While Larry was studying history, art history, and music, I was reading a metaphysical literature that says that there is no such thing as death; that although we put on and take off a series of physical bodies, we never actually die; that the loss of our physical bodies is of little consequence to us if we are intellectuals and artists because we can continue to pursue such interests on the nonphysical planes of reality after we have left the physical one; that the purpose of our multiple incarnations in this world is to promote the evolution of our immortal, reincarnating souls; and that each of the lives we live on this plane is merely one day at school for our true selves. I was never able to convince Larry that all of this is true, but if it is, then our friend has just finished a very productive day. Much too short, of course, but extraordinarily productive.
I know that Larry will be back tomorrow to pick up where he left off, to immerse himself once again in the best that this world has to offer us, and to inspire his friends to try to accomplish more while they are here. I look forward to seeing him again on that future day and hope that at that time he will still find me worthy of his friendship.

Don Elfenbein - Morgantown, West Virginia

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