ESTHER SHITTU `17
On Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014, the Celebration of Life ceremony for the beloved History Professor, John “Jack” Hastings Chatfield took place at 3:00 p.m. in the Trinity College Chapel.
Chatfield was born on July 20, 1942 in Baltimore, Maryland. He was part of the graduating class of Randolph Macon Academy in 1960. He later became part of the graduating class of Trinity College in 1964. He received his M.A. and PhD from Columbia University. He was the head of the history department at Watkinson School in West Hartford, Connecticut from 1970-1978. From 1987 until 2011, Chatfield was made a history professor at Trinity College. It was during his time here that he received several awards, which include the Hughes Award for Teaching Achievement in 1992 and the Brownell Prize for Teaching Excellence in 2002.
The service for him at the Chapel was filled with many of Chatfield’s friends, colleagues, and family members. The chapel was packed full, and by the time the celebration began, there were few available seats for any latecomers.
Throughout the celebration it was clear that Chatfield had a huge impact on all the people who had the privlege of knowing him.
Newly inaugurated President Joanne Berger-Sweeney said that Chatfield was a man of passion, and she called him an extraordinary member of Trinity College. She continued by saying that she was sure that, had she had a chance to know him, he would have inspired her as he inspired others.
Penny Patch was a friend of Chatfield. They partook in the Civil Rights Movement together. Patch met Chatfield in the fall of 1962. According to her, Chatfield was 19 and she was 18. They had met while doing a project with Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a group that had, by the time Chatfield joined, established a voter registration project in Albany, Georgia. Patch explained that during Chatfield’s first night on the job, he and the group that he was with were struck with three gunshots at the house that they were in.
The group had only just arrived at the job. Chatfield took two wounds to his arm and was the most injured from the incident. Patch said that during the time of the project, they learned that everything they had learned about American history turned out to be wrong.
Charley Todd ’64, spoke of Chatfield’s years as a teacher at Watkinson School. Chatfield was at Watkinson from 1971 to 1978. At the age of 28, Todd was given a job as Watkinson’s headmaster. Chatfield contacted him for a job, and Todd gave Chatfield and his wife, Barbara, jobs at the school. Todd said that he and Chatfield were classmates but didn’t know each other very well.
“While I attended frat, Jack was out on the frontline…doing what our generation had been called to do,” Todd said. Chatfield became the head of the history department at Watkinson. Todd said that Chatfield met students wherever he could. Furthermore Todd added “I don’t remember a single teacher who Jack couldn’t reach.” Todd continued by reading testimonials from former alumnus of Watkinson “From A Chicago entrepreneur: “Jack had one overwhelming being of wisdom which stood out to me then and still does today, questions, argue, challenge.” From a state department officer: “He taught me critical thinking…and gave me a great interest in history, politics…inspiring me to choose my career.” From a head of education from a high school in Alaska, “Jack was my favorite teacher and funny. He would write on the blackboard and continue writing on the bricks when he ran out of board…made history relevant.” From an African American artist, playwright and Civil Right Activist, “Chatfield challenged students to think for themselves…he was the most influential teacher I ever had.” From a CEO, “The role Jack played in shaping my life was profound. No one ever did more to motivate and inspire my mind and spirit…he somehow made me feel that my contribution would be significant.” Todd then closed by mentioning Chatfield’s gift of giving, not only in teaching but also in giving of friendships.”
Michael Lestz, class of ’68, Associate Professor of History at Trinity College, spoke about Chatfield’s time while he was at Trinity College. He began with regrets that he will no longer have the opportunity to see Chatfield on the long walk, in the hallways, and to have conversations with him. Lestz said that Chatfield taught an array of subject while he was at Trinity and also won many prizes. Lestz said that students often “majored in Chatfield.” He continued by saying that Chatfield made his students understand, never giving up on any of his students and always willing to motivate and help them. Lestz added that Chatfield’s students appreciated his caring spirit. He concluded by saying that Chatfield’s life was an inspired life.
Peter Friedman, Trinity class of ’94, was one of the students that majored in history with Chatfield. Friedman said that Chatfield’s life was spent with the capital “T” of trinity and lower case “t”, which were his written work, teaching and mentorship to students. According to Friedman, Chatfield’s uniform was a plaid jacket, a button down shirt and khaki pants. He added that Chatfield had careful attention to detail and incredible judgment.
“There was actually no method to his madness at all,” Friedman said. He added that Chatfield was gentle and soft-spoken outside of the classroom. Friedman said that Chatfield was moral but never self-righteous and was available. He said that Chatfield was the first adult to talk to him and others like an adult.
Friedman ended by comparing Chatfield to Trinity’s mission, “to foster critical thinking, free the mind of parochialism and prejudice, and prepare students to lead examined lives that are personally satisfying, civically responsible, and socially useful.”
“The mission might have well said: our mission is turn you into an army of Jack Chatfield because that mission signifies perfectly who he was,” Friedman said.
Mary Mahoney, Trinity College class of ’94 was also a student of Chatfields’. She had a class with Chatfield in fall 2007. She described that during her first lecture with him, he strode into class two minutes before the class with a smile and when the class began, he spoke softly at first about his expectations for the class. However, his voice held more passion as he continued with his lecture. She said that he rarely consulted his notes and many of the students perked up as they listened to him.
Mahoney’s friendship with Chatfield began after receiving a note from him on her test that she should introduce herself. She said that she and Chatfield bonded over their health issues. Mahoney added that she held him in highest regards and that Chatfield never complained about what he was going through although he had cause to. She continued that Chatfield always showed up to class with a smile and was compassionate with his students.
During the celebration of life, Chatfield’s granddaughter, Zoe Chatfield sang a song that she composed called “Beautiful World.” Other musical selections during the program were “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “We Shall Overcome.”
The Celebration of Life ended with Trinity College Chaplain, Allison Reed. “[Jack Chatfield] was a man of big dreams, who inspired others people to believe and have big dreams and to live those dreams out loud,” Reed said. “It is my hope …that what the Chatfield family hears us doing is echoing that hope, that dream that we heard from your husband, your father, your grandfather, that hope for justice and for morals, that desire, that ability to dream out loud. The faith, that love could overcome the fear. We have a great field of appreciation for Jack Chatfield…we hope that you know through today that we carry his spirit, his inspiration, his dream, and his willingness to teach and live out loud into the future of the college.”
Chatfield leaves behind his wife, Barbara Chatfield, children, Jonathan and Julia, son-in-law, Nir Levy and grandchildren, Zoe and Anya Chatfield and Mason Levy and sister, Lora Chatfield. He was a big inspiration to all who knew him. Trinity has truly lost one of its very best.
Once again our condolences go out to the Chatfield family.