Middlebury Unplugged

Hugh Marlow ’57 has retired. Reflections on what he has meant to Middlebury, and what he has meant to this editor.

By some accounts, Hugh Marlow ’57 has appeared at more than 70 Middlebury alumni events around the country each year. Extrapolated over nearly 30 years, it means that Hugh has attended more than 2,100 gatherings, where he no doubt greeted each and every alum with a handshake, a wide smile, and a story or two. Let’s say the average gathering included 100 people. That would mean Hugh has shaken 210,000 hands and told (at least) 210,000 stories.

That sounds conservative to us.

I’d be willing to venture that the figure is twice that, though, really, numbers alone do not capture Hugh Marlow’s value to—and impact on—Middlebury College. Not even close.

During a tenure in alumni relations that spans three decades, Hugh has been the College’s roving ambassador, its on-campus greeter, its cheerleader, and, yes, its official critic. You see, no one loves the College and its people the way Hugh does— unconditionally, but not uncritically; completely, but not without a measure of candor that has earned him the affectionate moniker of Middlebury Unplugged. He tells it like it is, always with the College’s best interests at heart, and always with a soft spot for those who have been fortunate enough to attend the College on a Hill.

When I first moved to Vermont nearly seven years ago, Hugh was one of the first people I met. He welcomed me to Middlebury—it was as warm and as genuine a welcome as I’ve ever received—before adding with a wink and quick grin, “Even someone from Virginia can grow to love this place.” I laughed—and was more than a little bit surprised that he had bothered to learn who I was and where I was coming from; but I shouldn’t have been. That was just Hugh being Hugh.

Since then, Hugh and his lovely wife, Barbara, have become good friends to my wife, Katie, our little boy, John, and me. When we bought a house just up the street from the Marlows, Hugh and Barbara were the first to arrive on our doorstep with a bottle of champagne and a note that read “Welcome to the south end of South Street. We’re so glad you’re at Middlebury”; it still hangs on our refrigerator to this day. We’ve enjoyed meals at their house, and they at ours, where Hugh has taken a shine to the Southern-style eggnog I make each December. A few years ago, Barbara bought Hugh a bright yellow scooter for Christmas (he’s pictured riding it, at left), and she stashed it in our garage so it’d be a surprise on Christmas morning. And then just the other day, Hugh and Barbara stopped by—he wanted to drop off a copy of a letter Gordie Perine ’49 had written to him after he had accepted the job of director of alumni relations in 1980. The “copy” was the actual letter, typewritten on thin, onionskin paper. Terrified of damaging it, I treated it like it was the Constitution, made a copy the next day, and promptly returned it him. In the letter, Gordie wrote, “There is no doubt in my mind that you will do a tremendous job for Middlebury and the Alumni Office and that you will make many, many friends along the way.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

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