It was warm and sunny that commencement day at Harvard in 1947 and still early when I reached the Yard. There were not many people about, which may have been why my eye was caught by a tall, solitary figure standing in front of the yet unopened door of Massachusetts Hall. I recognized at once who it was. As chairman of the Committee on Honorary Degrees, which every spring went through the formality of approving for the Board of Overseers those proposed by the president and fellows, I knew that George Catlett Marshall, then Secretary of State, was to receive a Doctor of Laws.
I walked across to him, said, “General Marshall?,” introduced myself, and asked if he was waiting for someone. He replied that he was indeed waiting for the escort assigned for him. They had agreed on meeting in front of Massachusetts Hall at a time now twenty minutes gone. No doubt, the general then added politely, he had been unavoidably delayed. Nevertheless, 1 felt embarrassed, for the inconsiderate treatment given him, for the university of which I was a representative, and also for myself. He was dressed in a simple business suit and wore a straw boater, while I had on my overseer’s livery of a top hat and cutaway, so that, standing in front of him, I felt rather like a small, presumptuous robin. And indeed, as he looked at me, he smiled, a not unfriendly smile. I had been searching my mind for something to talk about and now suddenly recalled having somewhere read about his love of gardening. I asked about his garden.
His face lighted up. For the next several minutes he told me about his roses, their care, their pruning, their fragrance, the varieties he particularly liked. “But I love them all.” I like to think he may have felt a slight regret when his escort finally appeared, dressed in finery similar to mine, offering profuse apologies, and led him off to the ceremonies of the day and to his speech that afternoon, which was to turn a new page in world history.