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Timothy M. Gailey’s Remembrance of Tony Abbott

by | Oct 18, 2020 | Bottom Left Box, In Memoriam

(Editor’s note: when we published our remembrance of Tony Abbott, we did, indeed, ask for readers to tell us their Tony stories. We are grateful to Timothy M. Gailey for taking the time to share his beautifully written experiences of Tony. Thank you, Timothy.)

My name is Timothy M. Gailey and I graduated from Davidson College in 1969. Responding to your invitation at the end of Marguerite Williams’ column in the October 4 edition of News of Davidson, here is my remembrance of Dr. Anthony S. “Tony” Abbott.

Although my contact with Professor Tony Abbott was limited and we didn’t have a close relationship, I did share a special connection with him that I will always treasure.

In my junior year (1967-68), I began my studies in Davidson’s teacher training program while auditioning for plays and taking as many theater classes as I could find. At that time, Dr. Abbott had written a play based on Herman Melville’s classic short story, “Bartleby The Scrivener.”

While numerous writers reworked Melville’s masterpiece into different formats for radio broadcast, films, and even an opera, Dr. Abbott was among the first, if not the first, to adapt “Bartleby” into a stage drama. I do not recall how I learned about Dr. Abbott’s script, nor do I remember auditioning, but I will never forget the thrill I felt when he cast me in his play and directed the production for presentation in Davidson’s student union theater.

In nearly every other treatment of this story, the lead role of Bartleby’s employer has no name. He is identified only as The Narrator, or The Boss in some productions. It is through this character that the odd persona of Bartleby is revealed, because Bartleby himself is a cypher, saying practically nothing about his background, his thoughts, feelings, or experiences – only that he “would prefer not to.”

Recognizing the central importance of the narrator/boss character in his play, Dr. Abbott gave him a name – Harcourt – and assigned that role to me: Sixteen scenes, 330 lines. I still have Dr. Abbott’s script, which isn’t a typical booklet publication. Instead, it’s 20 pages of legal sized mimeograph paper that has begun to fade after its printing 53 years ago.

At the end of the play, Bartleby dies from self-imposed starvation. Of course, taking nutrition would have saved him but, true to form, he simply “would prefer not to,” and that sealed his fate. Unable to comprehend such a senseless mystery, Harcourt delivers the play’s final statement. Dr. Abbott rewrote his original ending, as evidenced by handwritten notes on the last page of my script:

“Why did he die? I could not explain it. And worse, I could never explain to myself why or how he had lived. He had no beginnings that I could discover. He seemed to just spring up in that one place – the old office. And he held on. But to what? Not to the other scriveners, not to the office itself. Not even to his own privacy or that impenetrable little screened-in alcove. No . . . he held on not to those things, but . . . to me. To my repulsion, or my exasperation . . . and to my fascination. How? Why? He held on. And he still does. Even now somehow, he still holds on.”

What a splendid gift God gave to this world in the form of Professor Abbott – so many beautiful thoughts, so many eloquent words, so many inspiring classes where he effortlessly conveyed the excitement of learning and his joy in teaching. When I began my freshman year at Davidson in 1965, Dr. Abbott was beginning the second year of his career there. His engaging wit and beckoning energy were already popular then, and I experienced this myself as his student in the Modern Drama course he taught during my final semester.

Knowing Tony Abbott was an uplifting privilege and a welcome pleasure. Those who knew him share a unique, wonderful bond. He made everyone and everything around him better, and his memory fills us with loving gratitude we can cherish forever

Tim Gailey
Asheville, NC
[email protected]

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