Remembering the best and verse of Harold “Rip” Ripley ’29, a class secretary for the ages and the ageless.

When Harold “Rip” Ripley ’29 died in Hanover September 24, the College lost not only its oldest living alumnus—he was 104—but also one of its more unusually poetic assets. Since 1979 Ripley contributed memorably to his Class Notes column: He and wife Mary, who worked together as class secretaries, made sure their notes always concluded with one of his ditties. Readers treasured them. “I blush at the trashy rhymes,” Ripley once recalled, “but I’m amazed at the people who say they read ’em.” With all due respect to Robert Frost, class of 1896, Ripley may well have been Dartmouth’s most prolific poet.

Not bad for an English major who was told as a College junior that he was “the greatest disappointment they had in Dartmouth’s English department” by the department chair, as Ripley recalled in 2010. Aspiring to be an engineer, he shrugged off the criticism and continued writing for pleasure, inspired by poems such as Rudyard Kipling’s “If,” which he found himself returning to through the years. From time to time he even found himself thinking in rhyming couplets.

Rip and Mary spent much of their time at their home near Moosehead Lake, Maine, where he found inspiration to write from “life around me,” he said. Rip wrote by hand. Mary would transcribe the poems onto her computer while recording updates for the Class Notes. (She has also tried her hand at poetry, with tributes to Presidents David McLaughlin ’54, Tu’55, and Jim Freedman.) Full of mirth and reflective of their time, Ripley’s verse never failed to make the notes section—and this magazine—more enjoyable. Back in 1990 he even wrote to DAM’s Class Notes editor with a rhyming thought about his own future obituary:

Let “Rip” now be spelled R.I.P.

’Twas bound to come; don’t fight it.

Don’t feel too sad; be sure he’s glad

He didn’t have to write it!

Here’s a sampling of Rip’s verse that has appeared in DAM through the decades:

We’ve social security

And sexual purity

And not many vices at all.

But on with the struggle—

The Hanover bug’ll

Soon beckon us back in the fall.

—September 1979


Back now at Dartmouth College

Of old friends bereft,

We find, in many ways, we’ve never left;

And musing where so long we trod,

Know even then we sought our way to  God.

—December 1979


Fornication and perversion now elicit no aversion

Though they tell us we should use some kinder words.

Yet when we’re a bit romantic

about Indians, they’re frantic.

This, to some of us, is strictly for the birds.

Perhaps they’ll laugh at all this stuff

When, later, they grow up enough.

—June 1980


Now I note with no elation

That my college education

Has a payoff that can only make me wince.

Then, at track, I did some running.

Now I see, excuse my punning,

I’ve been running ’round in circles ever since.

—September 1980


Behold our agile politician,

Whose main pursuit is opposition

As he attacks, disdaining facts,

And strives to feed his own ambitions.

He claims to fill the people’s needs

But panders to their baser greeds.

He tells our youth to scorn the truth

And bids them bite the hand that feeds.

He and his ilk proceed to fool us

And then presume to be our rulers.

Have you spoken up lately?

—Jan/Feb 1983


The Soviets for Ho Chi Min

Did all they could to help him win.

And now they grab Afghanistan

And watch our Congress put a ban

On sending more than token aid.

With help like that they’ve got it made.

—March 1986


We’re blasted by the constant hype,

Of pickets, chants and feckless type,

From those who’d have it understood

They only know the Common Good.

What moves them more—what’s true  or right,

Or “who gets on TV tonight?”

—November 1990


The time one piddles on rhymes and riddles

Does not go for naught

If I grab your attention

Then slip in the mention

Of one good worthwhile thought.

—April 1991


I carve on trees with facile ease;

My written hand is bold,

And when I print no one needs squint

To have my message told.

I lightly type all sorts of hype

In phrases bright and shiny.

My speeches gleam with brilliant sheen;

The thoughts, too often, tiny.

—May 1991


With neither notes nor zippy quotes

From helpful twenty-niners

Your scribe and I agreed to try

To write some bright one-liners.

To Moosehead Lake we did betake

With aims both high and solemn

Of writing stuff that’s good enough

To grace October’s column.

Alas, in spite of days and nights

Of joining all our wiles,

We find it needs your words and deeds

To make these notes worthwhile.

So please excuse our lack of news

But don’t feel sad nor harried

We did achieve one item: We’ve

Decided to be married!

—October 1993


Why is it women who expect

To be looked up to with respect

Will blithely turn around and vote

For men with morals like a goat?

—June 1995


I’ve seldom heard such hateful words

As in this voting season.

The candidate speaks mostly hate

And little thought or reason.

I wonder if he’s truly wise

Or just competing for a prize.

—July/Aug 2004


With finest dreams and clever schemes

I find out to my sorrow

The words I write so late at night

Don’t look so good tomorrow.

—Sept/Oct 2006


Life comes upon us stage by stage

I’d name them if I could

Youth comes along, then middle age

Then “Gee, you’re looking good.”

—Mar/Apr 2009


I knew Jim Wright our president

Was great as he could be

And hoped Jim Kim as resident

Could be as good as he.

I know Jim Kim now well enough

And thank the stars above

He is already one of us

Who does his job with love.

—Jan/Feb 2010


Michael Gillis is a former DAM intern. He now edits the Jack-O.


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