Rob Farnham has shared the following:
December 1, 2018
Ode to Renzi Lamb
Certainly the Thompson Memorial Chapel was a fine space to say goodbye to Renzi as the intricately created wood motif comprising the ceiling parallels the complexity of the man we were all there to celebrate. The stained glass windows were colorful and depicted the saints, as the man was and was not, in that order. The printed program for the Mass captured Renzi on the front in a dapper bowtie, black blazer and an apparent US flag handkerchief folded neatly in the pocket while the back photo showed him in his ShaminadeHigh School football helmet, cigar in mouth and a gaze along with a smirk that dared you to take him on. This was Renzi in total for he could cross disciplines with aplomb and was at ease in both a summer party at the Hamptons on Long Island or in the back room of a welding shop. The script for the Mass included refined music by The Rosamund Trio and a series of prayers and hymns put forth in voices ethereal, all appropriate for a religious service. The homily by Reverend Lillpopp mentioned the word iconic to describe his life in Williamstown and the often told reference to Mark Hopkins sitting on one end of a log and a student on the other to highlight Renzie’s role as an educator rather than a coach. I sat there, however, and could not square the ceremony with the man and coach I knew so my mind wandered while envisioning a service I would champion.
I would sustain the written piece printed at the entrance to the Chapel by Julia Keller (c. 2008) titled, “The Smell That is Renzie”. A description of alerting the mind to Renzie’s presence, i.e., “most importantly you’ll smell him”. “All that comes to mind when you think about Renzi is his cigar and the scent that wraps around you”, she writes. She remarks that this is a “rich scent” while noting the way he gracefully holds the cigar in his hand. This is perceptive for his clasp of it was like the grip used by a professional pool player with the index finger wrapped snuggly around the top with the cigar resting delicately on the thumb and middle finger protruding as a pool cue would in a configuration that reminds one of his bowtie knots; graceful, sturdy, but without undue pressure. And, with this vision, I imagine Jackie Gleason in the movie, “The Hustler”, which kicks my mind into gear as I sit in pew #32. Gleason was talented in so many ways.
As the casket rested near the altar, draped in a US flag, I imagine a video screen that pops up and with lights ablaze and an electric guitar intro, I see Renzie with a wide stance on top of it. Pilot’s helmet on, cigar in mouth, smirk evident, he is there motionless with a guitar slung like a six-shooter and gazes out on the packed audience. The intro stops. Without a word, the band fires up and he begins to sing Billy Joel’s, “Only the Good Die Young”, which, of course, is about an x love, Virginia, who was a nice Catholic girl he wished to bed:
Come out Virginia
Don’t let ‘em wait,
You Catholic girls
Start much too late.
Later the lyrics conclude with a bit of philosophy:
They say there’s a heaven for those who will wait
Some say its better but I say it ain’t
I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
The sinners are much more fun
You know only the good die young.
He finishes this performance with appropriate panache as the theme line, “Only the Good Die Young” echoes resoundingly (like the woodland heights in “The Mountains). He removes his helmet while the stagehands bring forth a log with Mark Hopkins carved on the front. He waddles up, as Julia Keller describes his gate, and sits on one end. I look to my program where it states, Homily.
Renzie begins to discuss the venerable scene so related to Mark Hopkins and gives a tribute to athletics and its ability to teach so many elements of life outside of the academic disciplines. One can see him in the “cockpit” soaring through life and knowing the human condition with all its foibles and brilliance. He speaks of living an aspirational life and one that experiences all of the ranges of the human condition, for there is good in evil some times and pain is not without its ultimate reward. He denounces political correctness as a “word gauze” that makes hazy the reality of the truth as he experienced it.
He tells a story of a lesson learned through the early experiences as a coach when he was outsmarted and made to look foolish in his lack of ability to prep his team for the strategies employed by the opposition. He is now standing and pacing as the story unfolds. Working up the buried anger at this memory, he indicates this was a seminal moment in his life and as his words stop the initial, haunting guitar opening of The Who’s song, “We Won’t Get Fooled Again”, blasts out in high volume as speakers descend from the ceiling and the mood is transformed into a hard rock venue. With the completion of the song, Renzie sits back on the log.
The attendees, being jolted by the energy displayed, now sit cerebral, stunned and enveloped in the silence. A student on the other end of the log appears. “Life is a long race”, Renzie intones while looking down. “Education in all its forms is an important element in learning who you are and becoming comfortable in your own skin. Everyone absorbs lessons differently. There are three kinds of men:
there are those that learn by reading, the few by observation and then there are those that need to urinate on the electric fence themselves.”
This brings a blast of laughter from all. The screen and the speakers now recede. The line of pallbearers (8) and honor guard (12) are aligned in back of the casket and as the Reverend begins the classic incense accompaniment (the Holy Ghost) to the man in the casket they all light up a cigar. In unison they are blowing smoke down toward the US flag that drapes the casket. Macanudo, Partagas, Montecristo, Arturo Fuente and H. Upman are all represented, like courtiers to the man known as Renzi.
His casket is wheeled out of the Chapel and made ready for burial in the Williams College cemetery, a fitting resting place after over 40 years of living in Williamstown and becoming, through no grand strategy, an icon of the College. As attendees filed out of the stone structure from several exit apertures, I could not but think of the swallows in Capistrano dispersing as a massive flock, the result of a loud crack of a gunshot that came with the military honors Renzi was buried with.