Edward Sargent, most unorthodox

Posted 2/22/24

If the expression “he marches to a different drummer” had not been coined, something like it would have been needed to speak of my friend.

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Edward Sargent, most unorthodox


If the expression “he marches to a different drummer” had not been coined, something very much like it would have been needed to speak of my friend (and friend to many) Edward Sargent, who died on Dec. 23 of last year. (Sargent's death notice was in the Dec. 25 Local.)

He and I were classmates, and although I’ve spent my adult life far from him geographically, we remained close by way of telephone, email, and, quaintly enough, letters.

Whenever I and mutual friends like Peter Stanley, Tom White, Jack Beecham or Clark Groome spoke of Edward, some other facet of this intriguing man’s character emerged. He proved onion-like: peel away one layer, and another showed up. Here’s an example, which some readers will know, of Edward’s eccentricity, a term I use very much as a compliment.

He had interests entirely exotic to the rest of us teenagers: chiefly contemporary classical music, art and poetry. The highly influential Modernist poet Ezra Pound, who broadcast pro-Fascist propaganda from Italy during World War II, was punished by commitment to St. Elizabeth’s psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C. Edward’s father worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and his son had a free pass. In 10th grade, he chose simply to skip school one day, having arranged to go visit Pound, something few 15-year-olds (or anyone) would have contemplated.

Yes, he was his own man, start to finish, and although he received his share of witless schoolboy bullying for his idiosyncrasies, he never flinched.

But Edward and academic institutions never were the best of friends in any case. Clearly brilliant, he was at best an indifferent student. I believe this too reflected his determination to keep marching to that personal cadence. Even Tyler School of Art couldn’t keep him. Edward was a gifted artist from school days forward, but as with everything, on his own terms.

An encyclopedia of knowledge about 20th-century music, he wrote album liner notes and at one point hosted a contemporary classical music program on Minnesota Public Radio. He once even shared cocktails with Igor Stravinsky, another thing I learned of quite by chance in the last year of his life, Edward being the soul both of bravery and modesty. He was also employed for a long time by the Friends World Committee for Consultation, a Quaker organization that encouraged and provided communications between groups of Friends worldwide. Edward’s job frequently took him to the then-Soviet Union.

There never was and never will be another Edward Sargent. The dauntless boy who fled school to visit a poetic giant was the same who, in his late years, conducted an online international forum – what non-academic of any age would do this? – on German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. His friends will continue to miss his intelligence, his decency, and not least of all, his razor wit.

Sydney Lea

Newbury, VT