What's Up, Doc?
By Camille Hunt Ever wondered how works by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, or Raphael appear to serially materialize in every doctor’s waiting room in America? Ask Dr. Jefferson Davis Futch, III. I guarantee he can tell you.
As I visited Dr. Futch in his Lexington home a recent afternoon, I found myself staring at the painting of a scene I knew must be somewhere in Italy, but that was about all I could deduce. When he caught me looking at the framed print, Futch asked me which buildings the painting featured. I had no idea, I admitted, a little embarrassed. The professor didn’t miss a beat. Caneletto is the artist, he explained, before pointing out Saint Mark’s Basilica on the left side of the painting. The scene is of an area in Venice, Futch began… and from there he told the complete history of the painting, the painter, the Basilica, Venice itself, how the painting came to America through English tourism in Italy, the National Gallery’s acquisition of the painting around World War II when art collectors were offered tax incentives for art donations, and then how the painting came to be reproduced countless times since. That is how Canaletto’s “Saint Mark’s Square, Venice” made its way into your doctor’s office. But don’t worry, Futch assured, the National Gallery still has all rights to the painting.
My visit with Dr. Futch turned into the most eye-opening history lecture I’ve ever heard. Not only that, but Futch’s history lesson was really funny. During the Reformation, Futch said, any smart closet Protestant in Catholic territory needed to “call the moving van and get out fast!” An overview of the Catholic Reformation through the 15th and 16th centuries elegantly transformed into a general history of Italy up to the mid-1800’s, filled with the kind of detail only someone with a lifelong devotion to academia could provide. When I asked him when and where his love for history began, Futch recalled studying every painting and every picture he could see when he was a child. At twelve or thirteen years old, none of the other children had any interest in architecture. Futch, contrarily, had no interest in playing softball.
Dr. Futch’s lifelong passion would eventually bring him to the hallowed halls of Washington and Lee University. His career on campus as an iconic history professor spanned 45 years and two generations of Washington and Lee graduates. When I asked what his students mean to him, Futch drew in his breath and looked out the window for a few moments. “My students are the nieces and nephews I never had. ‘Stepchildren’ has a negative connotation,” he chuckled, “So maybe I could say they are my adopted children.” These legions of adopted children no doubt still carry with them the same tireless admiration for Futch that he first inspired in 1962, his first year as a W&L professor, and every year since.
I first met Dr. Futch one evening in June, after my junior year of high school. My dad and I had driven to Lexington for my college interview and checked into the Sheridan Livery Inn. As we sat around struggling to choose a restaurant from the never-ending list of the three dinner places in town, Dad suddenly announced he had an errand to run before we ate, and that I was coming with him.
We pulled up to a brown house on Sellers Avenue, and then on up into the driveway. Overstepping the boundaries a bit, I thought. Nevertheless, I looked on as my father knocked on the front door and waited patiently until a white haired man appeared in the doorframe. They made eye contact for a moment. “Ward Hunt,” the man said to my father, “Class of 1969.” Forty-three years after Dr. Futch had last seen my father, he recognized him in an instant.
It is this kind of connection that Dr. Futch has held and still holds with his students. He knows every Pope backwards and forwards by name, from the first Pope to Pope Francis, but he takes equal care to learn his students backwards and forwards. I’ve listened to Dr. Futch recall stories about my father, his friends—even his fraternity. Futch advised, inspired, and educated countless W&L students, my father being only one among many. It is high time that we repay him this profound favor.
During my recent interview with Dr. Futch, I asked if he could name a favorite memory from his days as a Washington and Lee professor. His favorite memories stumble over each other, Futch said, but a unique memory that came to mind was encouraging a group of students to bring Barry Goldwater to speak in Lee Chapel. It was their idea, he said, but he “egged them on.” On campus, Futch was noted for his commendable support for these types of student endeavors and for his conservative beliefs. To honor Dr. Futch’s legacy and values, The Spectator is heading a forum created in his name to bring speakers to Washington and Lee. The “Futch Forum” will be controlled exclusively by a team of students and will remain independent from the University. All funds will be protected under the Forum’s 501(c)(3) status to ensure they go directly to the commissioning of speakers. The goal of the Futch Forum is to bring the W&L student body together with some of today’s brightest thinkers. In the spirit of Dr. Futch, the Forum will ensure the continuation of a conservative academic element at W&L, one that many students and alumni feel has been diminished by an imposing liberal opinion.
- Kenneth Cribb, Jr. ’70, formerly Chief Domestic Advisor to President Ronald Reagan, endorsed the Futch Forum, saying: "I am one of many hundreds of W&L alumni indebted to Dave Futch for his instruction and friendship in and out of class. We have been eyewitnesses to his principled defense of the achievement of Western Civilization against the tide of academic trendiness that has politicized all too many classrooms. It is so gratifying that this signal contribution is being recognized in his lifetime by the establishment of the Futch Forum. I have admired the work of the W&L Spectator since its founding and can think of no better sponsor to ensure the independence of the Forum from political interference."
Dr. Futch is, without a doubt, a University legend. Whether or not you donate to honor a “Great,” you donate because you believe in the Forum’s cause, and even if you donate for a combination of reasons, your donation shall ensure that each General graduates with eyes open to all points of view. Quieting anyone’s beliefs is wrong; doing so to dull a perceived stigma is even worse. Diminishing conservative voices on campus to appease an outside audience ironically increases homogeny on campus. A liberal arts education gives students the ability to explore many directions before choosing a path, exposing them to a variety of ideas before they settle on their own. Every opinion must be respected, every opinion heard. Our campus has the right to freedom of speech; the Futch Forum ensures freedom of speakers.
Independent of University funding, the success of the Futch Forum will depend solely on the generosity of outside donors. The students in charge of the operation are confident that the Futch Forum will be a success thanks to such a supportive alumni network and a valid cause. I close with a final quote from Dr. Futch: “The school means more than I can put into words. It is a second family.” Hopefully, the tight-knit W&L family of thousands will deliver just what the good Doctor ordered.
Donations to the Futch Forum may be made online at:
Or by mail:
The Futch Forum
PO Box 446
Lexington, VA 24450