Remembrances: Thomas Banchoff

Thomas Banchoff
I did know John Bellairs, not all that well since he was a year ahead of me at Notre Dame. I was the lone junior on the College Bowl Team that defeated Georgetown University, a competition between the only two Catholic school teams in that first year of the program.

As it happens, the contest had been delayed a week since Georgetown and Princeton had tied two weeks earlier and Georgetown won the rematch. I recall this vividly since I was supposed to be running the Notre Dame Invitational Debate Tournament on the weekend we had to travel to Washington DC for the contest on the Georgetown University Campus.

I must confess that I suspected that there was some intention in the choice of questions that were posed to the teams.

One instance I recall from that show was a mathematics question that we missed. The challenge was to total the integers corresponding to the word GENIUS using the standard substitution cipher, A = 1, B = 2, etc. Brian and Andy and I immediately wrote down the numbers U = 21 and S = 19 (since I knew that T = 20) and N = 14 since that is where the alphabet splits. It is easy to get I = 9, E = 5 and G = 7. I added too fast and got 65 while Brian had the right answer, 75. He was the first to finish his check and he said, "You're right, 65" and I gave that answer as captain. We were appalled when the quiz master gave the answer since we still had about fifteen seconds to go, plenty of time to have been sure.

You will appreciate the fact that an inspired cameraman focussed first on the three of us working furiously and then on John who was just staring unconcernedly into space, chewing, as I recall, on the end of his pencil. In spite of that lapse, we won handily against Georgetown.

The following week the opponent was Barnard College, and the all woman team came to Notre Dame primed for a win. I recall that one of the questions was about golf, interesting since one of the Barnard team members was an Australian golf professional. The team did not need any help though because they thoroughly swamped our team. As it happens, the coach of the team had decided to replace me with the alternate, Phil Gibson, since it was felt that my area of expertise and Brian Moran's were too similar, both of us being mathematics majors.

Frankly I was glad when it was over. When we returned to the campus on Sunday night after the win in Georgetown, someone organized a cordon of cheering fans lining the main road leading into campus, a standard procedure whenever the football team won a big game. It was a big joke that was not particularly appreciated by the serious sports enthusiasts, and there are a lot of them at Notre Dame.

John was fun to be with, very witty, somewhat wry but not particularly cynical. At the same time, he appeared to be in his own world. He appeared extremely non-athletic himself and I don't know of any outside interests beyond literature. As I mentioned, he was a class ahead of me at Notre Dame, and he was part of a literary set. I believe he lived during his senior year in Sorin Hall, where most of the others had their rooms. In those days, you moved your room every year since certain halls were designated for freshmen only, sophomores only, et cetera. John was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow in 1959, as was I, although I did not graduate until 1960. I had no contact with him directly after he graduated.