An Essay

Written by Henry Hof 3rd (in 2007) for the Fiftieth Reunion
of the Dartmouth College Class of 1958

“Fifty-eight is really great!” didn’t apply to this green graduate’s performance as I started in Manhattan real estate.  Wall Street, I found, was underwhelmed with my commercial leasing pitch.  During lunch breaks I read novels or the newspaper, preferring pages about politics and sports to boring business. 

A turning point arose in 1962 when I was accepted in the Peace Corps. Assigned to Bogotá, Colombia as an urban community developer, I thrived in this capacity, a representative American, comfortably able to communicate, thanks to college Spanish language professor, Señor Arce.  I collaborated with barrio neighbors, helping them build an Alliance for Progress five room school.  The job appealed to me, promoting values learned in church and schools, notably Dartmouth, about civics, governance, leadership, humanism, respecting diversity. 

Faced daily with issues great and grating, my Peace Corps partner and I shared common traits, getting along well.  Well enough, that in 1964 we married in her home state, California.  There, I re-enrolled in school.  Toward the end of graduate training, I landed an unpaid internship in my hometown, at the United Nations Secretariat.  By then, we had two lovely children, Philip and Andrea.  I saw myself as one lucky thirty-three year-old. 

Good fortune continued when I was offered a professional position in the Secretariat’s office of technical cooperation.   I worked there as an international civil servant for twenty-six years, until (mandatory) retirement at sixty.   Because the post called for management of an array of projects, our undergraduate liberal arts emphasis served me well.  In time, I traveled officially to Chile (for a stimulating two year assignment), China, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guyana, Haiti, Malta, Switzerland and Venezuela.   I enjoyed the job. The career took a dozen years to find, considerable travel, and a few false starts.  The key element, I believe, was enhanced education. 

When the Colombian government asked for help with its 1990 national population census, I coordinated support.  We provided computers, training and statistical expertise, culminating in timely issuance of census results.  Later, I was pleased to be appointed chief of the technical cooperation section for statistics.  

Meanwhile, though, by mutual agreement, my marriage ended.   That was a trying time emotionally.  Looking back, I wonder whether it was wise to go for six straight years to an all-boys prep school and an all-men’s college.  While I became knowledgeable in areas academic, I was undereducated about the opposite sex and being a responsible date mate. 

Eventually, after living alone in Gotham’s Lower East Side, I met a comely colleague in the travel office, originally from the Philippines.  Sally Tinio and I differed demographically, and yet the contrasts proved complementary and refreshing.  We dated, became engaged, and in1977 married.  Two years later our darling daughter, Karina, was born.  Nowadays Sally Tinio-Hof and I are considering ways to celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary.     

The biggest challenge of my life emerged in 1979.  It began as a tingling feeling behind the knees, spreading elsewhere in my legs.  My lower limbs were becoming partially paralyzed.   At the basketball playground, I could hardly run anymore, much less shoot.  The Big Green player who Al McGuire once said, “started me on my first million,” was barely allowed to play, picked last.  In a matter of weeks, I was using a cane to ambulate, then two canes, followed by Canadian crutches.  For nearly two decades now I’ve been a wheelchair rider.     

Tests in Santiago, Boston and New York City revealed I have a condition of the central nervous system, a minor league form of Lou Gehrig’s disease.  The diagnosis was, and is, primary lateral sclerosis, its cause unknown.  As predicted in 1983, PLS has altered my life style, but being benign, not life span.  Where in my youth I was a natural athlete with rapid reflexes, in the latter stage of my life I am a physically impaired individual, unable even to dress myself independently.  I rely a lot on help from family and friends.

In the accompanying account I disclose what the contrast is like, maturing as an active young man, then becoming a sedentary soul with a debilitating disability.  A longtime friend and fellow alumnus, class of 1949, has wryly distinguished the two phases of my life as Henry Hof 3rd and Henry Hof 4th.   Ed Graham observes that my lingering physical attributes allow me to cope with the crippling condition.  Long, still agile arms compensate for sluggish legs, as I swing simianlike from wheelchair to car.

In 2000, on a cruise to Alaska, I accompanied adult children Andrea, Karina and Phil to a remote glacier.  Our snug helicopter had no room for a wheelchair.  So I remained aboard as the three able-bodied Hofs descended.  Vicariously, I was with them as they made snow angels, posed for pictures and drank centuries-old pure melted snow.  Pussy-footing about, lest a crevice swallow Hof progeny, they enjoyed themselves like children.  While only an observer, I too was exhilarated, feeling on top of the world.         

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