Students, friends, and alumni from across the country joined former Timothy Dwight College Master Robert Farris Thompson ’55 GRD ’65 for the unveiling of his portrait, which was commissioned to enshrine his unprecedented 32-year mastership.
Thompson, who stepped down from his post last spring, returned to TD Monday, where he was greeted by over 120 donors and fellows of the college, along with countless friends and current students.
“I’m overwhelmed by the generosity,” Thompson said of the outpouring of support for the event and the portrait. “I am overwhelmed by my love for Yale.”
He said that as he looks back at his time at Yale thus far, he most appreciates the freedom Yale accorded him to study the art and culture of Africa and its diasporas, a field he pioneered before it was accepted as part of the academic mainstream.
David Doris GRD ’02, who spoke about Thompson at the event, was a PhD student under Thompson. He stressed that Thompson was not only a great teacher and mentor, but also a pioneer in his field.
“He is a model of brave scholarship, and a leader at Yale,” Doris said.
Bill Adams ’77 was one of countless alumni who came to the event, which began with a private reception in the master’s house. Adams came from Chicago along with his wife Elisabeth Adams ’78. He said his relationship with Thompson has been an important and long-lasting one.
“He’s a lifelong friend, and he has had a huge influence on us,” he said.
When the portrait was unveiled, Thompson could not help but comment on its various symbols and elements, drawing on his expertise in art history. He said he loved the portrait, and the many layers of meaning about him and his interests which it included.
Stew Halpern ’78 remarked that the painting perfectly encapsulated Thompson and his unique interests.
“It does a brilliant job of marrying the unconventional with the conventional elements of a master’s portrait,” he said.
After the ceremony, Thompson and his guests got to celebrate with his favorite music style — Bomba. Alumni and students were greeted by a party in the courtyard with a live performance by the Alma Moyo Afro Puerto Rican Peformance Troupe, one of Thompson’s favorite bands.