The Last Word 

Arthur Prince, as aptly named a person as ever came 'round the bend, died this week, after a long and typically plucky struggle with the ravages of cancer. And with him passes one of the finest exemplars of a venerable American tradition. Arthur (he was an unassuming sort despite his natural -- and earned -- dignity, and we trust he would permit us this familiarity) was an exponent of one of the most necessary of democratic arts. He was a letter-to-the-editor writer par excellence, and we are proud to say that he graced our pages since early 1989, when we began publication.

A professor of sociology by vocation, he was fully engaged in all the public processes and knew whereof he wrote. Even before the Internet came along to facilitate our occasional search for the apt aphorism, the relevant quote, the precise allusion, the perfect phrase to underline an idea or concept that we were about to treat, we were able to dispense with our copy of Bartlett's. After all, we had Arthur Prince as a regular contributor, and we knew that any nuance that we forgot to invoke, or missed altogether, would come along soon with Prince's reaction to this or that article.

Even as he struggled with his final illness, he was still being helpful in this regard. When our man John Branston, a mere lad in his 50s, wrote a column back in the spring about the overlooked career successes of the long-of-tooth among us, Arthur wrote in to remind us that Goethe wrote Faust in his 80s and Almos Alonzo Stagg was still coaching football at 90. By implication, of course, Arthur was up there himself -- a perfect test case of the thesis that riper is better.

A month or so after that reminder, Arthur was back at us with another on-point response. Our music writer, Chris Herrington, had written a lengthy review of local rap artists Three 6 Mafia in which he alluded to criticism of the Academy Award-winning group from the pulpit. Yes, the venerable Prince read that piece. He read everything. He was the most well-informed person we knew. And he wrote in to offer this gloss: "I would take the advice of former senator Hugh D. Scott of Pennsylvania: 'Never get into an argument with a newspaper or a preacher; the newspaper always has the last word with its readers and the preacher always calls on heaven as witness he is right.'"

Tongue-in-cheek, of course, but what a tasty compliment. Of course, this prince of a man surely knew better. It was he who always had the last word, at least with us, and with him around we had a relatively limited need to call on heaven to confirm a suspect verity. We had Arthur Prince on our letters page -- and for that we remain eternally grateful.


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