Remembrance from a Former Student

L. James Hammond, PhLit newsletter, December 27, 2002.


When I was a Harvard freshman in 1980, Banfield was my teacher in a small seminar. After I graduated, I sent him a copy of my book of aphorisms, a copy that I had made on my typewriter; at that time, I called the bookDawn of a Renaissance. He was intrigued by my book, and invited me to meet with him. He later hired me to borrow books from the library for him; I often lunched with him and his wife. When I left the Boston area, I lost contact with Banfield, something I will always regret.

Banfield had a strong character, a gruff exterior, a good heart, and a sharp sense of humor. When he spoke to a stranger on the phone, he could be very rough, but when I mentioned his name to a woman who had been his secretary, she said he was very nice. When he called you on the phone, he said what he had in mind, then he said goodbye and hung up, without waiting for your goodbye. He fearlessly challenged liberal assumptions; his work was “politically incorrect” in the highest degree. He became the country’s most well-known expert on urban problems, an adviser to three Republican presidents — Nixon, Ford and Reagan.