Honoring Don Casper
Published: Friday, October 21, 2011
Updated: Friday, October 21, 2011 17:10
In San Francisco, Mayor Edwin Lee ordered the city's flags be flown at half-mast for Don Casper (COL '70) after he was killed this August in a hit-and-run accident. Not one but two horse-led honor guards of police and firefighters brought Don's remains to Saints Peter and Paul Church. The church was packed with locals, lawyers, clergy, politicians, civil servants, Knights of Malta and Bohemians. Pallbearers all wore an Hermés necktie from Don's closet. Former Mayor Willie Brown, a Democrat, gave the eulogy for his Republican friend. Georgetown's Stewards processed behind the casket. This was not the only sign that a Hoya had passed.
At his Vigil the night before, a letter from President John J. DeGioia was displayed. It began: "Don Casper was truly a son of Georgetown." Alumni spanning four decades delivered remembrances. Mourners were entertained by the all-male chorus of the Bohemian Club, but it was nine alumni Chimes walking quietly to the side of the casket to sing "Alma Mater" that brought all to tears.
It is impossible to count all of Don Casper's civic accomplishments. He supported the Boys and Girls Club, his grammar school, his high school, a local priory and so on. Each year, he organized the Columbus Day Parade. He revamped San Francisco's civil service regulations, and, when a Georgetown friend suggested that he sue the State of California, Casper said "sure." He won and saved the taxpayers billions.
On this Homecoming, we remember Don Casper at Georgetown, where he remains the most famous editor-in-chief that The Hoya has ever had. Even President DeGioia held Don Casper in high esteem. "Legendary" was how Dr. DeGioia put it.
The late 1960s were epic times. At Georgetown, a young traditionalist from San Francisco enjoyed being burned in effigy for standing his ground as editor to keep The Hoya from surrendering to populist demands, from competing with city newspapers for liberal-slanted news and from reporting on student government intrigues. Casper's strong stand led to the start of the Georgetown Voice.
Casper also saw the unraveling of our two oldest student traditions. The Sodality, our first student organization, went dormant for lack of devotion to Our Lady. Casper was its last Prefect. The Yard, our unique student government, gave way to lesser ideas. Casper would eagerly tell the story of how Bill Clinton was kicked out of a Yard meeting by the Yard president after a bombastic plea for a seat.
As a senior, Casper indirectly caused one of Georgetown's biggest black eyes. He had invited then-Mayor of San Francisco Joseph Alioto to speak at Gaston Hall. Mayor Alioto supported the Vietnam War. Protestors rushed the stage, took the microphone and yelled expletives. A brawl ensued and the lights went out. Casper calmly took the mayor through the stage door for cocktails at the Jesuit residence followed by dinner at 1789.
Casper engaged also in unseen service. Every day he would tend to Georgetown's former president Fr. Edward Bunn, S.J., through his illness until his death. Don would read to him and absorb all that the great Jesuit would tell him. Casper's published biography of Fr. Bunn remains one of the finest bits of university literature.
After receiving two degrees, Casper returned to San Francisco and set himself up as an affordable lawyer which explains why, on walks through North Beach, Don would be greeted by restaurateurs with "Consiglieri!"
Eventually, the chubby young man became an avid runner: a sleek, nine-time marathoner. This pastime, and Don's still young age of 63, made the news of his murder by a hit-and-run coward while on his nightly run, so chilling. Many Georgetown men and women had shared the hungry experience of waiting for Don to complete his two-hour run, followed inevitably by a jaunty ride through the City by the Bay in a green Jaguar in search of a high-carb meal, Dewar's and a late night.
Through the years Don Casper remained fascinated by Georgetown. He returned to support Lauinger Library. In 1988, he was one of four plaintiffs who stepped up to sue Georgetown successfully to halt the dismantling of our historically independent alumni association.
Each spring, Don was invited to give a tour of the campus. From the newest building to the Hall of Cardinals, Don knew every detail. Like a Georgetown senior, he walked around as if he owned the place.
Don Casper knew Georgetown so well because he loved her. His courtship began when he angled his neck to see her from the window of an airplane, and when a cab dropped him inside Healy Circle, and he saw Healy's gray made mournful by the rain. Don Casper came to love her best in the still sunrises that he would so vividly describe; when after putting the next day's issue to bed, he would hear through The Hoya's window the Angelus ring from Visitation and he would start his walk home across a misty lawn, solitary but never alone.