There seems indeed for me a special need to mark the death, after an astonishingly full life, of Ainslie Embree, perhaps the ultimate Collingtonian.
Ainslie brought a combination of dignity, warmth, intelligence and humility to Collington. He and his wife Sue quickly became some of our earliest and closest friends. As one of the internationalist generation, it turned out that we knew surprisingly many in common. His wide knowledge of the world, and of people in it, and his humane wisdom about everything, made every conversation an adventure, which also provided deep reassurance about humanity.
I can not resist sharing two stories. Outside the dining room, there is a wall festooned with photographs of Collingtonians with heads of state. (As our son remarked, if you are a head of state, and want to get on that wall, you have to get to know someone at Collington.) One is of Ainslie talking to Indira Gandhi. Ainslie pointed out the strange look that the person standing next to him is giving him, and told us that he had asked the man, a missionary, why he was looking at him that way. According to Ainslie, the man replied, “Because you were being such a suck-up.” (I wonder how many of that set of photos have similarly ambiguous and fascinating back-stories.)
On another occasion, we were having dinner with Sue and Ainslie and overheard someone at the next table ask, “Are you in Who’s Who?” After appropriate quiet snickers, we all tried to come up with the perfect come-back. Ainslie won, hands down with, “Isn’t everybody?” and an immediate return to the topic at hand.
When resident Doris Ball died, I asked Ainslie to use the occasion to draft an appreciation of Dorothy and her husband Robert. His contribution, which because a much broader appreciation of several of other residents (including, with particular relevance to today, Elliot Richardson), appeared under the heading, Thoughts on Robert Ball, Social Security and Collington’s Unsung Heroes of American Governance.
Collington has had the good fortune to be the home of many outstanding citizens, with many of them entitled to belong to the category of what has been called by Professor Mashaw of Yale Law School, “unsung heroes of American governance.” Four who come immediately to mind, without selective judgment, are Admiral Bill Crowe, Elliot Richardson, Senator Chuck Percy and Robert Ball. Each of them, as Kipling put it, walked with kings, but did not lose the common touch, exemplified in their fondness for small parties with fellow residents in their own homes or in those of other residents.
As so often, the appreciation he wrote could have been a mirror held to Sue (a giant in her own right) and himself, although they would be the last to have realized it. Ainslie’s Wikipedia entry, with all the details, is here. Please read it. Here, also, is a Unniverity of California TV interview of Ainslie.