At Christmas vacation time in 1931, I was in the middle of my sixth-grade year in Winter Park Grammar School.
My sister, Peg, was in the fourth grade. My father was a busy member of the Rollins faculty, teaching Romance languages. Our family of four lived in a little house almost on the Rollins campus, at the corner of Fairbanks and Chapman avenues.
Chapman was then a dirt street running 100 yards from then-narrow Fairbanks Avenue to the big red brick grammar school facing Park Avenue. Our house was one of three later torn down to make way for the broad racetrack that Fairbanks Avenue is today.
That Christmas Day, I ran across the Rollins campus and down to Lake Virginia. The day was chilly and gray. No one was at the lake. I strolled out to the end of one of the long Rollins docks and sat down, thinking of warmer weather and good swimming days to come.
Soon I noticed a very well dressed man coming out on the dock in my direction. He had on a three-piece suit and tie. Rather than tell me to get off the dock, as I had expected, he slowly sat down beside me, his feet dangling almost to the black water.
Turning his balding head with its deep-set squinting eyes toward me full-face, he asked me, “Do you live here?”
“Yes, sir,” I answered.
“What does your father do?” he asked.
“He’s a professor.”
“Oh, that’s interesting. What is his name?”
“Same as mine — Louis Roney,” I said.
“What does he teach?” he asked.
“He teaches languages,” I answered. “He can speak about a hundred of ‘em. And he’s one of the best fencers in the world.”
“He must be quite a fine man,” he added, smiling.
“Oh, he is!”
I continued to talk full speed “.... and he was an athlete in college and an officer in the World War in France and he’s about the smartest person there is anywhere!” I launched into a stream of hyperbolic accolades that painted my father as superhuman. My boyish pride in my father led me — willingly — into some wild exaggerations. I think that I ended up by saying that there had never been anyone on the Rollins campus quite so “swell” as my dad.
My elderly companion rose, and said, “I must leave now. I am very happy to have met you, and I am glad you told me about your dad. He must be quite a man indeed.”
“Oh, he is!” I said.
At the dinner table that night I told my father about my meeting with the kindly gentleman on the Rollins dock.
“Dad, he was really interested in hearing all about you”
“That’s nice,” Dad said.
“I made you out to be the smartest man in Winter Park.”
“My goodness, Louis, what did you actually say?” Dad asked.
“Well, Dad, I said you are about the most important person on the whole
“Now, you know that you shouldn’t talk like that!” Dad said.
“Well, this man seemed so interested, and he kept askin’ things,” I said.
“By the way,” I added, “he said to tell you ‘Hello.’”
“What’s his name?”
“Holt,” I said. “Hamilton Holt.”
(Dr. Hamilton Holt was at that time president of Rollins College.)