The life of Dr. Fraser Drew has been one of literary adventures.
From 1945 to 1983, Drew earned a reputation as one of the sharpest professors at Buffalo State College. During his career, he regularly corresponded with authors including Langston Hughes, Thornton Wilder and Ernest Hemingway. In 1973, Drew become Buffalo State's first professor to be designated a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor.
Tuesday night, Drew celebrated his 97th birthday a day in advance in the Canterbury Woods retirement community in Amherst, with 23 former students and friends. During the party, representatives from Buffalo State asked Drew if he would be involved in a project to publish a collection of his memoirs and short stories.
His life has given him plenty to write about. Born June 23, 1913, in Randolph, Vt., he graduated from Randolph High School six days shy of his 16th birthday. He was the valedictorian.
Drew credits the fraternity he joined at the University of Vermont, the Lambda Iota Society, for teaching him the things he couldn't learn from books. "It was a socially active fraternity," he said. "I was able to raise its scholastic average, and it was able to give me training in the social arts."
After World War II, Drew was in New York City interviewing for a teaching job when he was contacted by Dr. Harry Rockwell, president of Buffalo State. Ready to accept a teaching position at the University of Hawaii, Drew agreed to meet with Rockwell at midnight on June 30, 1945. Underneath the clock at the Biltmore Hotel, Rockwell persuaded Drew to begin teaching that fall at Buffalo State.
Sue Flynn was a sophomore at Buffalo State when Drew began his first semester at the school. "Everyone was talking about this new, young, handsome teacher," said Flynn, who noted that students waited in line to get into the first row of seats for Drew's class.
"He was intense in his love of the English language," said Flynn, who credited Drew with introducing her to many poets and bringing them alive for his students.
Career highlights for Drew include visits with both Hemingway at his Finca Vigia residence in Cuba and the Irish prime minister, Eamon de Valera, in 1967.
Tom Trainor, 49, was a student in one of Drew's final classes at Buffalo State in 1982.
"Never in your entire life will you meet another guy like that," said Trainor, adding that his best memory of Drew was his grading policy. Drew returned the class' first exams, which he graded in alphabetical order (Trainor's exam was graded last). Drew then confessed to the class that he liked to drink Irish whiskey while grading.
" 'So, whether it's fair or not, Mr. Trainor will always be given the benefit of the doubt,' " Trainor recalled Drew saying.