By Callie Ewing, BA '03 MH '22
Larry Nee, MA ’94 PhD ’98, believed friendship was essential for human happiness, and he spent much of his time putting this principle into practice.
The Laurence D. Nee Memorial Scholarship in Politics was created to honor a friend and seeks to allow a future UD graduate student to experience the great minds who informed Nee’s thinking on the importance of friendship.
“We are coming up on the 10-year anniversary of Larry’s death in 2023, so we thought this was a good way to remember our dear friend, while supporting the institution that he insisted provided him with the philosophical underpinnings of his everyday life,” said Ed Gramling, MA ’93, who established the scholarship along with his wife, Bridget (Barvick) Gramling, BA ’90, his brother Chris Gramling (who took classes in the Braniff Graduate School in the 1990s), and Chris’s wife and Bridget’s sister, Sheila (Barvick) Gramling, BA ’92.
“Larry was incredibly conscientious about reaching out to you to make sure that your life was moving in the right direction,” Ed Gramling went on. “He stayed in touch, sent postcards to you as he was traveling around the world just to remind you he was thinking about you, and was always willing to hear you out. He was curious about your new job, what you were reading, what movie you had seen, or what concert you had attended — a friend sincerely curious about your individual life. We need more people like that in our fractured culture, people who take friendship seriously and are fully committed to nourishing it at every turn. From his high school friends in Chicago to the friends he made in graduate school at UD, Larry’s gift of managing multiple friendships across all types of people was enviable and noble.”
Bridget Gramling remembers Nee as “a gracious and easy houseguest.” When he visited your city, he already had planned out his experience and done his research on the places, restaurants and events he wanted to pursue. And if you were traveling anywhere in the world, Nee prepared the most detailed and well-thought-out agenda to assist in your adventure.
Nee’s experience as a traveler was certainly honed by his participation in UD’s Rome Program, having spent several years on the Rome campus teaching summer high school students in the Shakespeare in Italy program.
“He was a prince of a man,” said former Rome Program director Wayne Ambler, Ph.D. “He had moral integrity and was serious about his studies. I met Larry when I was directing a Shakespeare program for high school students in Rome, and it was wonderful to have someone who was so conscientious about our academic responsibilities, as well as having the awareness that our kids needed not only to learn something but to get home safely. I was always scared to death that something would happen to someone who wasn’t being careful; Larry understood that, and it was great to have him assisting me. His overarching concern was to help the students.”
Ambler recalled one trip to Venice with 25 high school students. It was after curfew, and he overheard an Italian outside calling out for one of the female students to come join him. Before Ambler needed to intervene, Nee had already assured that “our Juliet did not meet her Romeo that night.”
“He was a gentleman, with a good head on his shoulders and a good heart,” said Ambler, who worked with Nee in the Shakespeare in Italy program for a total of five summers. Their friendship flourished in the years afterward, as they met up several times in Boulder, Colorado, where Ambler and his family settled after their time in Rome, as well as in Chicago. They would do readings together and discuss Nee’s studies at St. John’s College, where he taught.
“Working together in Italy was just the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” said Ambler.
“The Rome Program fit Larry’s model of what life was about, to be both traveler and teacher,” said Ed Gramling.
“Larry loved philosophy and learning. He loved excellent teachers and deep conversation — he was an incredible conversationalist, and his interests extended in many directions,” recalled Chris Gramling. “One of his hallmark traits was that he always had a pen and notebook with him, and while having conversations about art, books, tennis or music, he would be jotting down notes. He had a voracious appetite for learning and was a keen observer of human behavior, which he loved to talk about.”
Another UD friend of Nee’s, Rafe Major, BA ’90 MA ’94, observed, “Although the life of a professor is not a lucrative one, the chance to continue learning has its own rewards. Larry and I were not the closest of friends in graduate school, but Professor Nee and I became increasingly bound together in the last 10 years of his life. Believe it or not, our conversations about books (the Bible, Shakespeare, Leo Strauss, Plato and Xenophon) grew more frequent and intense in the last few years of his life.
“We (Ed and Chris Gramling, Vickie Murray, Dustin Gish, Robert Sussman) had been quite certain in graduate school that all human beings who earnestly pursued the best way of life would eventually have the same epithet: ‘He read books as if it were a matter of life and death!’,” added Major. “We would discuss it past the chimes of midnight, and sometimes under the rising sun. Other than his wife, Maura, books were Larry’s greatest solace at the end of his life, and we are truly grateful to have continued to learn with him as long as we could."
Beyond paying tribute to their good friend, the Gramlings established this scholarship because of their own love for the university and the impact it has had on their own lives and on those of children, nieces and nephews.
“There is such consistency within the Core,” reminisced Bridget Gramling. “I can have a conversation with someone from the ’60s or ’70s or with my nephews and nieces (four of whom attend UD now), and we’re all familiar with the same things; so little changes, and that commonality is unusual.”
Sheila Gramling decided to attend UD after visiting Bridget during her Rome semester.
“I think that UD makes you a lifetime learner,” she said. “The older you get, it’s less about what you studied and more about remembering who you were while there. The foundation at UD creates the ability to keep learning, to take that initial curiosity and interest, and apply it to each later phase of your life. It gives you a respect for the past and how it applies to the future.
“No one believes we stood around a bonfire in the middle of the woods and talked about the Iliad, but that love of conversation (wherever it may occur) persists our whole lives,” she added. “And I miss Larry most when we have similar discussions with my sons attending UD. I wish they could have experienced the joy of conversation with him on the true, the good and beautiful, which they were only able to witness from the sideline as children.”
Chris Gramling recalled his time at UD in the early ’90s: “UD’s love of the text was apparent early on and made me a much closer, better reader. The professors took the text so seriously, and that really amazed me. The intimate environment, the obvious love of teaching that the professors had, and the love of conversation, books and other things that the students had was a special experience. Most students never have that experience, and it’s a kind of poverty, that so many kids go through school without ever experiencing what you do at UD — simply talking to friends and classmates deeply about a book.”
Nee embodied this ideal of talking to friends and classmates deeply about books; it was in many ways his life’s blood.
"In the years since Larry’s death I think of him often, but never more so than when he almost inexplicably sends notes from the grave,” recalled Major. “Just this past week, for example, while preparing for a graduate reading group on Shakespeare’s Tempest, I noticed the corner of a postcard in the pages of my book marked with almost illegible cursive script. After pulling it out, it was immediately recognizable as one of the innumerable scribblings that Larry sent to all of us during his travels. In this case, it was a card (composed in Cairo, Egypt) revealing his claim to have discovered a new insight regarding A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“There is now no doubt that future generations of recipients of the Laurence D. Nee Memorial Scholarship will be exposed to this same discovery (and others) in Larry’s published writings,” said Major. “I sincerely hope these young readers will also have someone to share them with."