Remarks by Richard Bump at the Ernest Harrison Hofer Memorial Celebration, September 21, 2008
1968, late May, UMass, my senior year, final semester, and one hour away from my final, final exam,
and I could not study any longer. I was drinking coffee in the Hatch and noticed a tattered poster
announcing the Oxford Summer Program, applications due by March 31 of that year, to Professor
Hofer, Chair (as he was at the time) of the English Department. Given that I had not managed to submit
a paper or essay on time for almost three years, I had a somewhat nonchalant regard for an
‘application deadline’ and walked over to Bartlett Hall where I met the formidable Joanna Paddock, who
then ushered me in to meet the even more formidable Professor Ernest Harrison Hofer, for the first
time, and his influence on me was immediate. Ten days after taking that final exam, I arrived in Oxford
to begin a summer stay that, in fact, lasted four years.
In 1972, now back in Amherst and enrolled in grad school at UMass, I moved into the former chicken
coop at the back of Riveracres, a warren of rooms which had been transformed into an apartment, and
became the first of a small but sturdy band of people who, at one time or another over the next 36
years, lived in what came to be called the “flat outback,” or more simply “the outback”. And given EHH’
s strong sense of ownership (“this is my house after all”) and his even stronger social instincts (which
knew no boundaries whatsoever), living in the outback was, in essence, no different than living with
Ernest, 24/7, sometimes for years.
Living in the outback…….
It meant that we were privileged, as Steve Dutton puts it, of being a standby guest at almost all
Riveracres’ functions. As Ernest would tour guests through and around Riveracres – many of them
you, here, now – for drinks, dinner, a party or a weekend, there would come the invariable and
inevitable knock on the pantry door, that fragile and only barrier between the outback and the rest of
the house: “I have the heir to the Waterline fortune, the president of Brown, and the gentleman from
whom I just bought my Jaguar” Ernest would announce, “you must come over for a drinkette, now!”
Mostly, these were welcome interruptions, but regardless, we would have no choice but to join the
Or sometimes, early in the evening when the house was unusually quiet, the phone would ring and it
would be Ernest: “I’ve just made the most fabulous soup ever and I’m bringing it over” and the pantry
door would swing open even before you could begin to object.
Or sometimes, when the house was quiet and early in the afternoon, the sounds of Ernest playing the
piano in the front room would drift back through the house, into the outback, and then on over the river.
Or sometimes, Ernest’s voice, reading aloud and to himself, down in the dell, would mingle with the
sounds of birds, cars, and beetles.
Or sometimes, Ernest, sad, slumped, and alone, digging in the ground, burying another of his beloved
cats in the back by the barn.
Living in the outback also met being party to that tribe of people who managed to keep Riveracres, and
himself, up and running, looking good, and on time for decades: Mrs Belunas, Jeff Lister, Mary
Simpson, the Williams family, the Ahearns, Barry Tozloski, and so many others, his beloved “band of
loyals”, he called them, and friends who came to know Ernest in very special and particular ways.
Living in the outback met also that we began to know the Sunderland and Valley community and
participate in it along with Ernest. Many years after I moved from Riveracres but still lived in
Sunderland, I had the stunning privilege of joining with a curious group of people, Jenny Newman, David
Fairer, Nick Roe, all from England, Barbara Burn from International Programs, Pat Talmage from
Boston, and several others who, after having toasted each other by the fire at Riveracres, donned
ourselves in black robes and quickly doubled the number of people singing in the choir for Christmas
Eve services, here at this church, and very near the spot where I now stand. Although Ernest was
hidden from view, he was at the Tracker-Action organ, over there, crashing down on the keys, as we all
sang strong, off-pitch, and glad “Joy to the World!”
And there he was, and here we are. And here he still is, in the midst of it all, influencing and conducting
us still, having, and having had, the time of his life.
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