The Corner


One Secret Unkept

Last week, I had a post on Richard Helms, the long-ago CIA director and one of my favorite people in public life. (Of course, much of that life was secret.) Got a delightful, amazing note from Michael Lewis, the art historian at Williams College.

Dear Jay,

I enjoyed your piece on Helms, and can give you an anecdote about him.

He went to Williams College, where he was the roommate and fraternity brother of my late colleague Whitney Stoddard, the legendary medievalist. When Whitney retired, his family decided to throw a surprise party and invite all his medievalist friends. Because of his connections, they were able to do it, appropriately enough, at the Cloisters in New York. They found a plausible lie to get him there — the director told him they had just acquired a significant work of Gothic sculpture and asked if he could come down to authenticate it.

Secrecy was maintained — except that a few days before the party, Stoddard got a message on his answering machine from Helms: “Whitney, this is Dick Helms. Something has come up and I can’t make it to your big party at the Cloisters this weekend. Hope you have a good time.”

There’s something wonderful about the former head of the CIA being the one who blabbed.

Yes. Now, obviously Helms did not know the party was meant to be a surprise. Still, there is something wonderful about this story. The standard work on Helms is The Man Who Kept the Secrets.


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