After Tony Gorry had graduated from Yale, gotten a chemical engineering degree at Berkeley and then been awarded MIT’s first Ph.D in computer science; after he had taught at MIT, then gone to Houston to become a vice president of Baylor College of Medicine while also teaching across the street at Rice University; after he helped develop a collaborative hypertext platform in the early 1990s and started a company based on the technology and sold it; after he become a vice president at Rice while still teaching at Baylor; he decided to learn Greek.
Then he got leukemia.
In between, he attended his 50th high school reunion in Glens Falls, and that inspired him to write a memoir called “Memory’s Encouragement,” which was published last year by Paul Dry Books.
It’s a wonderful book, poignant and profound, that evokes the era of Gorry’s childhood — the 1940s and ‘50s — in Glens Falls and explores in a surprisingly gritty and clear-eyed fashion the emotional dynamics of his family that shaped his life.
Gorry’s father was a war hero, one of the most decorated soldiers of World War II, who kept his medals hidden away and would say little more to his curious son than “the real heroes didn’t come back.”
During the war years when his father was away, Gorry spent a lot of time with his Uncle George, his mother’s eccentric brother, an insurance actuary who would take him sledding and hunting for arrowheads in Crandall Park, but who, in his overcoat and battered hat, was “sufficiently odd that my classmates would make fun of him.”
Although Gorry had a busy and accomplished professional life and has been married twice and has three daughters, his memoir is concerned with his childhood, his parents, his uncle and his dog, and with himself in the current day, sifting through his memories.
The book reads more swiftly and sees more deeply than a reader might expect from a book about growing up in Glens Falls. His story is personal and detailed but never drags, and each anecdote manages to find the common human element amid the specifics.
Perhaps because Gorry has a scientific bent, his writing has a frankness that is bracing. He makes no attempt to soften what is hard; he lays it out, as if presenting core samples pulled from the layers of his life.
He’s 77 now and has had leukemia for almost 10 years. He spends most of his time at his home in Houston.
He works on reading classic Greek texts like “The Odyssey,” and he explores the wine-dark sea of his memories.
“I sit in my chair here in my little library at home and write,” he said.
Outside is a pool and a garden. On the wall across from him is an old map of Glens Falls.
He is working on writing poems now, although he recently finished an essay. His 60th reunion is approaching, but he won’t be able to make it.
The traveling he does now takes place in his mind, filling in details on the few war stories he heard from his father and revisiting Glens Falls, where his most vivid memories reside.