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Robert H. Boyle
November 05, 1990
At age 101, Hamilton Fish is the last of a rare sports breed
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November 05, 1990

A Golden Oldie, In Every Way

At age 101, Hamilton Fish is the last of a rare sports breed

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He was one of the greatest tackles ever to play college football and was a two-time All-America. He is now 101 years old and as tough and spirited as when he fought for Harvard more than 80 years ago.

He is Hamilton Fish, Harvard, class of 1910, the last surviving member of Walter Camp's alltime All-America football team and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. As a Republican member of Congress from 1920 to 1945, Fish again became a nationally known figure, for his vehement opposition to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal.

Fish lives in Cold Spring, N.Y., with his fourth wife, Lydia, 58, a former state corrections officer. After a lengthy correspondence, the always ready to socialize Fish met his wife-to-be in person for the first time at a library reception, and they were married three months short of Fish's 100th birthday, on Sept. 9, 1988. Fish has not lost his zest for politics either, even when it means taking on family members. In 1974, when his son, Hamilton Fish Jr., a Republican member of the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee, voted to impeach President Richard Nixon, Fish was a prominent member of Operation Freedom, which took out ads opposing any prosecution. Twelve years later, when his grandson Ham III ran for the Democratic nomination for Congress, the eldest Fish all but branded Ham III a Communist and announced that he intended to campaign against him. "My grandfather regarded me as he would any political opponent," says Ham III, 38. "I never took it personally."

Fish now wears a hearing aid and gets about with the aid of a walker to offset a bad knee ("Nothing to do with football," he says), but he also has a full-time secretary to help keep his hectic schedule of public engagements. Recently, his calendar for the coming month showed an evening panel discussion at a Connecticut community college, two parades, a reception for the Salvation Army, another speech, a trip to Southborough, Mass., to celebrate the 125th anniversary of St. Mark's, his preparatory school, lunch at the Porcellian Club in Cambridge, Mass., and a class reunion at Harvard.

Five years ago Fish attended his 75th reunion, and as a member of the class of 1910, he confidently expected to lead the parade as the oldest alumnus present. His grandnephew J. Winthrop (Winty) Aldrich was there attending his 20th Harvard reunion, and as Aldrich says, "The scene that followed was vintage Ham Fish. He came upon an infirm, sickly old man clutching a walker and a sign that said 1906. Brandishing his cane at the man with the walker, Uncle Ham shouted, 'That man is an imposter! He was behind me!' " It turned out that the man was indeed a member of the class of 1906, but it also proved that trying to upstage Fish is a daunting task for anyone.

Fish had better luck this year at his 80th reunion, though there were again some tense moments. When Harvard president Derek Bok and Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany, Ella Fitzgerald and other recipients of honorary degrees began the academic procession, Fish, using his walker, was slow in getting to the lead. As the band started to play and the grand marshal checked his watch, Aldrich decorously transferred Ham Sr., holding his 1910 sign, to a folding chair on top of a dolly and pushed the old man to the head of the line. The band parted like the Red Sea before Moses, and, as Fish wheeled by, Fitzgerald slapped him on the shoulder and exclaimed, "Why, you sweetie pie!"

That might have been the first time Fish has ever been addressed in such a manner. Certainly his opponents on the gridiron or in Congress had other names for him. At St. Mark's, Fish played football for three years, and he is still upset that while he was there his teams never beat archrival Groton.

At Harvard, Fish played right tackle both ways, as was the rule then. In 1907, when he was a sophomore, Harvard won its first seven games, but then lost three straight, to the Carlisle Institute, Dartmouth and Yale. The defeats were blamed on Crimson coach Joshua Crane, and he was replaced for the 1908 season by Percy Haughton, perhaps the greatest coach in Crimson history.

A believer in specialized coaching, Haughton wanted Lieut. Ernest Graves, a West Point graduate then serving in the Corps of Engineers, to coach the line. According to Morris A. Bcalle's The History of Football at Harvard , Haughton sent a message to President Theodore Roosevelt to ask that Graves be detached from duty in Washington to coach in Cambridge. The president subsequently wrote a note to Secretary of War William Howard Taft, a Yale man, no less, informing Taft, "I was a Harvard man before I was a politician. Please do what these gentlemen want."

Haughton and Graves built much of the Harvard offense and defense around their right tackle. In 1910, Camp referred to Fish as "a leader of men." On defense Fish was, in Camp's words, "a certain and deadly tackle," while on offense he "was as equally good."

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