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Jay Pasachoff


Bobby Kittredge

Jay’s passing on November 20, 2022, orphans us, ends an era, and reminds us how long ago, how many years we have lived under the influence of Williams College. Jay was the last teacher at Williams overlapping our four-year residence at the school. My tribute will be decidedly non-academic, another side of the man few knew.

Fall 1972 had some picture-perfect days. While strolling through the science quad, just below West College, I was struck by an eye-catching sight: someone was throwing a Frisbee a completely new way! I had played for years and everyone, yes, everyone threw the backhand toss. Only. Similar to the backhand in tennis, and so named for its similarity. The backhand grip consisted of thumb on top, four fingers underneath or pointer finger on the rim. Unconcerned whether this thrower was a student or a teacher, I was my usual shy self and walked right up to him. He was thrilled. 

And patient. Jay was a student of the game. Well versed on the aerodynamics of Frisbee flight. Ever the scientist. He was fond of longtime-aloft throws. How convenient that his next-door throwing space was the elongated science quad. He would throw the length of the quad and two throws by two people, sometimes three, were required to return the disc to him. He loved curving, orbiting throws. Ever the astronomer. And ahead of the curve.

Back to the sidearm throw. Also called “forearm” or, more recently, “flick.” Analogous to the sidearm pitch in baseball, the thumb is still on top of the disc but the four fingers are split like Spock wishing one to “live long and prosper.” Two fingers inside the rim, two outside; palm facing up. The hardest Frisbee throw to learn. He took the time to show me everything. I received a huge boost from him junior year when he applauded my rapid improvement. When Steve Jobs first saw click-and-go, the so-called graphic interface, he knew immediately that was the future. So I was with the forearm Frisbee toss.

A few weeks later was parents’ weekend. The Chapin lawn was well filled and Jay was determined to share two new, short distance, lawn-nearly-full Frisbee games. Only he knew them. The first was “Guts.” Well named. The two teams lined up remarkably close to each other and threw the disc as hard and fast as possible. The poor receiving team had to catch it … one-handed. Jay was merciful and threw at half speed. Not so for Bob Muller ’73, my WCFM football co-announcer. Amazing how memory is like a bell curve: a small number of distant details still in sharp focus.

Jay quickly saw the inappropriate violence of this co-ed, child-present game and ended it shortly. I’ve never seen it since … thankfully. His second short distance, family-friendly on-the-lawn game was “Double Disc Court.” Played with two discs (hence “double”) and two teams of two. The goal was to land either or both your disc(s) in the opponent’s court (tennis-ish) and have them stay there. Much softer than Guts. But complex and logistically awkward, especially for total newbies, it didn’t last long either; albeit for completely different reasons. Jay received his two frisbee strikes with aplomb, to his credit. The year after we left, 1976, Williams went Ultimate.

Jay’s name had an unfortunate metric and alliterative commonality with “Pass My Course.” Jay “Pass My Course” Pasachoff. Regardless of his grade scale, this derogatory nickname was inevitable. I assume his kindness and the nature of astronomy (not so complex in 1972) contributed to the nickname. For all the above, I wish I’d taken at least one course with him. Excuse me, I wish I’d taken a second, more formal Williams College course with him.

Jay Pasachoff
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