To some people around town, Scott McVay is the former Princeton University administrator who was in the room — probably literally — in 1969 when the university made its decision to become a coeducational institution. To others McVay is a lifelong student of whales, dolphins, and other creatures that possess cognitive abilities that are yet to be fully understood. And to still others McVay is a supporter of the arts, who as president of the Geraldine Dodge Foundation helped launch the biannual Waterloo Poetry Festival and — with his wife, Hella — helped establish the poetry trail at the D&R Greenway headquarters on Rosedale Road in Princeton.
Given the breadth and depth of McVay’s interests, it is not surprising that his just published memoir, “Surprise Encounters With Artists and Scientists, Whales and Other Living Things,” is more than 550 pages. A series of vignettes, McVay’s book provides not only behind-the-scenes encounters with world famous scientists and researchers, but also close-up views of well known New Jerseyans, from Barbara Sigmund to George Nakashima, and Toshiko Takaezu to Tom Kean.
McVay will introduce his book on Wednesday, October 14, at 6 p.m. at Labyrinth Books at 122 Nassau Street. Refreshments will be provided by Hopewell Valley Community Bank.
McVay’s publisher, a co-sponsor of the event, is Wild River Books, a full-service publishing house that offers editorial consultation, marketing, publicity expertise, and crafted packaging for authors and that is affiliated with Wild River Review (www.wildriverreview.com), an online literary and arts magazine. Wild River co-founders are Joy Stocke and Kim Nagy.
Also sponsoring the event is Genesis, the new arts and science quarterly review that published excerpts from McVay’s work in its fall issue. Genesis is a publication of Community News Service, the parent company of U.S. 1 Newspaper — its editorial director, Richard K. Rein, is also editor of Genesis.
McVay, whose father was an engineer with General Electric with a deep interest in history, traces his interest in marine life to a English literature course at Princeton. The professor urged the students in his course to read the entire book, and not yield to the temptation to “skip the whale stuff.” McVay heeded the professor’s advice and read it all, becoming fascinated with the science of cetology.
Years later, in 1961 when John C. Lilly, author of “Man and Dolphin,” came to the Princeton campus to deliver a lecture, McVay approached him afterward with a list of 83 questions. Lilly was so impressed with McVay’s enthusiasm for the subject that he offered him a position at his Florida-based Communication Research Institute. McVay protested he was just an English major and that surely there were many trained scientists more qualified than he. But Lilly replied that McVay was the “most curious.” McVay temporarily left his university job and worked with the scientist for nearly two years.
As Elizabeth Christopherson, president & CEO of the Nassau Street-based Rita Allen Foundation, notes in a blurb for McVay’s book:
“From his eye-opening encounters with bottlenose dolphins, to his founding of the acclaimed Dodge Poetry Festival, to his broad and deep philanthropic influence, McVay’s stories stir the imagination and challenge us to explore possibilities with relentless curiosity.”
McVay himself sees nothing unusual in his wide range of interests. “I see the arts and poetry and science as being very close to one another,” he says. “They all involve close observation.”
Launch Party, Wild River Books and Genesis quarterly. Scott McVay, author of “Surprise Encounters with Artists and Scientists, Whales and Other Living Things,” published by Wild River Books and excerpted in the fall issue of Genesis, the arts, culture, and science review from Community News Service and U.S. 1 newspaper. Free. Labyrinth Books, 122 Nassau Street, Princeton, 609-497-1600, labyrinthbooks.com. Wednesday, October 14, 6 p.m.