“Bobby, meet Bill Fulbright,” I extended my hand. “Oh hello Senator…is it still Senator?” “Well you can be a son of a bitch your whole life why not a Senator?,” he replied with a chuckle. I remember this encounter with the Great Man at a local golf course as clear as day. What a guy!
I already knew of Senator Fulbright because my father, Robert Jeffers, had a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway right after college in 1952, and they were partners at the same law firm in Washington D.C. I also came to learn that my grandfather, John Henry Davis, had taken his family to New Zealand on a Fulbright for botanical research in 1949. Then came a call from my oldest son, Dylan Jeffers, who was excited to tell me that he was headed off to Xian, China on a Fulbright Hays Scholarship in 2013. He hadn’t breathed a word of this before and applied all on his own (quite a feat for a Millennial).
Wow, I thought. Everyone in our family is going off on a Fulbright…sigh, except me. After college I raced off to New York City to pursue a career in advertising, so a year abroad wasn’t on my radar. Yes, Fulbright skipped my generation, but three is pretty amazing, right?
I never got a chance to discuss his Fulbright experience with my grandfather, although my mom remembered her and her sister being quite a hit with the Kiwi boys. My dad told me he learned Norwegian at record speed but now can’t remember a word of it. For a humble boy from Denver, Colorado, it was his first time overseas and it began a lifetime of enthusiastic travel and love of languages. My son tackled learning Mandarin with his usual gusto and his selfie from the great wall with his fellow scholars is a portrait of pure joy. He made some great friends over there and became interested in international policy. I think learning the symbols and patterns of their language has been a great help to him in his new career as a computer coder.
Our family’s Fulbright experience has been special, spanning 70 years, enriching the lives of my grandfather, my dad, and my son. I guess I just have to live with the fact that I’m the Fulbright “Black Sheep” of the family.
–Robert Jeffers Jr.