by Matthew Schaefer
Lou Henry Hoover read her eulogy for Lindon Bates, Jr. at a memorial service held in early June 1915 at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. Bates went down with the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915. Hundreds attended his memorial service. Many prominent figures spoke: the President of the borough of Manhattan, Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, Senator Ogden Mills, and professors from Yale and Columbia. The most moving speaker was Lou Henry Hoover.
Lou Hoover spoke in the name of womanhood and childhood, since it was ‘for women and children that he laid down his life.’ Lou Henry Hoover knew Lindon Bates, Jr. for decades, watching him grow from a school boy to the fine young man who volunteered with the Commission for Relief in Belgium. She neatly summarized his difficult job there: ‘striving to keep one loaf of bread ahead, always in sight of the seven million otherwise breadless people.’
Lou’s eulogy reached a crescendo in its last paragraphs. She said: “One hears that ours is a sordid, material epoch and chivalry is no more. Champions of the defenseless live only, it is said, in the world’s more knightly days.” But on May 7th, on the decks of the Lusitania after it was torpedoed, Lindon Bates, Jr. guided women and children to the lifeboats, explained how to handle the boats in the roiling seas, and did it all with the calm nonchalance, deep seriousness, and cool efficiency that bespeaks true heroism. In the end, Bates handed the last life vest to an unprovided, unknown woman, then plunged with the ship to his death in the depths.
Lou Henry Hoover closed her remarks: ‘Such a death is not death, it is resurrection, for greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for others.’ After more than one hundred years, Lou Henry Hoover’s words still have the power to move hearts and minds.