When friends and former colleagues of Philip Warken gathered at the U.S. Naval Academy's Officers' and Faculty Club on Nov. 3 for his wake, there was one thing on which everybody agreed: Their eccentric old friend, a retired history professor and debate coach at the academy, would not have been caught dead at such an event.
"Phil had his eccentricities," History Department Chairman David P. Peeler said of his colleague. "He knew his likes and dislikes. There were very few ambivalences in Phil's life."
Among his dislikes were funerals, wakes and retirement ceremonies; children, particularly noisy children at restaurants and other public places; clumps of tourists clogging the sidewalks of downtown Annapolis and bicyclists slowing traffic on the town's narrow streets; elevators and balconies; flying; and dinner parties with people he didn't know.
Among his likes were Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, hand-rolled cigars, cats, good Scotch, smoke-wreathed poker parties with close male friends, Ohio State football and the New York Yankees.
Warken, 69, was found dead in his Canaan Valley, W.Va., log cabin Oct. 24, although he may have died as much as four days earlier. The exact cause was not determined.
A tall, rumpled man, his neckties during his teaching days usually flecked with gravy stains and his suits festooned with cat hair, he affected a gruff exterior. As former History Department chairman Larry Thompson recalled, "Compliments did not fall easily from his lips."
And yet the gruffness was only skin-deep.
"He was so sentimental, we couldn't get him to come to our home on Thanksgiving or Christmas," Thompson recalled. "And when his cats died, he went into deep, deep mourning."
Warken never married -- although he may have come close a couple of times -- but there was no doubt about the love of his life: the Naval Academy.
He loved the old, tradition-laden Yard and loved his students, particularly his debaters, and they reciprocated his affection. They stayed in touch with him over the years through letters and visits, and a number traveled long distances to attend his wake.
Peeler, who has been at the academy for 20 years, recalled his job interview with Warken, who spoke to him about "the gravity of this place" -- how the students they had in their history classes were likely to go on to be in harm's way and how a great many of them would be in positions of influence.
"He had a passion about how history would fit here at the academy for a young officer," Peeler said.
His Sampson Hall office impossibly cluttered with precarious stacks of books and papers, Warken was anything but a detail-oriented administrator, and yet he served as department chairman for four years and created the political foundation for the Faculty Senate. He believed that it was important for teachers, both civilian and military, to have a voice on campus.
Warken was a native of Columbus, Ohio, who received his doctorate from Ohio State University (thus his love for the Buckeyes and legendary football coach Woody Hayes). He came to the Naval Academy to teach political history in 1965 and took over the debate team two years later.
Within a few years, his teams were routinely receiving national ranking and prominence as a member of the highly competitive District 8. He was the academy's debate coach for nearly 30 years and founder and president of the American Debate Association.
"He had a fine and truly analytical mind," Thompson recalled. "He could flow an argument and pick it to pieces."
Peeler recalled: "He dearly loved the process of arranging evidence and marshaling arguments. It was an intellectual delight for him."
He was tough on his disciples, and Peeler said they thrived on the rigor, particularly the debaters.
"Phil didn't tolerate very well the tossed-off, unsubstantiated, not-thought-through assertion," Peeler said. "I think his students really appreciated that."
Warken retired in 1999 and began spending the bulk of his time at the cabin in the hills he had purchased the year before. Even though he was anything but an outdoorsman, he seemed to enjoy his new rustic life.
"He liked the people, liked the area," Thompson said. "His home in West Virginia became his surrogate for the Naval Academy."