While a student at the College, President-elect Philip Hanlon '77 wrote to a princess of Monaco to request her company at the Winter Carnival ball. The princess's social secretary mailed Hanlon a rejection letter, which said that the princess did not date people who were not friends with her parents.
In response, Hanlon wrote, "My parents don't know the princess, but I'm willing to take the chance," according to Alpha Delta fraternity alumni advisor John Engelman '68.
These efforts were part of the "Ding Letter Contest," a Winter Carnival tradition where men wrote to women to ask them to be their dates. The most creative rejection letters were published in The Dartmouth.
Long before earning a PhD in mathematics or serving as the Provost of the University of Michigan, Hanlon 'was a Dartmouth student known for his sharp and offbeat sense of humor.
He balanced his academic interests with his social and fraternity life, former AD fraternity member Ted Lapres '77 said. Hanlon was a member of AD.
"He was very well-rounded in my opinion," Lapres said. "He was a very serious student but he also knew how to enjoy himself. He would attend religious services at the Aquinas house and persuaded a lot of us to go along with him, and he was a great beer pong player."
Within the house, Hanlon was known for his wry sense of humor, Engelman said. He wrote "hilarious" recaps of fraternity hijinks and posted them on the house bulletin board, Lapres said.
On one occasion, in preparation for AD's spring golf tournament, Hanlon extended a personal invitation to golf player Arnold Palmer over the phone, according to George Bullerjahn '77, one of Hanlon's fraternity brothers and close friends.
After looking up Palmer's number in the phone book, he called and spoke to Palmer's wife, asking that she relay the message to him. While Palmer did not attend, he replied with a letter of apology and gave a donation check for the event,
Hanlon's sense of humor manifested itself in the everyday happenings in the fraternity house. He would often dress up in a "Mexican outfit," such as a serape, Bullerjahn said.
When asked if he could recall other exploits, Bullerjahn declined to elaborate.
"Well, there are some stories I shouldn't tell," he said.
Along with his jokes and pranks, Hanlon was one of the most respected members of the fraternity, Engelman said.
"He was the kind of person whose opinion people sought out," Engelman said.
He earned the respect of his peers with constant modesty and humility, according to Lapres.
"He was very intelligent but he never let it show too much," Lapres said. "He's just one of the most down- to-earth people you'd ever meet."
Math professor Bob Norman, Hanlon's senior thesis advisor, said that the was among the best he had overseen. Hanlon was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.
"I had no idea he was a Phi Beta Kappa math major," Bullerjahn said. "He shows up at graduation and he's got a Phi Beta Kappa key and I'm like, What the heck? Seriously?'"
Hanlon was humble in spite of his creativity and intelligence, Steve Thompson '78 said in an email. In his "Issues in Religion and Science" class with religion professor Fred Berthold Jr., Hanlon included mathematical proofs in a paper structured around books by famous religious thinkers, according to Thompson.
"My jaw dropped," Thompson said. "At that moment, I realized that Phil was not only an exceptional out of the box thinker, but also, judging from Dr. Berthold's respectful tone addressing Phil, a brilliant young man."