Graham Chainey lists many of the famous Oxford Dons of his time (Letters, Oxford Today, Trinity 2013). I came up in 1973 and owe my Oxford education, and most memorable experiences, to one individual on his list: Sir Isaiah Berlin.

When my American academic advisor asked with whom I most wanted to study, I replied that I had not really found any theorist that I really wanted to study with, for a variety of reasons. He then prodded me to think harder and I said “Isaiah Berlin”.

He asked where he was based. I responded, “I think Oxford.” He suggested I applied. My response was: “How do I do that?” My advisor suggested I wrote to Berlin, then President of Wolfson College, so I did.

He replied to my letter and told me how to apply. Berlin also advised me that, because of his duties, he could only supervise graduate students. We exchanged letters and I answered his query regarding why I wanted to study with him.

When I got the application materials, Instead of applying for the Dphil – being unsure if I would be accepted – I decided to apply to read PPE as a second degree instead. After reviewing the materials, I really wanted to experience the tutorial-based Oxford education. It was a difficult choice because this meant I wouldn’t have a chance to work with Berlin.

So, imagine my surprise when Berlin reached out after I arrived and invited this young American to meet with him. I was invited to tea and conversation with him in his office; he invited me to meet him in his home in Headington, and then to walk with him, through the University Parks. On the journey he of course spoke in his inimitable way: producing a fast-paced torrent of words and thoughts, sentences as long as paragraphs, packed with observations, analysis, history, paradoxes, and questions – questions surprisingly directed at me! – all of which rolled out in such brilliant fashion that I was spellbound and fascinated each step of the way.

I felt guilty, however, in taking up Berlin’s time and offering him so little in return for what I was receiving. Regrettably, I did not make the most of this opportunity by seeking regular meetings. I was indeed privileged, however, to have this uniquely Oxford experience because of the graciousness of Berlin, who took the initiative and time to tutor this young American. I still read his essays and continue to admire his thought.