My Real Name is Alvin

October 2, 2018

“Bingo! Bingo! Bingo!”

Mike Fargo lets out a hearty laugh, praising one of his students for correctly utilizing an Atlas index: “Oh! You went to the index! Clever! Good strategy!” I am sitting in on an afternoon block of his Modern World History I class, and memories of my own experience as Mike’s student are flooding back. Mike is clad in his quintessential outfit: a golf shirt, blue jeans, and running shoes. The only accessory he dons is a simple black watch on his left wrist –– I can only imagine the watch-tan he is rocking underneath.

His eyes rapidly dart around the classroom, making sure everyone is ready to move on. When a girl pronounces the capital of Egypt as “Cay-ree-yo,” he looks at her for a minute, then raises an eyebrow, “Cairo?” The girl giggles, realizing her mistake, and the entire class erupts into a collective laugh; not at her, but with her. As I sit and listen, I hear Mike say something to the effect of: “You guys are much smarter than I am!” at least four different times. With his unmatched enthusiasm, teddy-bear sense of humor, and a library of historical knowledge housed within his mind, it is hard to imagine that Mike was ever meant to do anything besides teach.

“My real name is Alvin Watkinson Fargo III.”

Alvin Watkinson is a far cry from the one-syllable Mike that we all know and love.

Reading the confusion on my face, he quickly explains:

“My mother wanted a son named Mike,” he states simply. “My father was fighting in the Pacific in World War II when I was born. I was conceived on a leave in San Francisco, [laughs] and he didn’t see me until I was almost a year old. My mom decided to name me after my father because she wasn’t sure he was gonna get home, you know, and I’m the third. But she always wanted a son named Mike, so she called me Mike. My grandmother was very stuffy and wrote to my father in the Pacific. She told him, ‘Son! Maggie is calling young Alvin, ‘Mike.’ And my father, in one of his greatest moments, said, ‘Mother –– You call Mike whatever Maggie says you should call him.’”

Telling this story seems to bring back fond memories of his father, and Fargo laughs and gazes off for a few seconds.

Photo courtesy of Mike Fargo.
Fargo is the only boy and middle child in his family.

 

Fargo grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey: “We lived in the country –– and I loved that.” Throughout his childhood, Fargo could be found playing ice hockey on frozen ponds, constructing lookout towers, or coaching his younger sister, Janie, who had many surgeries when she was very young and behind her peers in school and on the playground. Despite having a passion for sports from a young age, he often “didn’t have anybody to play catch with.” Fargo had to get creative. He would throw a baseball into the air as far as he could and then would run to try and catch it. He would do the same with a football, the sport he would later go on to play at the prestigious, all-male Yale University.

Upon graduating from Yale, Fargo vacillated with the idea of teaching, but his parents persuaded him to pursue a career that would allow him to better support a family. He decided to study law and attended law school at UC Berkeley. Just a few years later, he was back on the East Coast in a New York courtroom beside the “most famous woman in the world,” Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, serving as an Assistant U.S. Attorney representing  the Secret Service in a case that he would later call his “biggest moment as a lawyer.”

Photo courtesy of Mike Fargo.
Fargo in his college football days.

Just as he would have instructed a history lecture on World War II, Fargo jumps into the story, providing me with ample context: “The Secret Service was protecting her. And there was this photographer –– Ronald Galella –– and he was a paparazzi. And he made it his personal campaign to chase her all over the world.”

Fargo represented the Secret Service. His goal for the lawsuit was to obtain an injunction to keep Galella “a safe distance away from the Kennedy children, their residence and their schools.” There is obvious disdain in Fargo’s voice when he speaks of this obtrusive paparazzo: “He spent his life basically chasing after her. She went to Greece; he followed her to Greece, you know, he followed her to Europe. She’s on a yacht sunbathing and whatnot, and all the sudden he just shows up on a motorboat. It was creepy!”

 

Speaking of Jackie, however, Fargo’s tone shifts dramatically: “[S]he showed a lot of backbone, I thought. She testified for three days! She sat there and testified with great posture, and just nailed him! I thought she was great. Even though the article said it was a ‘Silly Courtroom Drama,’ there was a serious part about it.”

Photo courtesy of Mike Fargo.
A courtroom sketch of Fargo sitting beside Onassis during the trial.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.
Jackie lost her Secret Service protection when she married Onassis, but her children, ages 12 and 10 at the time of the lawsuit, were to remain under Secret Service Protection until the age of 21 under a federal statute.

Ultimately, Fargo prevailed; Galella was required to stay 100 yards away from the children at all times. Though this case was certainly an exciting moment for Fargo, he found much of his later work as a lawyer rather unfulfilling. This sense of emptiness spurred Fargo to ask himself what he truly wanted to do with his life. After all, he had already put all three of his kids through college, and for the first time, starting fresh seemed like a real possibility. Finally, Fargo could pursue the career he knew was his true calling for years: teaching.

“Even though that article said it was a ‘Silly Courtroom Drama,’ there was a serious part about it.”

Fargo accepted a position teaching US History at Saint Mark’s School. In addition to his teaching duties, Fargo put his football background to use coaching the boys’ flag football team. One year, he was approached by a group of girls who asked him if he would be willing to help them start a girl’s league.

“I told them that if 12 or more of them were interested, that I would coach them, and I would help them start a league. And I did. I wrote to a whole bunch of schools, I got 10 involved.”

To the girls, having their own team made all the difference: “Instead of, you know, just going in and occasionally playing with the boys, they were the quarterback, the running back, wide receiver, the defensive end; they were playing sort of the glamour positions, which they would not have been able to do on a boys’ team. And they got really good.”

Photo courtesy of Mike Fargo.
Fargo (center) posing with the Saint Mark’s Girls’ Flag Football Team of 2001-2002. It was an undefeated season!

Fargo energetically tells me about how he gave all the girls code names: “Sierra was San Francisco, Bri was Boston, Cally was California. Well, the girls got so excited about this, you can imagine, they were like, ‘Oh my god! We have code names!’ It was so much fun to see their enthusiasm.”

We have been talking now for over an hour, and Fargo’s smile has been audible across the phone throughout the entire conversation. Sadly, all good things must come to an end. He is meeting his son for dinner, and so with disappointment in his voice, he bids me farewell. As always, the goodbye is filled with just as much energy and joviality as the initial hello.

“Great to talk to you, talk to you another time!”

With Mike, the conversation always continues.

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