Billie Boatwright: Percy Knauth, 1914-1995

This eulogy was delivered at Calvary Church, Stonington, CT, on 29 April 1995.

My first memory of Percy Knauth is seeing him, ramrod straight, going down Water Street and coming back up Main, on his motorcycle with its little black sidecar. He appeared rather sedate but somehow quite dashing.

Percy moved to this country as a boy when his father came over to manage a branch of a German bank. He spent growing up time in Flushing as well as in Germany. Later he attended Bowdoin College for just two years, leaving academics to become a newspaper reporter.

One of Percy's great gifts was the ability to take on a subject, no matter how abstruse, and turn it into a simple understandable paragraph. He was a fine journalist and an accomplished craftsman.

In 1937 he was foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune in the Berlin office, freelanced in Paris and then was correspondent for the New York Times back in Berlin until 1941. These were perilous times. Percy and his first wife, Gisele, had four sons, Peter, Philip, Alan and Stephen.

During the war he spent time in Switzerland working for the Times, returning to Germany for them in 1945. He later served as Bureau Chief of the Paris office of Time. He wrote and broadcast throughout from the cosmopolitan capitals of Europe.

Interesting then to read this excerpt from his book, The North Woods:

Every man, when he surveys the places he has been in his life and reflects on the experiences he has had there, will choose one place above all others where he likes to be. Such a place, for me, is the North Woods. This vast and marvelous land of forest, lake and stream has no precise boundaries, nor does it need any; it exists as much in men's minds as it does on the North American continent.

Behri has said how much Percy loved to fly. It was one of the great joys of his life. Upon landing he would always say, "Safe once more," perhaps with a note of astonishment? a note of regret? In 1954 he and Max Conrad crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a small two prop plane.

Behri and Percy were married in December, 1953. When they and their children, Timothy and Lissie, moved to Stonington in July, 1970, right off the QE2, Percy had decided to leave Time-Life to freelance. So the family was making a big move, geographically as well as professionally.

At the age of 58, Percy suffered a near-fatal bout with depression for more than a year. His book A Season in Hell has been a great source of comfort and knowledge to millions who have undergone this debilitating illness which is not always correctly diagnosed.

As a result of the success of this book, he lectured throughout America, appeared on numerous radio and television programs and wrote articles for mental health publications.

In the early 1980s his health began to fail, and his wife, nurse and helpmate, Behri, almost destroyed her own health by the long years of her assiduous attention and care for Percy.

Percy Knauth expressed his farewell to illness on this high note:

No, I am not a stranger in my own house, and I know where I belong. With that knowledge my last fears have vanished, and I have come to my last words about my season in Hell. Downstairs I hear my wife calling, and a child's shout in answer. A fresh wind is blowing from the sea, and the sun lies warm on the water. It has been a long journey, but it is over now.
[Percy and Behri Knauth adopted gsk into their family in 1973.]