Fourteen strong-looking men in their 20s, 30s and 40s made a conspicuous group Thursday among more than 300 friends and students who gathered in Duke Chapel to celebrate the life of Reynolds Price, who died in January after teaching and writing at Duke for more than 50 years.

They were some of the 30 young men who had signed on for one-year stints as personal assistants to Price after his treatment for spinal cancer in the 1980s robbed him of the use of his legs.

"He called it the Reynolds Price Finishing School for Husbands," said Los Angeles writer Daniel Voll, the founding member of that fraternity. "They heroically lifted, carried, cared for and cajoled Reynolds through a quarter century of teaching and writing."

Price lived with chronic pain for 26 years and died after a heart attack at age 77. He didn't want a funeral or a memorial service, and his ashes were scattered on a hill behind his rural Durham County home.

His older brother, Bill, of Raleigh found sealed instructions, written in 1991, in which Price had anticipated that some sort of commemoration might be planned at Duke after his death. He asked for a Handel prelude and a Bach postlude, and they were on the program Thursday along with Voll and two other former students Price had specified as speakers.

But university officials paid less attention to one of Price's directives: "In my lifelong dread of boring the world, I want nothing that lasts longer than 45 minutes."

A full hour was given over to Price's memory, delivered partly in his friends' and students' words and partly in his own.

Actress Annabeth Gish, a 1993 graduate who took Price's John Milton class, performed a six-minute scene from Price's play, "August Snow," with actress Utrophia Robinson.

"I'm honored to have been a part of this to praise the man who inspired me - he literally taught me what 'inspire' means: to give breath to," Gish said later. "I think, as an artist and as a woman, he taught me so much with his passion and his faith."
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