Category Archives: Albert Camus

Just Walk Beside Me and Be My Friend

Albert Camus? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

albert07Dear Quote Investigator: The French writer and philosopher Albert Camus was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1957. His influential works have been called absurdist and existentialist although he personally rejected the label existentialist. The following lines have been widely attributed to him:

Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead.
Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.

I have tried unsuccessfully to find a citation. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: Researchers have been unable to locate this quotation in the writings of Albert Camus who died in 1960. Currently, the ascription to Camus has no substantive support.

The earliest strong match found by QI appeared in the “Quincy Sun” newspaper of Quincy, Massachusetts in December 1971. A columnist named Dr. William F. Knox who was identified as a “Personal Counselor” wrote about being a good father to a child in grade school. Knox learned about the saying from a fellow counselor, and no attribution was specified. Ellipses were present in the original text. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

Another counselor handed me recently a great little thought…

“Don’t walk in front of me…I may not follow.
Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead.
Walk beside me…just be my friend.”

Maybe that’s what “being a father” is all about…just being a friend.

Less than a week later “The Evening Times” of Trenton, New Jersey published an article about a residential drug treatment facility. The saying was printed on a sign, and the words were attributed to Albert Camus: 2

There are many signs throughout the center. One from Camus reads: “Don’t walk in front of me — I may not follow; don’t walk behind — I may not lead; walk beside me and just be my friend.”

During the ensuing decades the phrasing has varied, and sometimes the first two clauses have been re-ordered. By the 1990s a French version of the passage was circulating, but QI conjectures that the text was derived from the English version and not vice versa.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1971 December 2, Quincy Sun, Living Today by Dr. William F Knox (Personal Counselor), Quote Page 11, Column 1, Quincy, Massachusetts. (Internet Archive and Old Fulton)
  2. 1971 December 8, Trenton Evening Times, TODAY Is For Dropping Back In: A Resident Center For Addicts by James Labig, Subsection: The Discipline, Quote Page 49, Column 2, Trenton, New Jersey. (GenealogyBank)