YAM Notes: January/February 2021

By Scott Sullivan, Corresponding Secretary
2000 Palmer Avenue, New Orleans LA, 70118

It has been a perfectly horrible two months, for our Class and for the world.

We have lost Poke Travers, Whiffenpoof and Class Reunion honcho  hors pair.  We have lost Marv Zonis, a world-renowned political scientist and a marvelous human being.  We have lost Brian McMahon.  And Fred Oser. And Buck Rogers.  And Dick Carlson. And Don Cutler. Seven of our best and brightest.

As a backdrop to the Grim Reaper’s tireless scything, we have the odious pandemic that just goes on and on, increasing in fearsomeness and intensity almost everywhere.  A quarter of a million American deaths as I write.  And prospects are for no normalcy in our predictable lifetimes.  In my neck of the woods, we’ve had three ruinous hurricanes in a month.  Half of California lies devastated and smoldering.  In Washington, the sociopathic buffoon who infests the White House refuses to accept the will of the people, criminally defying democracy and our tried and true electoral system.

Amidst this unremitting gloom, two brave glimmers of relief: the  monthly ZOOM sessions, one out of Greenwich, ably moderated by Bob Morgan, and the Los Angeles version run by Gordon Gerson.  These ninety-minute sessions started strong and have improved with each passing month,  So enthralling are the relaxed conversations that every month participants write enraptured encomia on them.  If you haven’t tuned in yet, you oughtta.

One other positive development in these grim days is the refurbishment of the Class of ’58 website.  Handsomer and more user-friendly, the site will carry full-length obits of our departed (much better than the handful of lines I am allotted by YAM).  You’ll be hearing more about the site from Secretary Tim Hogen and Webmaster Bob Morgan.

Now for the drumroll and taps.

Brian McMahon died August 8 in Guilford CT.  Brian went straight from college to Yale Law School, then to Detroit, where he served with distinction for eleven years in the district attorney’s office.  In 1973 he became director of Michigan’s Criminal Tenure Commission, a demanding and occasionally dangerous post.  Then he practiced family law for almost two decades at Cox, Hodgman and Giarmaco  in Flint MI.  In 1993 he moved from Grosse Poine home to Connecticut (he was from Danbury) and built a house called Barley Hill.  He was a fisherman and sailor, an avid reader with a formidable memory, a classical music fan, a news junkie, a shameless punster and an ardent Yalie.

Don Cutler, who supplied us all with warm, fuzzy sweaters in freshman year, died October 1 in Napa CA.  Dan came from Portland ME, where his uncle ran a sweater factory.  The minute he hit the Old Campus, he began selling his uncle’s product — in a sensational way.  He amassed a sales force of over 200 in every big college in America, hired an office and watched the profits roll in: over $25,000 a year, a veritable king’s ransom in those days.  With all that entrepreneurship behind him, he skipped business school and went right to work for Phillips-Van-Huysen (now PVH), America’s largest clothing manufacturer; he worked there his whole career, finishing as president of Somerset Knitting Mills in Philadelphia, then a top PVH property.

Fred Oser died October 5 in New Yok City.  He lived an intense but quiet life as a librarian and amateur violinist.  Born in Harrisburg PA to working class parents, he was immensely proud of entering Yale and he gloried in the education he received.  An omnivorous consumer of Shakespeare and all the classics,, he took an MA in English at Columbia and a library science degree at NYU.  He worked for the New York Public Library, then for 28 years a reference librarian in Monmouth County NJ.  After a heart attack in 2001, he enjoyed two decades of music, time with family and lively discussion with his partner, Janice Wasserman.

Buck Rogers (officially Joseph P. Jr.) died October 23 in Middlebury VT. Buck took a law degree at Fordham, then, after a hitch in the navy and another as a CPA, he joined the New York  firm of Hawkins Delafield & Wood in 1977 and remained there till retirement in 2018. He earned an international reputation as an expert of federal income taxation.  He co-authored a celebrated book called “The ABCs of Housing Bonds.”  In midlife, he moved to a part-time residence in Middlebury, where he was active in church and school work.

Dick Carlson died November 12 in Middletown CT.  He was the founder and owner of Rockwell  Communications in East Hartford CT for 40 years.  In an entertaining essay for our Fiftieth Reunion, he recalled that he had studied little at Yale, settled for a “Gentleman’s C” and then suffered “20 years of business mediocrity.”  He righted his ship when he founded Rockwell in his forties and lived comfortably.  He was an avid golfer, serving as president of the Connecticut seniors golf association.  He also cross-country skied and bicycled through Burgundy.

Linus Travers — universally known as Poke — left us November 8 at his home in Milton MA.  In him we lost an irreplaceable pillar of the Class, the architect of our wonderful Reunions.  He served on the boards of the Whiffenpoofs (of course), the Duke’s Man, (now Dox of Yale) the Glee Club and the Alumni Chorus.  He was a trustee of Deerfield, a member of the Yale Board of Governors and president of the Yale Club of Boston.  He ran an annual choral weekend for the Alumni chorus.  He won the Yale Medal, the university’s highest honor.  Linus spent his whole life teaching.  He took a Master of Arts in Teaching at Yale, then spent a long hitch in the Navy, doing some teaching on the side at Old Dominion University in Norfolk.  Then on to Harvard to study for a PhD.  He taught at Boston University, Pine Manor and Boston State College before moving for good to UMass Dartmouth, where, as well as teaching, he served as publications coordinator and president of the university’s foundation.  Never an academic superstar, Poke was the respected and beloved teacher of literal thoudands of students.  And he was a wit.  When I knew him in the Pundits, he was an endless source of sardonic one-liners and he practiced that skill all his wonderful life.

Marvin Zonis died the same day in Chicago of a swift, unexpected illness.  Marv was one of the most prestigious academics in the country and a regular analyst on CBS.  He joined the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1966 and remained there for 54 years, most of that time as professor of political science at the Booth School of Business.  He was widely regarded as America’s top authority on Iran and a leading expert on the Middle East in general.  After Yale, he attended Harvard Business School, took hia PhD in political science at MIT and studied psychoanalysis at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis.  He wrote three books including “”Majestic Failure: the Fall of the Shah,” and hundreds of peer-reviewed articles.  Along with political science, he taught courses on globalization, digital technologies, emerging markets, the oil industry, Russia and “leadership.”  He founded and conducted a lucrative consulting firm that served companies across the world.  For me, it was a treat to meet him each year at the glitzy World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  He was a media star and a fine human being.