YAM Notes: March/April 2021

By Scott G. Sullivan

These notes are being composed in late January, as the pandemic continues to rage across the world with half a million American deaths likely by the time you read these lines; masks and isolation remain the rule. But there is some good news for once, in a way. The vaccine is here; your correspondent has had his first shot, second in ten days’ time. And—Glory, Hallelujah!—we finally have a president who is sane, decent, and believes in democracy.

Class activity has been limited to East Coast and West Coast Zoom sessions, both lively and well attended. The Greenwich group spent most of the time expostulating over the ex-president’s criminal efforts to overturn the elections. In Los Angeles, the big subject was how the country could pay for universal health coverage. The consensus: it won’t be easy.

We have lost four more of our wonderful classmates, which is, of course, four too many. But it is the lowest figure for a two-month period in more than two years.

One non-obituary item: Grant Hellar passes on the news from Ken McAdams that Ken has completed a new book, titled Bon Amour, and is working on another to be titled The Boys. Meantime, his wife, Marian Bingham (known as Bing), continues to show her celebrated paintings—mostly landscapes and horses—all over the world; recent openings were in the US, France, and even Romania. Ken worked for many years as a Pan Am pilot before turning full-time to writing.

Ben Ticknor, a clinical social worker and psychotherapist, died last May 31. After a hitch in the Air Force, he joined our class and majored in psychology; he then earned a master’s degree in social work at Simmons College. For the next 40 years, he worked in mental health institutions in New York, Maine, and Connecticut, moving to Mississippi to get out of the cold. Ben converted to Roman Catholicism in 1987 and practiced his new religion ardently. He was a Knight of Columbus and practiced his psychiatric skills in a specialized Catholic organization.

Peter Theis, a classmate of many talents and author of the weightiest essay in our 50th reunion book, died last June 22 in McHenry, Illinois. The essay was a bleakly pessimistic assessment of America and the world in 2008; it accused our class and generation of having done nothing to improve things. It was a brilliant diatribe; history proved some of the points correct but more wrong. After Yale, Peter earned his MBA at the University of Chicago and a law degree at the Chicago-Kent College of Law; he joined the Illinois bar. Aside from assiduously practicing the law, he worked on voice technology and gained a number of patents in that area. He founded and presided over a firm called Conversational Voice Technologies. He was an avid outdoorsman, preservationist, canoer, skier, and sailor. He sang and played the flute.

Rod Haff (formally Dr. Roderick Canavan Haff), a longtime physician with the Air Force, then a private practitioner in San Antonio, died on October 17, 2020, in his home town. Born in Panama, he was living in Hawaii when he came to Yale. He went from college to Yale Medical School, then straight into the Air Force, where he served in Thailand and the Philippines during the Vietnam War, rising to the rank of colonel. In 1977, he moved to San Antonio and set up a surgical practice, which he continued till 1999. He also served as chief of surgery in the Baptist Hospital System and at Village Oaks Hospital. Rod was a talented and enthusiastic singer, starring in numerous Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

Our class business mogul, Sidney Unobskey, died January 22 in San Francisco, a continent away from his birthplace and beloved principal residence in Calais, Maine. Sidney was a fantastically successful real estate operator and builder, creating shopping malls and multiplex theaters across the country and the world. He was probably the wealthiest of our classmates (if it isn’t Wall Street tycoon Bob Greenhill). In 1989, after the Loma Prieta earthquake, San Francisco mayor Frank Jordan named Sidney president of the city’s planning commission; he spent four happy and successful years rebuilding the city, before returning to Calais. In the late 1960s, he spent two years working with Bobby Kennedy, first on the Bedford-Stuyvesant project, then helping run the senator’s presidential campaign. His third non-business venture, which he described in our 50-year book as his “proudest,” was a totally out-of-character failure. In 1998, he and his wife founded and pledged to finance Unobskey College, designed to educate poor, rural students from the St. Croix River Valley. It operated for ten years, but then was closed; it never attracted enough students to make it worthwhile. In his late years, Unobskey relaxed a bit with his five grandchildren, but continued to execute vast building projects, notably in Melbourne, Australia.

Let’s finish with Sid’s favorite story. Seems that his grandfather was an immigrant to Nova Scotia, an area with very few Jews. When grandpa had papers to sign, he obliged his partners to travel from Boston and New York to his office. In that way, he was sure to get a minyan together.