YAM Notes: May/June 2021

By Scott Sullivan

Our class’s celebrated mass murderer is back in the news. Brad Bishop was an unremarkable member of 1958, a Deke with ambitions to become a doctor. In fact, he joined the CIA, where he was an apparently successful agent; he married his childhood sweetheart, fathered three sons, and lived with them, as well as his mother, in an attractive home in Bethesda, Maryland. A large, prosperous, and happy family, the American dream. Then, on March 1, 1976, he murdered his mother, wife, and three children, drove them to a remote wooded area in North Carolina, burned and abandoned the corpses, and disappeared without a trace. Totally vanished. For 45 years, he has evaded capture or discovery; there have been multiple “sightings” of Bishop, all false leads. Meantime, a girl named Kathy Gillcrist was growing up in Charlotte, North Carolina. She knew she had been adopted as an infant, but she was deeply attached to her adoptive parents and lived a normal, happy life in Charlotte; so, for many years, she made no effort to find her biological parents.. Two years ago, however, she began exploring her genealogy and finally discovered that her father was — Wow! — our own William Bradford Bishop. Her reaction: “I just laughed. We have a great sense of humor in my family!”

That amazing story popped up as life gradually improved for the rest of us. Most of the class has been vaccinated. We have a president, at last, who is certifiably sane. Spring has sprung and my azaleas are sumptuous.

Our COVID-generated Zoom sessions continue to be a great success and may well continue beyond the pandemic. Thirty-six of us attended the East Coast version in March. The Los Angeles sessions have generated fascinating discussions that often continue beyond the appointed hour. One such was an exchange between Peter Taft and Larry Bensky, both of whom are struggling with serious medical issues; the subject was pain and suffering—what Larry described as the “medicalization of life.” Moving and insightful thoughts, reminiscent of the late, great novels of Philip Roth.

My dear friend David Greenway (pen name H. D. S. Greenway) has published a brilliant short book called Loaded with Dynamite. The explosive is Woodrow Wilson’s proposal for the self-determination of nations. Greenway sketches Wilson and narrates the Paris Peace Conference of 1920; then he describes three anti-colonial rebellions inspired by Wilson’s principle—in Croatia, Morocco, and China. Each is a great read, the most remarkable being an account of Gabriele d’Annunzio’s briefly successful attempt to seize the Italian-populated port of Fiume in the newborn Yugoslavia. A must read.

As usual, most of the news is funerary. Seven classmates gone the way of all flesh, including one about whom we know virtually nothing.

We know that William G. Caldwell II died July 16 of last year in Jupiter, Florida, but diligent research by Bob Morgan and myself has failed to turn up any details. If you have anything on him, please let us know.

Charles Godchaux McCarthy, scion of an immensely wealthy cotton trading family, died in Houston on October 7 last year. Charles suffered from alcoholism, which he conquered; he was member of AA for 53 years and spent much of his professional life running Vocational Guidance Services, an agency that rehabilitates drunks, drug users, and others in difficulty. Later he worked as a substitute teacher in Houston public schools. A jaunty character with moustache and goatee, “Mr. Mac” was a New Orleans–style chef, worldwide traveler, and ardent opera buff.

Bob Covington, a lifelong professor at Vanderbilt Law School, died last November 29 at home in Nashville. Bob went straight to Vanderbilt after Yale and remained there till he died. He was an expert on labor law, a subject on which he wrote books, as well as works on evidence, insurance law, legal method, and legal education. He held visiting professorships at the University of California–Davis, and at Michigan and Texas. At Vanderbilt he chaired the faculty senate, University Club, and lifelong learning center. As a young man he led a Dixieland band and an a cappella choir at the school.

Peter Gerschefski, a music teacher and music school administrator, died last December 22 in Chattanooga. Pete earned a master’s degree in music at Southern California and a PhD at Florida State. He taught, like his father before him, at Converse College, then at Florida State and North Carolina Wesleyan College. In 1971 he became head of the music department at the University of Tennessee. The same year, he took over the Cadek Conservatory in Chattanooga. He retired in 2002.

Peter Wight, a Baltimore investment banker, died January 30 at Tall Oaks, his showplace home in Cockeysville, Maryland. After a four-year hitch in the Air Force, he joined Alex Brown & Son, the phenomenally successful Baltimore investment house; in the 1990s, he moved to Brown Advisory, an offshoot of his old firm and now an independent entity. He retired in 2010. Pete was an avid sailor on the Chesapeake Bay and off his summer home in Nantucket. He drove top-down convertibles year-round.

Jeffrey Sammons, professor of German at Yale and a leading expert on the poet Heinrich Heine, died February 15 in New Haven. Sammons took his master’s and doctorate at Yale and worked there all his life. He authored 16 books and countless articles. He served as head of his department from 1966 to 1971 and again from 1988 to 1991. He won a Guggenheim fellowship in 1972 and served as visiting professor at Oberlin and Rutgers. Upon his death, dozens of German scholars around the world described him as their mentor and inspiration.

Lawyer and prolific author Bob Bromley died in Stamford, Connecticut, on March 3. After Yale Law School, he joined the Stamford law firm Durey and Pierson. Later, he formed his own firm, Mead Bromley & Bishop, where he practiced till retirement. He dabbled in local politics, as a member of the local Board of Representatives and Urban Renewal Commission, and then as the city’s corporation counsel. He had vast intellectual interests, writing five books on subjects as diverse as his own family, the Armenian mystic George Gurdjieff, and an English-language primer. He never married but adopted three Algerian sons, who have given him grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was the oldest living member of the North Stamford Congregational Church, belonged to three other Protestant churches, and practiced Zen Buddhism. In later years, he lived alternate six months in Stamford and Key West, Florida.