YAM Notes: May/June 2022

By Scott Sullivan

Kyiv. Mariupol. Mindless slaughter. The actual possibility of nuclear holocaust. We, who lived blessed lives of peace and prosperity, are bowing out in a maelstrom of global pandemic, insane internal politics, random gun violence, and now the threat of the end of the Earth. If there’s a silver lining, it may be the vibrancy of our monthly Zoom calls and the highly intelligent conversations that have come to follow them, serious efforts by so many of us to make sense of the unpredictable and incomprehensible.

And we do have one nice scrap of news. If all goes well—i.e., to smithereens—we can look forward to a delightful mini-reunion in Cleveland from September 29 to October 2. Quarterback and host Pudge Henkel has been working diligently and well to prepare a spectacular program, including visits to the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Cleveland Clinic, a cruise on the Cuyahoga River, a play, lots of fine meals, and accommodations for plain old chatting. Do reserve the time and make your reservations. See you on the banks of Lake Erie!

We have learned of the deaths of six more classmates and that of one of our most remarkable class wives. (All of them are remarkable, of course, for putting up with us.)

Julie Ann Giacobassi, wife of Zach Hall, died February 26 in San Francisco, where she was the principal English horn player in the San Francisco Symphony. A renowned soloist, she is remembered as the orchestra’s “heart and soul” and for her playing costume: a man’s tailcoat and black tie.

Liv (or Livingston) Baker died February 10, 2021, in Morristown, New Jersey. A Harvard-trained lawyer, he taught for 30 years at Seton Hall University Law School. Before that, he worked for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Human Rights Division of the UN, and the Capital University Law School in Ohio. He created an exchange program between Seton Hall and the University of Business and Economics in Beijing; he periodically taught at UBE. He acquired a stone house built in 1780 in Roxbury, New York, and, with his wife, restored it to the point that it was placed on the National Trust list of historic places.

Bill Oates, perhaps our most authentic hippie, died November 22 in Brattleboro, Vermont, where he ran the Good Life, a natural food store, and Common Ground, a restaurant frequented by local counterculturalists. He also founded and ran for 30 years a company advising aspiring innkeepers on how to buy, set up, and run simpatico Vermont hostelries. After Yale and before moving to Vermont, Bill lived briefly in Indonesia and Amsterdam and taught Southeast Asian studies at Yale and Carnegie Mellon University. For 50 years, though, he lived the good life of the Granite State, raising sheep, playing tennis, and running his offbeat businesses.

Stuart Mendenhall Williams, another of our genuine eccentrics, died December 22 in Laredo, Texas. A prizewinning photojournalist, a voracious reader, a writer on hunting and fishing, and a hunter credited with slaughtering literally thousands of wild ducks and geese, Stuart began life conventionally enough with graduate studies at Berkeley and teaching gigs there, then at the American University of Beirut and the University of Maryland branch in Heidelberg. All very nice, but, after five years, he quit to pursue “a more adventurous life.” And did he ever! Traveling the world on his own dime or as a reporter for Field and Stream, he crisscrossed the world seeking copious and exotic prey for his shotgun. Colleagues recall his bagging a hundred ducks before breakfast. As time passed, he did more and more photography, settled down (more or less) in Seattle, and continued his tireless shooting of nature, with camera or firearm.

Philip Barney died December 29 in Los Altos, California, where he practiced law for 60 years. Phil spent two years in the army, mostly at Fort Bragg, where he was in charge of a nuclear-capable missile; “Scary,” he later recalled. Then three years at Stanford Law and a lifelong private practice. He learned to fly in 1970 and visited more than a hundred countries. He built a vacation ramada in Baja, Mexico, which he enjoyed with wife, four kids, and a dog. “On the whole, a fascinating and pleasant life,” he summed up in our 50th reunion class book.

Tom Swing, as he was known at Yale, or Thomas Kaehao Seung, in the preferable transliteration of his Korean name, died February 19 in Seoul. One of the indisputable geniuses of our class, he taught philosophy at the University of Texas for half a century and was regarded as the world’s leading expert on the work of Immanuel Kant. Born in North Korea, he escaped to the South as a child; President Syngman Rhee sponsored his scholarship to Yale, where he did Directed Studies, majored in philosophy, made junior Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated summa cum laude. He also did his doctorate at Yale. And, like classmate Alex Mourelatos, he went to Austin and joined the philosophy department, where he remained till his death. He won every honor available to a philosopher in our day. He authored 12 books (one written as an undergraduate), including three on Kant, volumes on semiotics and structuralism, and studies of Goethe, Nietzsche, and Dante. There is a splendid Wikipedia page on his life and work. Do have a look.

Ernie Scheyhing, a structural engineer who played a key role in developing space launch vehicles for Aerospace Corporation, died March 11 in Palos Verdes, California. Ernie gained his engineering master’s and doctorate at Yale. He joined the Aerospace Corporation in 1966 and remained there till he was 75. He loved nature, travel, and classical music.

Department of Mind-Boggling Coincidences: There were very few foreign-born students in our class, a mere baker’s dozen by my guesstimate, but two of them, from different continents and vastly different cultures, lived out existences of such awesome similarity as to defy every notion of probability. Tom Swing came to New Haven from Seoul on a scholarship promoted by his country’s president; Alex Mourelatos came from Athens on a different but similar scholarship. Both majored in philosophy, both made grades off the charts; both were Phi Beta Kappas; both summa cum laude; both earned doctorates at Yale. Before they were 30, both joined the philosophy department at the University of Texas in Austin. Both wrote definitive textbooks on their favorite old masters, Tom on Kant, Alex on Parmenides. Both won similar prizes. They lived near one another; their offices were a few feet apart. Between them, they put in over a century in the same department of the same school, each enriching it in his own way. So what are the odds that could happen? Only in ’58.