YAM Notes: September/October 2021

By Scott Sullivan

Your class council has been busily representing you in Yale’s administrative politics. On May 25, the university’s governing corporation announced it was ending the time-honored practice that allowed alumni to petition to run for membership. Yalies around the world reacted with shock and outrage to this ham-handed and condescending bit of autocracy. And 1958 was no exception. The subject was raised at our June Zoom meeting. Class secretary Tim Hogen polled the council, which voted 21–1 to lodge a protest and yours truly was assigned to write a text. Our vigorous objection was dispatched to the Corporation, to President Peter Salovey, and to various newspapers. To no avail, of course. Senior trustee Catharine Bond Hill ’85PhD sent us a prompt and polite but totally dismissive reply—what the British would call “an I’m-all-right-Jack-eff-you” missive. The Corporation won’t even pretend to reconsider.

The cause is probably hopeless, but we and thousands of others will fight on. Casey Bensinger in Chicago has been especially active in contacting other classes and urging them to add their voices to ours.

Apart from the petition brouhaha, our Zoom talks continue producing lively chit-chat. The Greenwich-based session held a fascinating debate on American infrastructure and the possibility (or not) that China is outdoing us dramatically in this area. It all started with Alan Davidson’s jeremiad on Amtrak: all the trains are slow and it takes longer to ride from Grand Central to New Haven today than it did in 1958.

Out on the West Coast, the hot topic was an article published by Peter Taft in American Greatness, which attacks what he calls 50 years of dysfunction by Democrats seeking to better the lot of the inner-city poor and proposes to Republicans an alternative approach of improving schools, family structure, and health over many decades. Some classmates found the article “right on”; others, led by Larry Bensky, excoriated it as “elitist racist nonsense.” We do have our points of view.

Two brief items before we get to our current obits.

Bob Cutler writes that his wife Maria died May 30 after a 12-year bout with cancer; when she was diagnosed, he retired to spend full time with her. George Farr lost his wife Judith on June 27; she was an internationally renowned teacher and expert on the poet Emily Dickinson.

Department of Amplification. Our tribute to Sidney Unobskey in the last issue gave a full account of his amazing business career but it skated lightly over the equally important subject of his philanthropy. Herewith what we neglected. Sidney was an enormously generous contributor to dozens of causes. Perhaps chief among them was Yale, to which he donated millions, notably endowing an American history professorship in honor of his father, Arthur. He supported the arts and he lavished care, affection, and money on his hometown, Calais, Maine, radically improving the camping and hiking facilities on Campobello Island and even founding a college (unfortunately short-lived) for local students.

Six more of our beloved classmates have gone to meet their maker.

Dr. Edward Coates died April 5 at his home in Hannacroix, New York, near Albany. He put in a long, productive life practicing widely different forms of medicine. After Columbia Medical School and a stint in the Army, he became medical director of a huge health center in Rockland County, New York, then rose in the state’s Department of Health to the rank of first deputy commissioner. He then moved to IBM where he served in a variety of capacities for a dozen years, before going on to Los Angeles and private practice. He and wife Priscilla retired to Hannacroix, where he drove his tractor and became a news junkie.

Bill Hand, a banker, died April 15 in Bronxville, New York. He worked first at Chemical Bank, then at A. G. Becker, and since 1977 at Smith Barney, where he honchoed competitive bidding on municipal bonds. He was known as a “perfect gentleman” by his intimates. He volunteered copiously in Bronxville, where he was president of the Field Club and a member of the Adult School board. He loved his summer home in Southwest Harbor Maine, where he whiled away the days with his lobster pots.

Rex Aubrey, an Australian swimming champion who entered Yale with the Class of 1957 but graduated with us, died April 20 in West Bloomfield, Michigan. He was one of the great stars of the unbeatable Bob Kiphuth swim team, winning Olympic medals and NCAA championships and setting British Empire records. He spent his entire working career as athletic director of the Detroit Athletic Club. He was an extraordinarily handsome and raffish character who turned down offers to act in Hollywood.

Spike Bragg (officially William John), one of our authentic class characters who claimed to be “the happiest person I know,” died April 25 in Long Beach, California. After graduating from Yale as a Phi Beta Kappa, Spike took an MBA at Harvard and went merrily into business. His thing was marketing, and his creation was Fighting Chance, a home-based firm that gave advice to new-car shoppers—hundreds of thousands of them. For fun, he played baseball—not softball, perish the thought!—with men 40 years his junior; he rooted for the Angels and played his two guitars. He was also the life of every party, a practical joker, and self-mocking bombast. “I am,” he wrote, “humbled by my good fortune in more ways than I can count.”

Ted Reese, distinguished teacher and wrestling coach, died June 11 in Topsham, Maine. Ted wrestled at Yale, winning four New England Freestyle championships and the Gleason Trophy, and the sport became his life. He did a stint in the Marines; earned an MA in education from Harvard and a PhD in English from Brandeis; he taught and coached at Massachusetts private schools for about a decade, then moved to Maine, where he taught and coached at public schools, winning 42 state championships. He finished up as wrestling coach at the University of Southern Maine. He was beloved by students and athletes alike, whose growth and development he stressed above their academic or wrestling prowess.

Michael Davis died July 8 in Stonington, Connecticut. A banker, he worked for Irving Trust Company International; he was general manager of the company’s London branch from 1970 to 1977, then returned to New York in charge of the Western Europe region. In the late 1980s, he worked for the New York office of a Syrian bank, then moved to the New York real estate subsidiary of Security Pacific Bank. He retired in the late 1990s. A former colleague recalls him as “the perfect American banker to run a London branch.”