YAM Notes: January/February 2020

By Marty Snapp

Lanny Goldman, who taught philosophy at Miami for 25 years and at William and Mary for another 13, has just published his ninth book, Life’s Values, in which he seeks to explain what is of ultimate value in our individual lives. “Not that too many people will read it, but that’s the way of life with philosophy books,” he says. More fool them, because Lanny is an original thinker with some perceptive things to say.

He says this book is going to be his last, but he’ll never stop reading, teaching, and thinking about philosophy. “Philosophical issues don’t have quick answers, so I’m still at it. You get to deal with some of the deepest and most interesting questions. Teaching has also been rewarding because I’ve had some of the best students, some of which have gone on to become philosophers themselves.”

But they – and he – never call themselves philosophers. “When people ask you what you do, you don’t say ‘philosopher,’ you say, ‘I teach philosophy.’ In academic circles, yes, but not around normal people. ‘Philosopher’ sounds too highbrow.”

Hmmm. Sounds like the closet we’re all in when people ask us where we went to college. “Me too,” he says, “but not to the same extent. I wear Yale tennis shirts when I play tennis.”

After he graduated from Yale (aka the college that dare not speak its name) he got a job at Columbia, where the first class he taught included a 16-year-old boy named Yo-Yo Ma. “I was also one of his academic advisors, and he came to me halfway through the semester and said he had an opportunity to take over Jacqueline du Pre’s world tour because she had gotten sick. I said, “It’s a no-brainer. Of course you should do that!’ So he left after the semester and never came back. He finished up later at Harvard.”

His favorite philosopher? David Hume. And his least favorite? “Wittgenstein is really overrated.”

Last October Karl Marlantes‘ travels took him to the Wisconsin Book Festival in Madison, where he read from his new novel Deep River. As president of one of the festival’s partner associations, John Dillon introduced Karl and, on a day with spectacularly good weather, provided a walking tour of the city – this was Karl’s first visit – and a sample of its vibrant nightlife. “It was a great time to catch up and share experiences,” says John… Jim Freeland says, “Nineteen years ago I left law practice in Florida and moved with my wife Deborah to a small town in Iowa to expand and manage our farming business and live a more balanced life. We have added deer hunting, and I was a private farmland broker for 15 years. We now divide our time between New Smyrna Beach, Fl and a farm outside Corning, Iowa. Despite tariffs, low commodity prices and climate change, farming goes on in a seasonal, analog sort of way; but my focus is now mainly on conservation, gardening and orchards. I expect to hunt ducks in North Dakota in October for the 27th year. I stay in touch with Tom, Judson, Jed Devine and Bob Lehrer.”

Geoff Neigher reports, “Karen and I just got back from this year’s 1967 Whiffenpoofs mini-reunion. Almost twenty of us, including spouses, spent a wonderful week singing, schmoozing, eating and sightseeing in Yosemite and Tahoe. We’re trying our best not to pass and be forgotten, and these gatherings do a lot to aid the effort.” Meanwhile, Geoff has found another medium for his artistic talents: video games! He, his two brothers, and their sons have developed a game called LetterLoose that can be played online with either your computer or tablet, and a cell phone app is in the works. It can be found at letterloose.com or at LetterLoose on Facebook. “My 102-year old mother plays it and has a ball,” says Geoff.…In other Whiffenpoof news, last December California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered new DNA tests that could clear a condemned man in a grisly, 35-year-old quadruple murder case if they show the evidence against him was faked. The convict’s attorney, who worked pro bono, putting in more than 5,000 hours over the last 15 years, was our own Norm Hile. Last year, Norm was awarded the Sacramento Bar Association’s Pro Bono Award. He has worked on a myriad of pro bono projects over the years, particularly those serving military veterans and ex-convicts, and has mentored many younger attorneys along the way.

More legal news: Remember the Alger Hiss/Whitaker Chambers espionage case that made a young member of the House of Representatives named Richard Nixon a star? In the liberal Democratic family I grew up in, everyone assumed Hiss was framed. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, declassified information revealed he really was a spy after all. Now Steve Witty has written a screenplay about the case titled “Whittaker, Alger and Dick.” “The whole business of never exactly knowing the absolute historical truth – and why some people will never acknowledge the truth – intrigued me,” he says, “and it seemed like it could be the basis for a novel. As I started to write the novel, I decided to first write a kind of study for it in screenplay form to get down the bones of the plot and characters. And then the screenplay developed a life of its own. I think it’s eminently producible and relevant in these times. Is there anybody out there who might be able to refer me to an agent who could possibly place it? My email is skwitty@att.net.”

Steve closed his private practice in Jungian analysis and neuropsychology in Colorado Springs at about the time of our last reunion, and he and Cheryl are now living full time in rural Colorado and continuing with a very few patients by phone and Skype. “Recently our daughter gave birth to Benjamin Witty Coleman, so getting to know our new grandson is now a big part of our life. We also recently bought a place in Puerta Vallarta and plan to spend most of winters there. My continuing passions are horses, writing, painting, photography – and for me (finally!) giving much value to the relationships in my life.”

Alas, we have lost three more much-loved classmates since the last issue: Steve Dungan, Ray Viets and John Gram. Steve, one of the nicest guys you’ll ever want to meet, died on October 22 from complications of Alzheimer’s.

“Steve, Charlie Corcoran, Tom Morrison and I were ‘bunkies,’ as Steve called us, for four years,” says David Spiegel. “Steve was a tall, handsome lad with a ready, deep laugh and strong opinions. He was an unapologetic biochemist among three humanities majors, and he easily stood his ground. With that major he built the basis of his life’s work in pharma. In retirement he became active in local Democratic Party politics. It makes me sad to think of him gone.”

“I lived with Steve for four years and ate a thousand meals with him,” adds Charlie. “We were brothers. Very dissimilar, it’s true – he was a science guy, and I hardly passed Science I – but with a deep well of affection. I remember his laugh, his smile, his love for rock and roll music, his collection of 45 RPM records, his amusement at the foibles of others, including mine. He has left this world too soon.”

John Gram passed away August 25 from autoimmune encephalitis as a result of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. A celebration of his life and the life he shared with Merridy, his soulmate, was held on September 6, their 50th wedding anniversary.

John was well traveled during college and the years immediately following, including stops in Pella, Iowa, where he met Merridy, and Izmir, Turkey, where he served in the Army during the Vietnam War and where the two would marry.

They returned to the states, and John studied law at that other bulldog school, Georgia, and planted roots in Gainsville, Georgia. That’s where where he hit full stride, with his uncanny ability to find the perfect balance between family, community, and work. He was a partner with Whelchel, Dunlap, Jarrard & Walker since 1974, and his community involvement included Georgia Mountain Food Bank, Boys & Girls Club of Lanier, Good News Clinics, North Georgia Community Foundation, the Salvation Army, and the Elachee Nature Science Center.

“Johnny No Bowls” could often be found eating a bowl-free lunch at 2 Dog Café during the week and enjoying a post-run brunch at Avocado’s on Saturdays. His Sundays were spent with family on walks with the dogs. He was a dedicated father who faithfully roamed the sidelines and filled the stands for all his children’s sporting events, and a mentor and leader in the community. He brought his smile, laughter and positive energy everywhere he went, and that will never be forgotten.

Ray Viets had a serious stroke on May 18th and after ten weeks of valiant struggle passed away on July 31. His wife Vicky, who calls him “a very special man who has left a big hole in my heart,” was at his bedside when he died.

Ray loved history, especially military history. He also loved to travel and had an incredible memory. He used to say that his mind was missing the delete button. An outgoing guy with a friendly personality, loved to meet new people and talk.

After graduating from Yale he spent much of his life working for the government in Washington DC, both in the military and in the civil service. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of military history and details. His military duties included Logistics, Military Police, and training. He particularly enjoyed conducting the training and was famous for his entertaining classes.

Ray loved dogs, and dogs loved him. He and Vicky adopted many rescued German Shepherds over the years.

“I first met Ray in Freshman year, in the Football Band,” says Mike Orlansky. “He was a fine Glockenspiel player, a sharp marcher, an open, friendly guy. A few of us had no prior experience in marching and playing an instrument at the same time, and Ray was helpful and patient despite our occasional stumbles. He also offered some good tips about places to go in New Haven (Ray lived on Yale Avenue, just a few blocks from the Bowl). Around 25 years later, it was a pleasant surprise to meet up again with Ray, in Washington, DC while we both were doing international work. He was instantly recognizable, with the same buoyant personality, inquisitive mind and keen sense of humor. Ray identified strongly with Yale and with the Class of 1967. Although Ray took time off from Yale for Army service and graduated a few years later, he always felt a close tie to our Class and to Timothy Dwight College. I know Ray will be greatly missed and well remembered by many.”

And from Tom Devine: “I’m extremely sorry to hear of Ray’s passing. I remember Ray for his marvelously deep voice – he would have made a great broadcaster – and his consistently sunny disposition. I’m sad to know that I won’t see him at our next reunion.”