YAM Notes: January/February 2023

By Marty Snapp

Before we get to the more recent passings, let’s talk about two guys whose deaths unfortunately were allowed to fall between the cracks, for which I sincerely apologize: Rob Buford, who died on February 19, 2021, after suffering from Parkinson’s Disease for many years, and Gordon Henry, who died on November 17, 2021.

“Rob was loved by pretty much all who knew him,” says Harry Hull. “He was keenly appreciative of his Yale education and was generously supportive to the University, both as a donor and in other ways. He was especially proud of his last major project for Robert A.M. Stern & Associates, where he was managing partner, negotiating the contract between the firm and our alma mater for the design of the two newest residential colleges. During our 50th Class Reunion in 2015, Rob was a key part of the activities introducing the new colleges to alumni/ae.

“He was one of the few roommates/classmates that I managed to keep in touch with after graduation, along with Coles Phinizy, and both were wonderful men and friends. In the course of our life-long association – albeit with infrequent face-to-face get-togethers, alas, given how far we lived from each other – I also became friends with their spouses. Rob’s second wife, Barbara Iason, the sister of our classmate, Larry Iason, was as devoted to Rob – and vice versa – as any mate can be.

“Both Rob and Coles were true gentlemen in the best sense of the word and were kind, engaged in life, devoted parents and loved good fellowship and banter over a good meal. Rob had a quiet passion about German art and introduced us to the Neue Gallerie (Museum) in New York City, and that he and Barbara did a lot of international travel, especially after his retirement. (Barbara is a consummate travel planner and delighted in arranging all the details, even booking restaurants well in advance of visits to exotic places.)”

Barbara adds, “Rob cherished his time at Yale. I heard about his courses with Harold Bloom and Vincent Scully, his love of the library, and his friendships. He did what he could to give back, as he felt such gratitude for his time there. His last project, the negotiations for the two new colleges at Yale, was a highlight of his career.”

“And it shows,” says Harry. “He was like a proud papa at the birth of his babies! Rob was the sort of guy, even in our shortest, gladdest years of life, who embodied a quiet integrity, intelligence and humor, and as a member of the southern contingent (he, Ken Guerry, and Bucky Vaughan all came from Richmond, VA, I think), embodied to me the essence of a Southern gentleman in the best, non-racist way possible: considerate, charming and unpretentious. I remember that he clearly loved – and defended! – his roots in Richmond but, as time would tell, ended up living most if not all of his adult life in the Northeast.

“As is common, I think, after graduation and the distractions of the Vietnam War (both Rob and I did stints in the military after graduation), we didn’t really reconnect until quite a few years later when I found myself visiting NYC from time to time to attend trade shows for my wee business. I began to look up Rob as well as Coles with each visit to NYC and found, happily, that our friendships ‘formed at Yale’ were alive and well. Our routine was to gather for a meal or two at some great but relatively undiscovered neighborhood restaurant and catch up on our lives.

“The only ’67 reunions I’ve attended were the 25th and 50th, and Rob (and Coles) were also there. In fact, for our 50th, Gail and I stayed with Rob and Barbara in their NYC apartment before coming up to New Haven by train. That reunion was, alas, the last time I saw Rob; and though he was beginning to decline from Parkinson’s, he was a stalwart trooper, as always, and our Punt Club comrades all enjoyed some great meals together during that wonderful long weekend.”

Gordon died on November 17, 2021. In his youth, he was very active at First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth Texas, where his civil rights concerns were first nurtured.

“Following Yale, Gordon spent several years in divinity schools; but ultimately the denominations seemed confining,” says John Kane. “Thus, from the early 1970s, he devoted his life to the dignity and honor of work: first, blue collar, sorting parcels for an early-stage UPS, next white collar, teaching in a multiracial high school, then manual as a landscaper/gardener for a Woman-owned nationally respected small manufacturing firm, and finally as an artist, affectionately documenting through photography his lifelong home of Fort Worth. Honest labor, honestly and thoroughly performed, seemed to him the foundation of a fair and just society.  He lived that principle until his untimely passing in November 2021.”

“Gordon, Louis Wiley, and I met in the same entryway as freshmen in Wright Hall,” says Jeff Orleans. “Louis and Gordon then were part of a 7-man suite as sophomores, and the three of us shared a triple as juniors – a haven of friendship, calmness, and laughter in what was a tumultuous year for each of us.

“Gordon was strong, principled, funny, steadfastly honest, devoted to his family, and a wonderful friend (as well as a very talented, totally self-taught, photographic artist in his later years). Over almost six decades we knew and cared about each other’s parents and grandparents, wives and children and grandchildren: five generations of intermingled families.  My wife Tracy and I owe him a special debt: we met each other because I visited Gordon and his family in Fort Worth over Christmas 1966, met a friend of his who (totally unbeknownst to me!) was at that very moment Tracy’s freshman college roommate, and almost four years later met that friend again during law school – this time, together with Tracy!

“Though I learned from Gordon in many ways during all our years of friendship, this one instance always has stood out.  Gordon occasionally smoked a pipe, and at some point in spring of junior year remarked that he would stop doing so over the summer – not that he would stop smoking altogether, but that he wouldn’t use the pipe while home from school. I asked why he would go to the trouble of quitting and then start again in the fall, and his answer has stayed with me always: ‘To remind myself that I CAN quit, when I want to.’ The challenge of that brief conversation has been a lifelong gift.”

“I roomed with Gordon freshman year in Wright Hall,” says Louis. “He was a passenger on my first serious road trip – a drive from New Haven to Texas to meet his family and see Fort Worth. Jeff Orleans rode shotgun as far as Maryland, and an upperclassman was also on board to D.C. On the Connecticut Turnpike we were cruising along with me at the helm when suddenly there was a loud ‘Bang!’ – and my green monster 1960 Ford station wagon (first car, no power anything) began to drift off course…towards an embankment! I maneuvered to the breakdown lane. Completely flat tire. Had no AAA back then, but I had a spare. Neither Jeff nor I had a clue about changing a tire. Gordon took it all in stride, and we were soon on our way. Gordon’s family gave me a Texas size warm welcome upon arrival, not ever to be forgotten.”

“In the early 1980s I hosted Yale Professor Kai Erickson at a Boston Yale Club dinner,” John adds. “His topic: where have all the ’60s revolutionaries gone?  His conclusion: to corporate law firms, international corporations, and lucrative medical practices. Gordon Henry brought ’60s values, rooted in faith and family, to our Yale class, and deepened them during our four years together.

“In the summer of 1966 he and David Hilfiker did social justice work in Birmingham, Alabama near the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church where on September 15, 1963, literally on the eve of our beginning Yale, four innocent Black girls died in a bombing.  In March of 1967, he and I hitchhiked to and from his Fort Worth, Texas home. Gordon set out a list of unlikely rides, including a rich man, single woman, and Black man.  All three boxes were checked. Two Southern Baptists fed and housed us along the way. For Gordon, it was a human experience, not just transportation.

“At Yale many of us talked the talk, straying as we aged from the pathways where we found the walk demanding. Gordon never strayed.  He walked the walk until the last. His life and values continue in his wife Susan (herself an artist), son Adam, daughter-in-law Ashley, and granddaughter Lorelei.”

Louis adds, “One of the saddest things about his death is that a year or so ago he became a grandfather for the first time, and he was clearly enjoying that role and was going to be a good one for little Lorelei Henry. From now on she will only be able to learn about him second-hand. But one aspect of Gordon’s life will serve her well. Gordon had become a terrific nature photographer over the years. If you visit his website, https://www.gordonchenry.com/, you can see for yourself. And for Lorelei, there are countless beautiful photographs of family occasions.”