YAM Notes: January/February 2024

From the Yale Daily News, February 23, 2014: “THIS DAY IN YALE HISTORY: In 1967 Joseph P. McDermott ’67 successfully trades places with his twin Edward, who attends Harvard. The swap was merely for fun, and lasted for a week. The two hitch-hiked to each other’s campuses, and took each other’s classes.”

“I had gotten to know both of them, and I caught on to the switch right away when I first encountered Ed as Joe at Yale,” says Tom Whalen. “Joe was one of the most unique and memorable people I met at Yale. I would never have imagined then he would become such a distinguished scholar of Chinese history at Cambridge. Good show, Joe.”

Yes, Joe did become a distinguished scholar; but he was more than that. When he died from a brain tumor last year on October 30, he was one of the most beloved Fellows in the history of St. John’s College at Cambridge University.

“Joe was a lovely man,” said Professor David McMullen, Emeritus Professor of Chinese and Fellow of St John’s, who knew him for more than 50 years. “He had a wonderful sense of humor and a wonderful laugh. He deeply loved St. John’s. Of all the places he lived in the US, Japan, Hong Kong and the UK, St. John’s was where he found peace of mind and felt so at home. He loved talking to the Fellows, the students and the staff, and they loved him, too.”

He met his future wife, Hiroko Takahashi, an art historian who shared his love of Japanese culture, while teaching at the International Christian University in Tokyo. They married in 1978 and moved to Cambridge in 1990 after Joe was elected a Fellow of St. John’s, where he was Director of Oriental Studies for many years. His special interest was in the history of the family and traditional rural lives of people in China, as well as the social history of the Chinese book, calligraphy and painting, and state ritual.

“He had an intellectual energy with an endearing sense of mischief in conversation that drew people to him,” says Professor McMullen. “He and Hiroko were known for their generous hospitality and kindness.”

Tom Troeger, who led a profoundly satisfying life serving others, died on April 3, 2022 after two-year battle with cancer. As a widely recognized hymn writer, preacher, homiletics professor, theologian, poet, musician, columnist and author, he kept a lively connection between the life of the imagination and the life of faith.

As a boy, he was both a strong student and an active churchgoer who wondered if he could be both a curious intellectual and a devout Christian. Then a new minister, Richard Weld, arrived at his Presbyterian church, bringing a remarkable combination of wit, erudition and dynamism as a preacher. “He showed me I could be both,” said Tom.

After graduating from Yale and Colgate Rochester Divinity School, he served the Presbyterian Church in New Hartford, N.Y., earning a reputation as an engaging preacher and writer. Colgate Rochester offered him a teaching position that he held for 14 years before moving to Iliff School of Theology in Denver for another 14, where he also served as Dean. He concluded his teaching career at Yale Divinity School/Institute of Sacred Music for ten years.

An imaginative preacher as well as an accomplished flutist, Tom was a major bridge builder between the worlds of preaching and church music. He was regarded as one of the world’s most prolific hymn writers, producing more than 400 hymn texts and poems, many of which are now in the current hymnals of most denominations. He was a pioneer in stretching traditional hymn themes to include environmental issues, genetics and the big bang theory. “I’m not a scientist, but I love science,” said Tom, who was the son of an inventor father and a poetry-loving mother.

He published 24 books, including four books of poetry, and many have been translated into Japanese, Korean, Spanish and German. Initially ordained in the Presbyterian Church, he was also ordained in the Episcopal Church, making him one of the first in the country to be dually aligned with both traditions.

“Tom was one of our very best,” says Mike Orlansky. “He and I sat together in the flute section of the Yale Concert Band and had some engaging talks while traveling to and from concerts. He was well-read and knowledgeable about many subjects, including music, literature, films, history, the media and baseball (not surprisingly, as he hailed from Cooperstown, NY) and had a serious and contemplative side, punctuated with lighter and whimsical touches. He was a careful listener, a perceptive observer, and a kind and gracious person who treated everyone with respect. It was a pleasure to be his friend and bandmate.”

Harold Hastings passed away in Boston on May 2, 2022, after a three-year fight with cancer. After Yale, he got a doctorate in mathematics from Princeton. He had a long and productive professional career, making contributions to diverse areas including topology, neural networks, and fractal geometry. He spent the first part of his career at Hofstra, where he chaired both the math and physics departments, then moved to Bard College at Simon’s Rock, where he continued to teach and spend time with students until his last week of life. He passed his love of science on to his children, both of whom also earned doctorates.

“Harold was a very sweet man and a superb mathematician,” says Joe Cohen, and Barry Bardo concurs, adding, “I sat next to Harold in Sophomore year, when we received the results of our first hour test in Chem 12. I’d had the subject in high school and did well, but Chem 12 was a really tough one for me. Harold sat calmly as the graduate student section man returned the test and said to Harold, ‘Mr. Hastings, the only reason you got a 99 was because I don’t give 100’s. Brilliant job!’ I noticed that Harold had written his test with a fountain pen. Unlike my much-erased blue book, his was not only perfect, it was very neatly written. And Joe’s right: He was a very sweet man.”