Jim Teevan, 1945-2002

Shortly after I returned home from The Greatest Reunion That Ever Was, I got emails on the same day, and on the same subject, from Tom Whalen and Chris Kule. Both enclosed a copy of a charming and funny New York Times story about the wedding of Jaime Teevan (’98) and Alex Hehmeyer (’97).

It was basically a long interview with Alex, describing how they met (she asked for his help on a knotty physics problem), how he fell hopelessly in love the moment he laid eyes on her, and how it took him more than a year and a half to get her to go out with him.

Jaime is the eldest daughter of our classmate, Jim Teevan, who died of stomach cancer last March, just a few months before our reunion (which he was hoping to attend). Jim’s death came as a shock to everyone because he was the last person you’d expect to get sick. A longtime long distance runner, he participated in many, many marathons, usually with his children – Jaime, Conor and Brooks – running by his side. He was training for this year’s S.F. Marathon when he was stricken with his fatal illness.

His wife Connie – who was his college sweetheart, too – found it cruelly ironic, because 12 years ago it was she who was the sick one. She was stricken with breast cancer, and Jim took care of her and the kids while she beat the disease.

“It seems too sad,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I survived, and he didn’t.”

I didn’t know Jim back at Yale, but I got to know him here in San Francisco through the local Yale Club. Heck, the truth is he was the San Francisco Yale Club. For the last 20 years he held a post they created especially for him: Permanent Treasurer. He was the indispensable man; the main reason the club will survive without him is that he took care to put it on a sound footing.

But most San Franciscans knew Jim as the Teevan in the ubiquitous Teevan Painting trucks you used to see all over the city. It was a business he started while he was still in high school, painting houses to earn some extra cash.

He kept painting houses during summer vacations from Yale and turned his avocation into a career after graduation. He became so successful, he eventually left the routine jobs to underlings and concentrated on his true love: restoring historic old Victorian buildings.

He taught himself to be an expert in such arcane specialties as terra cotta and sandstone. People used to come to him looking or help with “mystery leaks.” He was the guy you turned to when nobody else could figure out your problem.

Jim could identify any old building in San Francisco and tell you its history. You could give him any intersection in the city – especially on historic Nob Hill and Russian Hill – and he could tell you what building was on each corner. Among the historic sites he restored: Old St. Mary’s the Haas-Lilienthal House, and the beautiful old Geary Theater. He literally “left the land better than he found it.”

Jim’s death came too late to be included in the class notes before the reunion, so I thought a good way to write about him would be to write about Jaime’s wedding. I had a million questions to ask her, such as: Who escorted her down the aisle?

Since I figured she and Alex were off on their honeymoon, I decided to call her mom, Connie, and ask her for the kids’ email address. I left a message on Connie’s voice mail.

A few hours later, I got a call back. But it wasn’t from Connie. It was from Alex.

“Jaime and I are here in San Francisco,” he said. “You probably haven’t heard, but Connie’s cancer has come back. We decided to put the honeymoon on hold so we can take care of her.”

My heart sank. Those poor kids! To lose their dad and have their mom suffer a life-threatening illness, both within a few months of Jamie’s wedding! It’s too much.

I called Jamie back, and we had a long conversation. “The wedding was beautiful,” she said. “Mom walked me down the aisle, and Dad was everywhere in spirit. There were lots of Yalies in attendance. The Class of ’67 was represented by Jack Kiefer and his wife, Jonathan McCormick, and Tony Knowles and his wife.”

Right now Connie is feeling a little better, so Jaime and Alex are finally taking that delayed honeymoon in Spain – although they stay in constant contact with Conor and Brooks back in San Francisco to monitor Connie’s progress. “We’re planning on spending the entire summer there,” Jaime emailed me, “but we’ll see …”

This fall, Jaime will continue her graduate studies at M.I.T., where she’s getting her doctorate in computer science. Alex will have to commute from New Haven, where he’s getting his M.B.A. Conor graduated from Yale last year. He’s been accepted to Stanford Law School, but as of this writing he isn’t sure whether to start immediately or put it off for a year while he stays home and helps take care of his mom.

Brooks just graduated from Andover, where she showed a real talent for the theater, directing “No Exit,” “The Bald Soprano” and an avant-garde version of “Alice In Wonderland,” as well as playing Beatrice in “Much Ado About Nothing,” Mrs. Overton in “Measure For Measure,” and (in San Francisco) Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” She’ll continue her theater studies this fall at Northwestern’s School of Speech.

All three are young people of considerable poise and decency, a real credit to both Jim and Connie. And Jaime’s new husband, Alex, is a real mensch. “I had been into dating rock stars,” Jaime told the New York Times, “but I found that Alex is solid as a rock.”

I asked Jaime if she had anything to say to her father’s classmates, and this is her message to us: “It was inspiring to see how much my parents loved one another when Dad was sick. I hope Alex and I can follow their example, and develop such a strong, loving relationship.

“Also, I found it comforting to know that Dad really had no regrets. He told me at one point that it was OK if he were to die. He wanted nothing more than to go on living, and grow old with Mom and watch us kids continue to grow up, but that he had no regrets, that he had lived life fully.

“And it’s true. Despite all of the bad that’s come our family’s way lately, I just know we couldn’t be luckier than to have each other, or do any better with what we’ve been given.”

If you’re looking for an epitaph for Jim, I can think of two. The first is the message on the tombstone of Sir Christopher Wren in the cathedral he built, St. Paul’s: “If you seek his monument, look around you.” Jaime, Conor and Brooks must get that feeling every time they walk down the street in San Francisco.

The second is the reply of Cornelia, the daughter of the great Roman general Scipio Africanus, to a rich matron who was showing off her jewelry and haughtily asking, “What jewels do you have?” Cornelia summoned her two children, Tiberius and Gaius, who were playing in the garden. Putting her arms around them, she replied, “”These are my jewels!”

P.S. Since Alex is in the Class of ’97, he and Jaime will be in New Haven in 2007 for his 10th reunion at the same time we’re there for our 40th. And they’ve promised to stop by our reunion and say hi.

– Martin M. Snapp, Jr.