Joe de Raismes

Joe de RaismesNot many people can say they left the world a better place than they found it, but Joe de Raismes could have if he wanted to, which, with his typical modesty, he didn’t. Joe, who died on July 9 at his home in Boulder, Colorado, was a fighter for justice and a champion of the underdog on issues ranging from mental health to environmental protection to equal rights for all citizens. And on a personal level, he was a human being par excellence.

“I first met Joe in September, 1963,” says Rick Moody. “I was walking down the Hall of ‘Dirty Durfee,’ planning to visit my high school classmate, Mike Kail, when I heard the music of Bach from one of the rooms. I went in and introduced myself and, 57 years later, Joe had become my oldest, and my closest friend. Joe was a big part of Yale for me: We sang together in the Yale Russian Chorus; and, over lunch at Trumbull College, he taught me French. I would always, jokingly, call him ‘the Count,’ in recognition of his aristocratic heritage.

“Joe was a prominent figure in the world of law and public policy. Every morning I wake up and look out my window at the Rocky Mountains on the famous Open Space that surrounds the city of Boulder. Every morning I am looking out at Joe’s legacy, since he literally wrote the book on this – that is, the City Charter – preserving land forever wild surrounding the City where he and I have lived, in my case, migrating in retirement from New York. How many of us can say, not that we created something, but that we have opened a window onto the Creation that inspires us all?

“Joe struggled with many illnesses and disabilities since graduation from Yale, and he bore these burdens without complaint. In the past year and a half I drove him to dialysis. He told me he dreaded it; still, he said, it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him. What a paradox – but our burdens can sometimes be a window onto reality. He did contract COVID, but he had hardly any symptoms. He died of multi-system failure, and, while I sat with him during those last days, his beloved wife, Jaird, handed me Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, which has the lines: ‘God give to each our own death, the dying that proceeds from each of our lives. The way we loved, the meanings we made, our need.’

“The very first encounter Joe and I had was through Bach. While we sat together in those last days, we watched and listened to a performance of the B Minor Mass, one of the last things Bach ever wrote.  At the end, while the credits rolled by on the screen, the phone rang and Joe received a phone call of spiritual reassurance and recognition of the legacy he had given to us all.

“The other ‘R’ I would add is from the poet Joe loved most: Jalal ad-din Rumi: ‘Inside the Great Mystery that is, we don’t really own anything. What is this competition we feel then, before we go, one at a time, through the same gate?’ When the credits roll by at the end of our lives, may we all remember the good we have done for those who come after us.  This is how we will remember Joe.”

Jerry de Jaager adds, “Joe would sometimes call me to get together when he was coming to Chicago. I felt that his desire to spend time with me was an honor that I didn’t really deserve, because he was more interesting, smarter, nicer, cleverer, wiser, and more accomplished than I was. That he once referred to me as a ‘mensch’ was a compliment I never forgot, considering the source. He was sometimes here in relationship to his work with the organization Mental Health America, for which, among many other things, he created a long and masterful examination of the efficacy of many supplements reputed to help with mental health issues.

“One time, we met in Hyde Park for dinner and then commenced a lengthy de Raismesian exploration of the neighborhood’s landmarks. As we reconnoitered, I mentioned to him that because I hadn’t been at Yale as freshman, I never learned to sing Bright College Years. I think that came up in relationship to a disquisition by Joe regarding Tom Wolfe’s oeuvre, but whatever the source, it became an occasion for him to treat anyone within earshot to his exuberant vocal stylings. He then insisted that I join him in the singing, and since I am tin-eared, many repetitions were required to get it closer to right. People stopped and stared (it didn’t bother him). They came out of their dwellings, some smiling and some dour. I was chagrined and wanting to give up the enterprise, but Joe was having none of it. So we segued into that ‘tables down at Mory’s’ one, which I also had never learned, and the fight song, with which I was passingly familiar.

“Do I have to mention that Joe was fully sober throughout these events? (Which is not to say that he didn’t richly enjoy a glass of wine from time to time.) That was just Joe. From browsing the environs to the joyful and boisterous songfulness, that was Joe for you: joie de vivre personified. During that evening, he also gave me the wisest advice anyone, including therapists, had ever given me regarding a vexing family issue. That was also Joe for you. If there have been a thousand points of light in my life, it’s because Joe was 756 of them. That he is gone is nearly incomprehensible, but he will never, ever, be forgotten.”

Bob Schuster says, “What truly sad news. He was a close friend – a brilliant, inspiring man whose presence in my life provided instruction for the expanse of human potential.  His being illuminated the edges of our penumbra, turning what was shadow or obscurity into possibility. All that knowledge and quickness and humor and intellect and courage so remarkably wrapped into one single person. Incredibly, profoundly gifted.

“He had Covid, and was hospitalized. He called me to tell me, fearing he was going to die and, I was among others he was calling in the event he did not survive. He said he loved me. I told him I loved him. As we both knew.

“He recovered but he lost a kidney in the process. He had very serious arthritis that crippled him for decades. He had diabetes and other health problems. Tremendous courage, but it was too much. During all of this, his mother, with whom he was very close, died.

“I can remember in college he would load a piece of paper in the typewriter (manual, of course) and simply type out his paper. First draft. Over and done with – and perfect. He was an actual and bona fide French Count.

“There are people in our class who taught me about potential. I could have felt diminished by the brilliance, but that was not what happened. I was instead stunned, inspired, and grateful. Joe was one of them. Randy Alfred, Mike Mattil, Boris Baczynskyj and John Hartley are others.”

Bob Lehrer says, “The last time I talked with Joe at any length was at the 50th reunion, at an extended lunch with him and Rick Moody. He did not look well. But he acted  characteristically and distinctively well – a smile, often merging into laughter about some happy memory, like Joe’s of his excursions with the Russian chorus or of some aspect of his laudable tenure as City Attorney of Boulder, or knowing and wise about a particularly absurd aspect of the political or social landscape.

“In some quarters Joe was referred to as ‘The Count,’ a title that was accompanied by the story that he was of French royal blood, and was 17th in line as the pretender to the French throne. OK, 17th in line, so he was not likely to ascend to the throne. Still, a great story, which I questioned him about. No truth whatsoever to the story, he said: No royal blood, and he was not anywhere in the French royal line. (How really could it be otherwise, being born and raised in Jersey?). And a story that he had never written or encouraged – but also a story that, he acknowledged, that he had never gone out of his way to counter or discourage. Joe loved the absurdity; that was obvious.”

Bill Mace writes, “Every loss is a loss, but this one hits me. I knew Joe from Freshman year in Durfee Hall onward these many years. Joe’s outward formality was a shock to my midwestern public high school sensibility. He wore 3-piece suits, spoke French, and had impeccable manners. As I recall, Joe had a disaster with his senior thesis, losing a briefcase holding the only copy of the final draft. But life went on, and Joe became a fixture in Boulder, of all places. I went to see Joe perform with the Russian Chorus once in Minneapolis and at least twice in New Haven. I once had a student who described traveling to Boulder and getting a job as a babysitter for Joe’s family. In recent years, my main conversations with Joe were about his work in mental health – a very far cry from anything I could have imagined Freshman year. Joe’s life was permeated with a very deep humanity that many of you know well. Each community he devoted himself to will feel his loss deeply, but then smile when remembering his indomitable good spirit and all that he contributed.”

“Bill hits it just right,” says Charlie Carter. “I first encountered Joe remotely via my friendship with Mark Princi. I didn’t actually meet him until two years ago when I was in Boulder for a scientific workshop, and we met for a drink. From that hour-long conversation I took the very qualities that Bill stated. We are all impoverished by his loss. He was a person who, when God created him, he poured an unusual amount of goodness and wisdom that Joe managed to infect others with, over even a brief encounter. I’ve lost track of his full name, but Mark was fond of quoting it, and I think that Joe himself was proud to bear it. So I hope it is preserved in the Class notes.”

It will be, thanks to Randy Alfred: “I didn’t know Joe at Yale. I didn’t even know how he pronounced his surname (it’s de-REMS, by the way). While chatting with him at our 45th reunion, I learned that as city attorney for Boulder, Colorado, Joe wrote a key argument in Romer v. Evans. That 1996 Supreme Court case overturned Colorado’s Amendment 2, which prohibited municipalities such as Boulder from banning antigay discrimination. It marked a big victory for LGBTQ rights and served as steppingstone to the 2013 Windsor and 2015 Obergefell cases that confirmed the constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry.

“You’re a hero, Joe,” I said, and convinced him to let me introduce him at the LGBTQ reception the next day. The crowd gave him hearty applause.

“When Joe was in S.F. for a convention a few years later, we enjoyed drinks at the classic Pied Piper Room of the Palace Hotel, and he explained his work as general counsel for Mental Health America. Joe’s inclusive humanitarianism was evident again. His aristocratic name – Joseph Napoléon de Raismes III – said noblesse, but Joe was all oblige.