John Rothchild


John Rothchild died December 27, 2019 from Alzheimer’s. Among other things, he was an accomplished writer, banker and, in recent years, mountain climber who specialized in scaling peaks 14,000 feet or higher, which he called “bagging a 14er.”

“John and I were roommates all three years at Saybrook,” says Rich Eittreim. “I thought he would become a fiction writer. But he became what I never would have expected – a non-fiction writer, primarily on financial topics, and a physical fitness maven. At Yale he showed no interest in economics or money and even less in physical fitness. But he became great at both.”

One day the phone rang, and who should it be but Kingman Brewster? ” I handed the phone to John, who said something like, ‘I suppose you’re going to tell me that you’re letting women into Yale.’ Sure enough, that was it.

“We both loved jazz, though his additional interest in Dylan distressed my purist jazz sensibilities. He sometimes sailed with me, and I have a clear recollection of his falling off the boat into the frigid waters while racing at the University of Rhode Island. But the best memories are a generalized recollection of great conversations on every subject imaginable.

“After Yale, John spent two years in Ecuador with the Peace Corps, and wrote for The New York Times, working with James Reston, and also the Washington Monthly, Time and Fortune, among others. (He may not have endeared himself to Yale when he wrote a column for Fortune urging readers to contribute to worthwhile charities instead of their already-wealthy alma maters). Hard driving and laid back simultaneously, he saw humor in everything and seemed to have contrarian perspectives on most things. Of his many books my favorites were The Bear Book (about bear markets) and Up For Grabs, the story of the real Florida – warts and all. His physical fitness fanaticism took several forms: He owned a health club in Miami Beach for a while, climbed 63 of the world’s tallest peaks. and was a champion bicycle racer as a senior.

“At John’s 70th birthday party in New York his writer friends Taylor Branch and Danny Okrent reminisced with terrific tributes – talking about John gave them great material to work with. My contribution was playing the piano for the cocktail hour. While Alzheimer’s took hold of John several years ago, he packed a lot of adventure and living into his life. The old smart, clever John has been missed for a while already by his wife Susan, children Sascha (herself a successful writer and producer), Berns, Chauncey, his grandchild Smith, and his sister Melanie. Yale has lost another true original.”

“John was my dear friend, a great writer and journalist,” says Lanny Davis. “I will never forget my gratitude when he befriended my mom and dad at a small contract bridge club in Miami Beach in the 1980s.  We visited together in Miami and even played bridge at that club together. I am so, so sad that so many years passed when we lost touch with each other.  At our age, now, this happens too much – for me, great regret at not reconnecting with friends after too many years and then realizing it is too late.

“The first story John and I collaborated on during our sophomore year on the Yale Daily News was a profile of President Kingman Brewster Jr, written after a long lunch upstairs at Mory’s. I wrote a plain and uninspiring lede. He read it and in ten seconds pecked at the old typewriters we used way, way back then. And, of course, he quickly wrote a brilliant and witty lede that I feared might irritate President Brewster. He didn’t think so. And he was right.

“But no matter. It was brilliant. And it was John. Never met a better writer since. May his soul Rest in Peace and his wife and children and grandchild keep his memory alive in their hearts.”

“John had the eternal gift that his initial response to challenging situations was often to find the humor in them,” adds Charlie Carter. “He did this without any downside undercurrent often found in more cynical folk, and that made his enthusiasm highly infectious. The two photographs in the Miami Herald obit both suggest to me that these qualities lasted a lifetime. The contrast, complicity, empathy, and contradictions of sharing a dozen hours a week with both John and Lanny in Spade and Grave was an extraordinary experience.”

John holding Denali, a wolf belonging to his guide, atop Little Bear in Colorado.


John Rothchild, Miami Beach financial writer and mountain climber, dies at 74

Sascha Rothchild is asked the same thing about once a month. The question has nothing to do with her book, her television series or anything else she’s done. It’s always about her dad.

“’We’re trying to contact your father and we can’t find him,’” Sascha recalled, impersonating the messenger. “That always made me happy the past couple years, that his work has lived on.”

While some would classify Sascha’s experience as a byproduct of being the daughter of a writer, it’s not that simple. Not many can claim to have a mastery of as many subjects as John Rothchild once had.

An authority on subjects as varied as Florida, finance and 14ers — the mountains 14,000 feet or higher that he would climb later in life — Rothchild died Thursday. He was 74 and a longtime resident of Miami Beach.

Born May 13, 1945, in Norfolk, Virginia, but raised in St. Petersburg, Rothchild attended Yale, where he earned a reputation for being an independent thinker.

“He never saw the need to go down the same path that many of his classmates went down,” said Beth Dunlop, a Miami writer and architecture critic, who met Rothchild when she was a freshman at Vassar in 1966.

Rothchild’s writing career began to flourish in college, and he eventually worked his way up to being managing editor of the Yale Daily News. He later broke barriers when he hired Dunlop to write a story for him, making her one of the first women to be published in the storied paper.

The year after he graduated in 1967, Rothchild again displayed his penchant for taking a different path: He enrolled in the Peace Corps. He would spend two years in Ecuador before returning to the states in 1970 to begin his career in journalism.

Rothchild’s first job stateside was at the Washington Monthly, a politics magazine that focused on bureaucracy. There, he met longtime friend Taylor Branch.

“I was the straight man and John was the humorist,” Branch recalled. “He had a gift for whimsy. He was very funny.”

Rothchild left the publication in 1972. He moved to Everglades City before settling in Miami Beach in 1980.

His friendship with Branch spawned all sorts of adventures. Several people referred to Rothchild as daring but no story illustrated that quality more than getting captured with Branch in Venezuela while the two pursued a story on a Washington bomber.

“He brought out the best in me to want to write about at the end because once we survived, it was liberating to write how foolish we had been,” Branch said. “In a way, it was terrifying but it was also hilarious and John helped me see that.”

But Rothchild’s life wasn’t all international prisons and humor. After spending time as a columnist for Time and Fortune, Rothchild eventually moved to investment writing, authoring several books including “A Fool and His Money” and “One Up on Wall Street: How to Use What You Already Know to Make Money in the Market” with Peter Lynch.

“He communicated to people what they really needed to know about how to deal with money,” Dunlop said. “He was able to take complicated concepts and express them in a way that those who didn’t know the field of money or investing could truly understand.”

He’d also go on to help Marjory Stoneman Douglas craft her autobiography “Voice of the River.” He wrote what some consider his best work: “Up for Grabs: A Trip Through Time and Space in the Sunshine State,” which Rothchild’s friend Cathy Leff called “a masterpiece.”

“If you really want to try to understand [Florida], where it came from, its DNA — that would be a very pivotal book to read,” Leff said.

Rothchild would surprise everyone when he took up mountain climbing and cycling later in life. He sarcastically boasted of his ability to scale a 14,000-foot peak or, as he put it, “bagging a 14er” in a special to the Herald, claiming that his years of inactivity were actually his own form of training.

“In six countries, I’ve stood atop 63 peaks at 14,000 feet and beyond, including Argentina’s Aconcagua, highest in the world outside the Himalayas,” Rothchild wrote.

Rothchild’s survivors include his wife, Susan, his sister, Melanie, his children, Chauncey, Berns and Sascha, and his grandchild Smith. A memorial service will be held in New York City sometime this summer.

Miami Herald