YAM Notes: May/June 2018

By Martin M. Snapp, Jr.

The last time I saw Barry Vasios was at our 50th reunion last June, when he stood up at the Kingman Brewster retrospective panel and stoutly defended Brewster’s reputation against criticism of his leadership of the isolationist America First movement before World War II. Seven months later, on February 1 of this year, he died of a brain tumor.

“Barry used to tutor Brewster’s son, Riley,” says Bill Popik. “That meant occasional dinners at the president’s house. One such evening, Barry told Brewster that what the country needed was an ombudsman program for citizens who believed that someone in the government should go to bat for them. Brewster loved the idea, telling Barry that he wanted to call the White House and propose it to Lyndon Johnson, adding, ‘The thing is, Lyndon won’t buy into it unless he’s made to think that he thought of it himself. So we’ll call Joe Califano and see how we can work that.’ Barry was the best kind of friend, someone that I carried through life with me—a source of inspiration, wisdom, and, always, a chuckle. He may have left the world, but he hasn’t left me. And he won’t.”

Greg Jorjorian remembers, “Barry, Tim Weigel, Hugh Vine, Gene Siskel, Adrian Misarti (and many other future Piersonites), and I first occupied the 312 Wright Hall stairway on the Old Campus. We all formed friendships that lasted through life. From the first, I recognized Barry as a gifted, intense, and focused person. But he always had time for a good laugh and had that infectious grin and twinkle. I was fortunate enough to meet up with Barry at the 50th. I think we both knew it was really hello-goodbye. His priorities remained true to the end. And he still had the same twinkle and infectious grin. What a wonderful person! I will miss him as I miss Tim, Gene, Rick Hayden, Biff McKellip, and others.”

Peter Lee adds, “Meeting Barry during our freshman year was a revelation. Here was a tough talking guy from Hackensack, New Jersey, accent and all. For someone from Hawaii, this was straight out of a gangster movie. I think he was proud of his Hackensack and Greek roots, and all of that gruff talk was quickly dispelled when you realized what a warm human being Barry was. I believe he was much loved by all of his friends during our time in Pierson. Over the years we had more than a passing acquaintance, even though he lived 5,000 miles from me. I occasionally spoke to him by phone and I used to look forward to seeing him at reunions, and I managed to visit him and his lovely wife Cheryl and their two daughters a couple of times in New York. He loved life. He loved his family. He loved Yale. I am still in shock and saddened by his passing, and I and his many friends will sorely miss him.”

But the last word goes to Barry’s daughter Carrie ’07: “Our father was born on May 1, 1945, in Hackensack, New Jersey. As a young man, he was passionate and driven in everything that he did, whether it was excelling on the sports field as a three-sport athlete or becoming the first person in his family to go to college. Last year, he wrote an essay for the ’67 reunion class book that started with these words: ‘Since graduating Yale, the two leading factors in my life have been, unsurprisingly, my family and my legal career.’ ‘Unsurprising’ is the right word, because he was both a leading commercial litigator and an amazing father.

“Our father’s long and impressive legal career started when he enrolled at Yale Law School. However, he wasn’t studying long before the Vietnam War intervened, and he volunteered for AmeriCorps VISTA, taking an assignment at the Cleveland Legal Aid Society. Our father’s time in VISTA deeply influenced him, and the work that he did there was a concentrated example of his greatest lesson to his family and friends: Help people. Most of all, help people who don’t have the resources to help themselves. As someone who almost didn’t get to Yale because of the financial cost (as he told a friend after receiving his admittance letter but insufficient aid: ‘Boola Boola but no moolah’), our father worked to remedy this inequality his whole life. He was always trying to assist others through pro bono work, making connections, or volunteering, which he did often through his firm, Holland and Knight. Teaching constitutional law to students from a local Brooklyn public high school was one of his real joys.

“Over the years, our father worked as a commercial litigator, representing clients [that ranged] from the Spanish government to the Rothschild wine family to Walt Disney. Colleagues affectionately called him ‘The Professor’ because he was always eager to help other lawyers solve a problem, and they claim there was no legal question that they put to him that he couldn’t answer. In short, our dad was hardwired to help people, and the greatest beneficiary was certainly his family. He always supported us and encouraged us to achieve our goals, whether that meant driving my sister Alison to so many Yale women’s basketball games that they were essentially honorary members of the teams from 1987 to 1996, or listening to hours of French news programs with me (though he didn’t speak French) before sending me to study in Paris.

“Our dad was deeply interested in the world around him. He was always talking about the book he was reading or a trip he’d just taken with our mother, where they’d inevitably have seen every historical landmark on the map. He also had an infectious love of Cape Cod, sweaters, poetry, and his dog Benny. Those who knew him weren’t surprised that he only retired in December of this year; for him, the joy was in the work, the joy was in the world, in discovering it and making it a better place. We will miss him dearly.”