YAM Notes: May/June 2024

By Marty Snapp

Unhappily, we have lost three more irreplaceable classmates: Mike Rhodes, Martin Purvis and Jeff Bader.

Mike, whose 30-year career as a film director and producer earned him many awards, including five Emmys and the Humanitas Prize, passed away in his sleep on December 29th.  “He had been in decline with Alzheimer’s for several years, but he never lost his warmth and positive spirit,” says Tony Barclay. “He was among my best friends at Yale, and we stayed in touch over all the years since then.”

“In freshman year Mike, Peter Sheckman and I were roommates in Wright Hall,” says Mike Leahy. “We all got along really well and roomed together as sophomores in Branford, adding Alan London. “One day, Mike decided he wanted to have a pet boa constrictor. So over Peter’s and my protests, he went to a pet store and bought one. He brought it back to campus in a black trash bag on a city bus!  Needless to say, neither Peter nor I was able to sleep very well with it slithering around. Finally, Peter put his foot down and told Mike the snake had to go. So Mike reluctantly complied and returned the snake, and Peter and I slept a LOT better. We loved him, but not enough to keep the snake!”

“When you were down, he was there to pick you up.” says Lanny Davis. “When you needed advice, he was there to share wisdom. When you were sad, he was there to make you laugh. And maybe most important, when you were aching and in pain and needed a true friend to open up to, he was there to listen, never to judge, and help you heal.

“I remember when I was running for chairman of the Yale Daily News. I was experiencing great disappointment, and I was ready to give up on myself. I don’t know how he knew this was a moment when his visit would mean most to me, but I heard his knock on the door. All he said was ‘don’t.’

“’Don’t what?’ I asked. ‘Don’t give up,’ he said. ‘On yourself. Or on me. I am your friend. And the sun will come up tomorrow.’

“So the next morning, just as he predicted, despite my serious doubts the sun actually did rise. I was elected, and Mike smiled and hugged me. That was 60 years ago, yet I remember the sensation of that hug as if it was yesterday. May God bless his sweet soul.”

Mike married his childhood sweetheart, Dianne Krafft, whom he met in kindergarten. They had two daughters, Sara and Kate, and five grandchildren who gave him great joy. After he died his family wrote, “His loving nature made all those around him feel safe, loved, and included. He was a good man.”

Martin Purvis, Professor of Information Science emeritus at Otago University in New Zealand, died on July 19. “I loved him dearly, and he was a treasure I came to appreciate increasingly over the years,” says Charlie Carter, who roomed with him Sophomore year. “I think our friendship on both sides was something that grew in quite special ways after graduation, but even as undergraduates we were close. His way of expressing delight and amazement was always endearing. His face lit up, and his voice assumed a new tone, and the emphasis of his diction all morphed into something that I found irresistible.

“Martin made and wrote critically about films. One of his films featured him, Jeff Bader, and Jeff’s first wife, Rose. A totally sweet and mischievous short film.”

Randy Alfred adds, “Those of us who took History of Music 10 in sophomore year will recognize the record that Rose plays in the film as the Haydn String Quartet, Op. 76, No. 2, 2nd movement. I didn’t know Martin at Yale, but we struck up an e-friendship in the early days of the Class Listserv in the late 1990s.  In the midnight hours here in California, I was often the only North American online as Mark Princi signed on in the morning from France, and Martin checked in during the evening from New Zealand. We had frequent around-the-globe chats about matters maximal and minimal. Easy globe-girdling conversation with classmates was novel and astonishing.”

“Marty (he was Marty back then) was one of my two freshman roommates,” says George Lazarus. “He was a gentleman and a scholar from the start. I remember Marty studying German; I was amused by the words that were whole sentences. In Freshman year he visited my home in Queens, New York. Apparently, back in those days bagels were not a common commodity where he came from in Chicago. He wasn’t sure what a bagel was – but when he saw one, he exclaimed, “‘Oh! A doughnut!’ 1963 was a long time ago!”

Jeff Bader, one of the country’s leading experts on China and an architect of President Obama’s pivot to the Pacific during his first administration, died on Oct. 22 from complications of pancreatic cancer. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called him “one of the most knowledgeable and insightful East Asia hands of his generation,” adding, “his intellect was matched only by his heart and his decency.”

“He really was the quintessential effective diplomat,” said UC-San Diego Professor Susan Shirk, who worked alongside him in the Clinton administration. “He was the sharpest operations person.”

Bob Miller, Pete Acly and I were lucky to have Jeff as a Bingham Hall floormate in Freshman year” says John Morris. “Throughout the next four years he remained a brilliant, humorous and considerate friend. Although I regret losing touch after he attended my wedding, I was able to follow his important role as a major foreign policy advisor to the 2008 and 2012 campaigns. I was not surprised to hear that his advice was always respected because unlike many advisors, he had no axe to grind other than the truth.”

“The news that Jeff has died hit me especially hard,” says Charlie Carter. “As his career took off he was among those I most hoped to run into at reunions; but for one reason or another, I never did. The loss of Jeff and Martin Purvis in so short a time is doubly sad. Both were classmates I knew at Yale and whom I came to cherish more the older I got. I recommend that those of us who survive them watch the film Martin made of them because it captures vividly in my mind who they were not long after we left Yale.”