YAM Notes: November/December 2018

By Marty Snapp

Sad news, friends: Joe Briley, our class secretary, succumbed to a heart attack on August 20. The love of his life, Carol McPheeters, and his adored twin children, Chris and Alexis, were with him when he died.

Joe was both our leader and our servant. As a leader, he embodied Ronald Reagan’s maxim, “There’s nothing you can’t accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” You like those great reunions Tom Gottshall has been producing? Joe picked him. How about that wonderful class book Mike Kail gave us last year? Joe picked him, too. Ditto for Rick Luis, our AYA delegate; Barry Bardo, our attendance chairman; Don Metzger, our reunion souvenir chairman, and, yes, me. Joe picked us all.

And after he outpolled Bob Miller in the last class secretary election, his first move was to call Bob and ask him to join the class council. It was so Joe, but it was also so Yale.

As our servant, he worked tirelessly, often late into the night, tweaking our class website and smoothing out problems with the listserv. And he took the “secretary” part of his title literally: Before each class council meeting, we’d always receive an e-mail the day before with dial-in instructions and a detailed agenda. In fact, the class council itself was Joe’s invention. He liked governing by consensus, not fiat, and he wanted to include more voices in the decision-making.

He had two great loves. One was his family, and the other was us. He really thought of us as his brothers, and he felt honor bound to do his best for us.

But I’ll shut up and let some other guys talk.

Mac Hansing: “Joe was one of my first friends at Yale, as we were bursary boys that first week at Calhoun College. While all our classmates were at Commons making new friends, we had to clean up the dishes. And we had a horrible bitchy boss (Jessie) who screamed at us all the time to keep working instead of talking to each other. But our camaraderie was the beginning of the ‘Time . . . that did not avail to break the friendship formed at Yale.’ In these ‘after years’ we have lost another of our friends in physical form, but never in our memories.”

Charlie Carter: “Joe was in Berkeley, as was I. I didn’t cross paths with him as an undergraduate and so knew him only by sight. His true significance as a human being dawned slowly and inexorably throughout his tenure as a class officer, a responsibility he took on with unmatched dedication and effectiveness. Countless times, he was there when the listserv failed one or another of us, patiently interfacing with those responsible at Yale. After our 50th reunion, I requested his help because for some reason by the time I registered, they had run out of my shirt size. Two weeks later, a shirt in my size was delivered in the mail.”

Bob Leahy: “I remember Joe from freshman year when we lived in the same entryway at Bingham. Joe was a gentle guy, with a quiet laugh and always a gentleman. When I reconnected with him many years later in New York at the Yale Club, I was impressed with his dedication to serving his Yale class. He worked tirelessly to make our reunions memorable, and we will always cherish his sacrifice, dedication, and basic decency.”

George Lazarus: “The name Joe makes me think of Regular Joe, Average Joe, American Joe, and GI Joe. Such a Joe is competent and conscientious. He does his job well because others expect it of him and he expects it of himself. He is unostentatious. He gets along well with others and is happy to share the work and the credit to achieve a bigger goal. Joe Briley was all of the above. The irony is that such a Regular Joe is not regular or average at all. Joe Briley was exceptional. The world would be a better place if there were more ‘Regular Joes’ like him. I am glad we elected Joe class secretary. He served us well, devoting his energy to the job. And it was a well deserved, and appreciated, pat on the back from all of us to a highly respected and loved classmate.”

Tom Gottshall: “I didn’t get to know Joe until probably our 40th reunion. Later, he asked me to chair the next reunion and it was through that involvement that I really have gotten to know him. He really was devoted to serving our class; in that context he organized many calls of our class council and spent a lot of time working on class matters. He regularly organized dinners of classmates who attended the AYA fall weekend. I got to know his family by his reports; he was proud of his two children Chris and Alexis, and his young grandson, Cyrus. And many of us were privileged to know his partner Carol through visits to New Haven. Joe regularly reflected a decency, kindness, and service towards others, especially our class. A life well lived. We will miss him.”

And Carol adds, “Joe was as thrilled to have a biological grandchild as anyone would be, but he was also the best surrogate dad to my younger daughter, Christy, and grandfather to my 24-year-old grandson, Ethan, and even to Ethan’s good friends Kaiser, Cameron and Dante, who were present at every holiday and birthday dinner. After meals, they’d adjourn to the living room, where Joe would grill them on school, jobs, activities, and goals. They were with us in the family section at Joe’s funeral.”

Our class sent a lovely floral arrangement—blue and white flowers, of course—and was represented by Belle and Peter Petkas and Lily Dorman-Colby ’09, to whom I introduced some of you at our 40th reunion and who, thanks to your kindness, has come to think of the Class of 1967 as her extended family. Joe was cremated wearing his Class of 1967 tie, which is surely what he would have wanted.

In lieu of flowers, his family has asked that donations be made to Yale.