YAM Notes: November/December 2019

By Marty Snapp

I’ve been dreading this, but it is what it is, so we have to make the best of it. As our class’s mortality rate keeps accelerating, the time has come when the space generously allotted to us in this magazine is no longer able to contain the eulogies of our deceased classmates – at least, not the way I want to do them, which is to give each guy his due as best I can, no matter how long it takes.

Fortunately, we have a safety valve: our spanking new class website, which I hope all of you have seen since its debut in September. And I hope you will make a habit of visiting it regularly to view regularly updated information about our classmates, both those whom we have lost and those whom we are still lucky enough to have with us.

So in the case of eulogies, my plan is to print brief summaries in the magazine and point you to the website, yale67.org, where you can read the full-length versions. It will also mean I can put more news of the living back in the class notes, which I fear I haven’t done enough of lately. You guys are still living very interesting lives out there, and I apologize for giving you short shrift.

Richard Robinson died last November 15 (2018), at home in Manhattan. He attended Yale with us until just a few months before graduation, when he dropped out to join a rock’n’roll band. After moving to Manhattan in the late 1960s, he worked as a record executive at Buddah Records, had a syndicated music column with the Bell McClure syndicate, was a late night disc jockey on WNEW-FM, and hosted a syndicated radio show. Additionally, he directed early videos for The Ramones and Blondie, produced albums for the Flamin’ Groovies, Lou Reed and David Johansen, wrote 13 books – including “The Video Primer,” books on music, kung fu and magic, and co-authored Dick Clark’s autobiography. He was a contributor to Creem Magazine and edited the rock magazines Hit Parader and Rock Scene. In the late 1990s, he quit the music business to perform as a magician and ran several magic websites. He is survived by his wife, music journalist and author Lisa Robinson.

“Richard heard me drumming away on my kit in my room at T.D. when we were both sophomores,” says Jack Finnell. “He asked me if I wanted to join him in forming a rock band, and I said, ‘Sure. He proceeded to find a freshman to play lead guitar and a junior to play rhythm, and he took up bass himself. We were called the Original Sinners and played gigs at Brown, Smith, Vassar, Barnard, UConn and MIT, among other places. They thought it was cool that we were Yale dudes and paid us $400 a gig, pretty big bucks back in ’65 and ’66. We hardly ever played at Yale, where the attitude from the residential colleges and fraternities was more, ‘Yale guys? BFD.’ Richard was not the world’s best electric bass; in fact, my roommate, Steve Stack, played bass whenever we’d travel to NYC to record. Dick was the world’s best business manager, though. He was truly his own man, creative and courageous. He didn’t graduate Yale, leaving to pursue successful careers in both music production and, later, magic. Yes, magic. Somehow, for this independent soul, that sounds perfect.”

“This news saddens me because for several years, Richard was an extremely close friend and a kindred spirit,” says Jay O’Brien. “Richard went to Loomis and I first met him freshman year. He was extremely friendly. His eyes twinkled. But he had three smiles I remember. One was a normal amused smile, another a bemused smile, and then there was a wry impish smile. Richard shared with me that he thought he got into Yale because he was a magician and had started a magazine for teenage magicians while in high school. This experience obviously served him well in his career as a rock ‘n roll journalist. His demeanor on stage was very controlled and he normally had a Bill Wyman stoic look but sometimes had the bemused smile.”

“In Sophomore year Richard, Allen Whipple and Wendell John got a suite across from Randy Huber, Peter Battles and me. Allen did not come back, so Richard and Wendell had a double. The five of us roomed together or next to each other for the rest of our Yale experience until our senior year, when Richard announced that he was not accomplishing anything at Yale and he was dropping out. There was no question that he had thought it out and he moved to New York and took a job as a gofer with a record company. He worked hard making contacts and I would visit him. I can remember that we went together to an introductory show of Traffic at a relatively small basement bar. He had obtained tickets through his record company and we were excited because we knew of Stevie Winwood from his days with the Spencer Davis Group. Richard shared with me that he went to a lot of industry events because of the food.

“Fairly quickly, Richard got into rock journalism and started a group of fanzines. These were magazines made up of press releases about rock stars, and they were profitable because they had a long shelf life and low cost. After a few years of doing this Richard sold them to a major publisher, and I had the idea that he made enough doing this that he was well off. In the early 70’s, he married Lisa Robinson, who went on to become an accomplished writer. He produced records for The Flamin’ Groovies and produced Lou Reed’s first solo album. This album had the best version of “Walk of the Wild Side” and “Lisa Says.” On a visit to New York in 1971, I found that Richard was again doing magic and he convinced me that Bruce Springsteen was a great new artist.

“I never saw his magic performance in a theater, though he did perform some tricks for my wife and me in his New York apartment. Richard took his magic to the internet and was criticized for doing so. But Richard had his own vision and was not swayed from it by inferior minds.

“I lost contact with Richard after the seventies until his 70th birthday. I tried to contact him to wish him happy birthday and left messages. A few days later he called me and we visited for a couple of hours with him doing most of the talking. He was the same Richard. He told me that he was spending a lot of time digitalizing videos. I visited with him before our 50th reunion. I tried to talk him into coming, but he didn’t show. I was supposed to have lunch with him in New York after the reunion, but when I talked to him I found he had broken his wrist and had to do therapy. I’ve missed Richard for years and do more so today because he’s really gone now. He was truly unique in many different ways.”

Stephen Dahl adds, “Dick and I were at Loomis together with the likes of Bob Lehrer and several other classmates. Dick was on the ‘Crackpot Committee’, a senior group that created events such as the Great Pumpkin search on Halloween, but devolved into a secret bunch that got itself kicked out of school for drinking booze on the shores of the Farmington. I don’t think Dick was involved, but the result was that ‘a sip is as good as a case’ became the committee’s byword. You were punished for a swallow or a guzzle. Neither Jay nor I has been able to speak to his widow Lisa. Indeed, try to find anyone’s number at Vanity Fair. Dick died in mid November and was duly listed in our Loomis database, but, oddly, no one at Yale noticed, it seems. The obituary was in the New York Times. Dick was quiet, odd, pleasant and smart. Not obtrusive, given to rock ’n’ roll and prestidigitation. R.I.P.”

Greg Jorjorian comments, “I never cease to be amazed and heartened by how so many classmates followed the call of their heart and soul.”

Craig Woodward died on May 1 due to complications from cancer. After Yale, he attended the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia, where met and married the love of his life, Anneke Knoppers, who was attending Columbia Law School. They graduated on the same day. After completing his internship year in New York City, he and Anneka moved to Atlanta, where he continued his internal medicine residency and a year in a cardiology fellowship, both in the Grady/Emory program, then he went into private practice for 38 years before retiring in 2016. Medicine wasn’t just a vocation for him; it was his avocation, too. He cared deeply for his patients’ welfare and valued their friendships. He volunteered for many worthy causes, including the Salvation Army and Childspring International. More recently, he found great joy in his five grandchildren. He truly loved playing with them and acting silly to their great delight. ‘PopPop’ was often placed in ‘time out.’ He also had a huge spirit of adventure and loved to travel. During medical school he traveled to and spent most of a summer in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and India, which provided the basis of many stories told over the years. Later Craig delighted in planning trips (with Anneke implementing the plans if a computer was required), including hunting on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, biking in Europe, exploring the Galapagos, and hiking on the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Craig could be counted to provide humor at any gathering. At home he loved reading, and he was always ready to read Anneke’s book club selections. They were married for 47 years.

On July 26 Ray Salemme, an expert in X-Ray diffraction and crystallography, died of cancer.

“I knew of his illness, but not in detail,” says Charlie Carter, only one of only two people in our class – the other is Bob Fairclough – who truly understand what Ray was doing because they’re also working in the same field. “I had written to check up on how he was doing, as I had not heard from him for about six weeks, and wrote the day after he had died. Ray was a force of nature; a massive intellect driven by consuming curiosity and far-reaching ingenuity. He was a very important intellectual influence on me throughout his life, from the moment he recruited me to join the crystallographic laboratory of Joseph Kraut at UCSD to very recent and in-depth discussions of how protein machines work.”

“Ray was a gracious individual and obviously quite a productive scientist,” agrees Bob. “His career explored and exploited all aspects of what in our lifetime was developing in X-ray and computer technologies that could be usefully employed for human understanding and for new therapeutic products for human disease ranging from cardiac dysfunction to cancer. The human race has lost a marvelous individual.”

Finally, the sad news came from Jim Stark that that John Groman died on August 27. “John had been ill for a while, although he was always upbeat,” Jim says. “His latest surgery was his third in a relatively short period of time. He had severe chronic lung disease as well, likely from unrecognized asthma. He soldiered on, but when I last saw him about 18 months ago he was quite limited in what he could do. Always upbeat but obviously knew that his days were numbered. Grim reaper is out there. Don’t put off what you can do today. RIP, John.”

“John Groman was one of our class’s great entrepreneurs,” says Dick Pechter. “After a Harvard MBA, he co-founded epsilon Data Management. one of the first organizations to use the power of computing, and data, to target market selling. After that, he created several more companies, including a spa treatment chain. Terrific energy, optimism and a willingness to challenge conventional thinking – and fun!!!!”

“I knew John more from St Paul’s School alumni stuff and had forgotten he was at Yale as well,” says Jim Taylor. “He loved to fish for trout and shoot birds, so I had occasion to see him out here in Montana as well as in New Hampshire. I think of most Yale people as “upstream swimmers,” always going against the flow to find some other – hopefully better – way of doing things and living life. John was a classic in that vein but also a good and loyal friend. He will be sorely missed.”

“Oh Lord, there goes another one. One of the very sad things about aging,” says Steve Small. “John and I were in JE together. We were friends on Facebook, and he was a very active poster about his travels, his family life, and, occasionally, things political. John’s politics were far to the right of mine, but he and I always had polite and respectful exchanges (with only a slight bit of tongue-in-cheek) over those matters – actually quite a remarkable accomplishment I know he had a great track record in business, but based on my exchanges with him I think one of the things he was the most proud of was being sober for 40+ years – and I mean that in a positive way, a real compliment. He had the brains and education and ‘outer’ strength to be very successful in business, and he had the inner strength to achieve that significant goal.”