YAM Notes: November/December 2020

By Marty Snapp

Joe de RaismesNot many people can say they left the world a better place than they found it, but Joe de Raismes could have if he wanted to, which, with his typical modesty, he didn’t. Joe, who died on July 9 at his home in Boulder, Colorado, was a fighter for justice and a champion of the underdog on issues ranging from mental health to environmental protection to equal rights for all citizens. And on a personal level, he was a human being par excellence.

“I first met Joe in September, 1963,” says Rick Moody. “I was walking down the Hall of ‘Dirty Durfee,’ planning to visit my high school classmate, Mike Kail, when I heard the music of Bach from one of the rooms. I went in and introduced myself and, 57 years later, Joe had become my oldest, my closest, friend.

“Joe was a prominent figure in the world of law and public policy. Every morning I wake up and look out my window at the Rocky Mountains on the famous Open Space that surrounds the city of Boulder. Every morning I am looking out at Joe’s legacy, since he literally wrote the book on this – that is, the City Charter – preserving land forever wild surrounding the City where he and I have lived. How many of us can say, not that we created something, but that we have opened a window onto the Creation that inspires us all? When the credits roll by at the end of our lives, may we all remember the good we have done for those who come after us. This is how we will remember Joe.”

Jerry de Jaager adds, “Joe would sometimes call me to get together when he was coming to Chicago. I felt that his desire to spend time with me was an honor that I didn’t really deserve, because he was more interesting, smarter, nicer, cleverer, wiser, and more accomplished than I was. That he once referred to me as a ‘mensch’ was a compliment I never forgot, considering the source.”

“One time, we met in Hyde Park for dinner and then commenced a lengthy de Raismesian exploration of the neighborhood’s landmarks. As we reconnoitered, I mentioned to him that because I hadn’t been at Yale as a freshman, I never learned to sing Bright College Years. It became an occasion for him to treat anyone within earshot to his exuberant vocal stylings. He then insisted that I join him in the singing, and since I am tin-eared, many repetitions were required to get it closer to right. People stopped and stared (it didn’t bother him). They came out of their dwellings, some smiling and some dour. I was chagrined and wanting to give up the enterprise, but Joe was having none of it. Do I have to mention that Joe was fully sober throughout these events? If there have been a thousand points of light in my life, it’s because Joe was 756 of them. That he is gone is nearly incomprehensible, but he will never, ever, be forgotten.”

Bob Schuster adds, “He was a close friend – a brilliant, inspiring man whose presence in my life provided instruction for the expanse of human potential. His being illuminated the edges of our penumbra, turning what was shadow or obscurity into possibility. All that knowledge and quickness and humor and intellect and courage so remarkably wrapped into one single person. Incredibly, profoundly gifted. There are people in our class who taught me about potential. I could have felt diminished by the brilliance, but that was not what happened. I was instead stunned, inspired, and grateful. Joe was one of them.”

“In some quarters Joe was referred to as ‘The Count,’ a title that was accompanied by the story that he was of French royal blood, and was 17th in line as the pretender to the French throne,” says Bob Lehrer. OK, 17th in line, so he was not likely to ascend to the throne. Still, a great story, which I questioned him about. No truth whatsoever to the story, he said: No royal blood, and he was not anywhere in the French royal line. (How really could it be otherwise, being born and raised in Jersey?). And a story that he had never written or encouraged – but also a story that, he acknowledged, that he had never gone out of his way to counter or discourage. Joe loved the absurdity; that was obvious.”

“Every loss is a loss, but this one hits me,” says Bill Mace. I knew Joe from Freshman year in Durfee Hall onward these many years. Joe’s life was permeated with a very deep humanity that many of us know well. Each community he devoted himself to will feel his loss deeply, but then smile when remembering his indomitable good spirit and all that he contributed.”

“Bill hits it just right,” says Charlie Carter. “We are all impoverished by his loss. He was a person who, when God created him, he poured an unusual amount of goodness and wisdom that Joe managed to infect others with, over even a brief encounter.”

“I didn’t know Joe at Yale; I didn’t even know how he pronounced his surname (it’s de-REMS, by the way), says Randy Alfred. “While chatting with him at our 45th reunion I learned that as city attorney for Boulder, Colorado, Joe wrote a key argument in Romer v. Evans. That 1996 Supreme Court case overturned Colorado’s Amendment 2, which prohibited municipalities such as Boulder from banning antigay discrimination. It marked a big victory for LGBTQ rights and served as steppingstone to the 2013 Windsor and 2015 Obergefell cases that confirmed the constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry. “You’re a hero, Joe,” I said, and convinced him to let me introduce him at the LGBTQ reception the next day. The crowd gave him hearty applause. Joe’s inclusive humanitarianism was evident to all. His aristocratic name – Joseph Napoléon de Raismes III – said noblesse, but Joe was all oblige.

Much, ­much more about Joe on our class website, Yale67.org.