YAM Notes: May/June 2016

By Martin M Snapp, Jr.

In 1971 Mike Slater was studying at Yale Law School and moonlighting as a New Haven cop—a profession he subsequently abandoned for the practice of law after he was stabbed by a bad guy—when he was fixed up on a blind date with a social worker from Kansas named Kathy Kuhn. Boing! Sparks flew, and they were married two years later.

“She was different from any woman I’d ever gone out with,” he says. “Totally without affectation, yet with great natural dignity. I could take her to a reception for Bill Clinton or she could be talking to the plumber. Either way, she was the same.” They had three kids: Nathaniel (Yale ’97), who now lives in Oakland, California; Aaron, who now lives in Kansas; and Alexis, who lives in Washington, DC.

In 2002 Kathy was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but she beat it with a grueling regime of chemotherapy. But the experience changed her outlook on life, causing her to live more in the moment. “She wanted to spend time with the only grandchild we had at the time, Nathaniel’s son Miles,” says Mike. “After she retired in 2010 we decided to spend some time in the Bay Area so we could be close to Nathaniel, our daughter-in-law Megan, and Miles. So we made plans to load our dog Madie in the car and drive across the country starting in January 2011.

“But,” he adds, “if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.” Just after Thanksgiving 2010 Kathy was diagnosed with a rare form of uterine cancer. She never made the trip and died on August 18, 2011, 38 years and five months to the day after their wedding.

Mike was crushed, but he was determined to honor Kathy’s dream. “I decided that I was going to drive to California and do alone what we had planned to do together. So in late December 2011 my trusty companion and I got in the car and headed west. Madie and I spent two months in Berkeley and fell in love with the place, and we’ve made the same trip every year since. This year we made our seventh and eighth cross-country drives—one going west and the return trip going east.

“Madie is a remarkably good traveler. I have a hammock suspended between the front and back headrest, and she sleeps on it until we stop. Then she runs around at the rest stops. I have become an expert on the quality and frequency of rest stops along Route 8, and I can say with certainty that Ohio has the best rest stops of any state.”

And he’s learned a lot along the way.

“First, this is a big country, and amazingly varied geographically, economically, and culturally. Going through Wyoming, I begin to understand why their attitudes are so different from those back east. There’s far less diversity than the areas I’ve lived most of my life in, and I think that explains it. Second, it’s a beautiful country, more beautiful than I could ever have imagined. Third, Americans are friendly and helpful wherever you are. And finally, it’s astonishing how many trucks there are and how important they obviously are to the economy of this country. There are frequently long periods when I see more trucks than cars.”

But he’s never stopped missing Kathy, even for a second. “I wish she were with me. I know how happy she would have been. It’s tragic that she did not live long enough to see our five other grandchildren, but at least she lived long enough to know that another was on its way.”

Meanwhile, congratulations to Peter Carlson, our man in Miauray, France, who built a bass guitar that was named Bass of The Week for July 24, 2015, by bestbassgear.com. Peter’s creation is not only gorgeous to listen to, it’s a beautiful piece of sculpture. “The body and neck is from a single plank of cerisier (cherry wood) given me by my dear (and, sadly, recently deceased) neighbor, M. Andre Castin, from a tree planted by his great-grandfather at the end of the nineteenth century, and the wood has been air-dried for more than 40 years,” says Peter. “The fretboard is made of noyer (walnut), locally grown, harvested, and milled by another neighbor, M. Remy Chauvineau. There are no mechanical fasteners in the assembly.” Peter has been a master woodworker for more than 40 years, but this is his first guitar. You can see pictures of this singularly beautiful instrument—and Peter playing it—on our class website.

Finally, more sad news: Searle Whitney died on March 27, 2015. He grew up in Old Westbury, New York, where his happiest times were spent in the Adirondacks. It brought him in touch with nature at an early age and became a large part of him for the rest of his life. After Yale he got a PhD in computer psychology at Harvard, then he traveled west and settled in Berkeley, California, where—true to his Adirondack roots—he began to create beautiful, untraditional gardens.

He married in the late ’80s and had a son, Harry C. Whitney. The marriage was short-lived, but Searle passed his passion for the great outdoors on to Harry. Searle was very concerned about the effects of human overpopulation on our communities and the environment and started the Institute for the Population Studies to raise awareness of the problem. “We can help solve all this by increasing access to low-cost contraception, supporting women’s rights, and increasing environmental awareness,” he said. “With these tools, people everywhere can determine the best population size for their family, their region, and the world.”

He died after a long, two-year battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Harry was by his side when he passed, along with Searle’s significant other, Laura Lind, who shared his deep love of music, especially Chopin.

Carpe diem, guys. All the more reason to attend our 50th reunion next year.