YAM Notes: September/October 2013

By Marty Snapp

This month is a very special occasion. It’s the 50th anniversary of the day we met each other: September 15, 1963, the day as freshmen first we came to Yale. The next morning, September 16, was the big convocation in Battell Chapel, when Provost Kingman Brewster—he hadn’t been elected president yet—told us we were the best and brightest.

Three weeks later, examinations made us pale. The first quizzes came back, and we were all stunned by how low our grades were. (It was Yale’s way of letting us know we weren’t high school hotshots anymore.) Legend has it that one of our number—whose name I will mercifully omit—stood up in the back of Chem class and exclaimed, “You can’t do this to us! We’re the best and brightest!”

Happy anniversary, guys. It was nice meeting you, and 50 years later it’s still great to know you.

As I mentioned last year, Lou Wiley has retired from his longtime job as executive producer of PBS’s great documentary series Frontline—which means, of course, that he’s more involved with Frontline than ever. I saw him last April in Berkeley, where he was representing Frontline at a big media conference at Cal.

Afterwards, I gave him a historic tour of Berkeley in the 1960s (Mario Savio, the Free Speech Movement, etc.) which he greatly enjoyed—but not as much as he enjoyed the tour Randy Alfred gave him the next day of The Castro in the ’70s, including Harvey Milk’s old camera store and the iconic Elephant Walk bar, now renamed Harvey’s. Randy seated Lou so he could see a huge photograph on the wall of Milk reading a story in the local LGBT paper about Anita Bryant’s gay-bashing ballot measure in Florida. Milk was standing next to the reporter who wrote it. “Notice anyone familiar?” said Randy. Lou looked again. The reporter was Randy himself, circa 1977. “Wow!” Lou exclaimed. “You not only reported history, you made it!”

Speaking of short retirements, no sooner did Victor Ashe come home after serving as America’s longest-serving ambassador to Poland then President Obama appointed him to the board of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Obama is the fifth president to call on Victor for service. Ronald Reagan appointed him to the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations; George H. W. Bush named him to the Urban Affairs Commission; Bill Clinton put him on the AmeriCorps Board of Directors; and George W. Bush appointed him to his post in Warsaw and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. But my guess is that the job that’s still closest to his heart is mayor of Knoxville, where he served for 16 years, the longest stint in the city’s history.

The only guy I know who’s as busy as Victor these days is Bob Leahy. His book Keeping Your Head After Losing Your Job, which will come out in the USA next month, received a rave review in the Times of London; and he was interviewed by the BBC. Another book, The Worry Cure—which my therapist, not knowing I’m a friend of Bob’s, assigned me to read!—was selected by the British National Health Reading Service as one of the top 30 self-help books. All told, Bob’s books have been translated into 18 languages. This month he’ll give the keynote lecture at the European Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies in Marrakech, Morocco. And last July he gave the keynote at the World Congress of Behavior and Cognitive Therapies in Lima, Peru.

Speaking of Peru, how’d you like to visit Machu Picchu, the legendary Lost City of the Incas? It should definitely be on everyone’s bucket list. And you couldn’t ask for a better guide: one of the world’s leading experts in the field, Dr. Humberto Rodriguez-Camilloni, professor of architecture and director of the Henry H. Wiss Center for the Theory and History of Art and Architecture at Virginia Tech—aka our own Bert Rodriguez!

Sandy Smith has been on four of these study tours already, and he says Bert is the best tour guide ever. “It was charming and beautifully articulated to make us feel very welcome,” he says. “The accommodations were first class, and Bert dazzled us with the breadth of his knowledge. He is not only erudite and eager to help, he understands all the strengths and weaknesses of his attendees. It is pure pleasure to be a participant.” If you’d like to take part, e-mail Bert at hcami@vt.edu or call him at 540-231-5324. In addition to Machu Picchu, the tour includes Cusco, which the Incas called “the navel of the world”; the monastery of San Francisco, famous for its catacombs; and Huaca del Sol, the largest man-made pyramid in the western hemisphere.

Finally, it’s my sad duty to report that Joe Fairbanks passed away on June 12 at his home in suburban Baltimore after a heroic battle against cancer. A brilliant litigator and an inspiration and mentor to younger lawyers, Joe was one of the most respected members of the Maryland bar. “Having practiced law for more than 20 years, I can say that Joe was the most honest and trustworthy attorney I’ve ever known,” said his former partner. “Joe was everything that was right about the law profession.”

Charlie Carter, who has been friends with Joe since they were only three or four years old, says, “The French use a word that doesn’t really work in English to describe people like Joe: ‘doux.’ It means, literally, sweet. However, it also means good, gentle, compassionate. They also use the word ‘sage,’ which means wise, well-behaved, courteous. Joe was both ‘doux’ and ‘sage.’ God filled him fuller than most with both virtues. He also was blessed with the ability to enjoy a good time without ever at someone else’s expense. My heart goes out to his wife Leslie, their children and grandchildren, and his dachshund, L’il Guy.”