YAM Notes: September/October 2014

By Marty Snapp

On July 1, 1968, the New Haven Halfway House, the first institution in Connecticut to help former mental patients re-enter normal life, opened its doors. The Halfway House was the brainchild of four members of our class: Dick Glendon, Chuck Lidz, Bill Mace, and Reece Burks, who raised $22,685, enough to support the institution for its first two years.

Forty-six years later, the Halfway House—now known as Continuum of Care—is a $30-million-plus not-for-profit organization that serves nearly 1,500 individuals with mental illness statewide every year. But somewhere along the line, the names of the four founders got lost.

But never count out the alumni office. It was able to track down Dick, Chuck, and Bill; and on May 8 they returned to New Haven to meet Continuum’s CEO Patti Walker and her board of directors. “Until this spring, we had been unnamed Yale students who were part of the mythical origins of the house,” says Bill. “Needless to say, finally meeting face-to-face was a moving experience. One board member cracked that it was like ‘meeting your sperm donor.’”

On a much sadder note, I just heard from Brent Goodsell that Thom Rill passed away peacefully at his home on August 16, 2013. Brent’s recollections of his old friend were so touching, they’re worth repeating in full: “The first thing about Thom was his hair. It was the thickest and most healthy hair I have ever seen. For 50 years the style never changed. I never saw him put any effort into it, but there was never even one hair out of alignment. We shared the same barber for the last 15 years or so. I frequently asked her to get it tested to see what it was made of. ‘Just hair,’ she said. But I’m not so sure.

“The second thing was his vehicles. While we were at Yale he had a bicycle, a motorcycle, and occasionally a car. He cared about them, and they were always clean and spit-shined. No dirt, no dust—even raindrops avoided them. At one of our early Yale reunions we drove down together. His normal car was down for repairs and the Corvette could not be risked on such an adventure. We took what he called his winter rat. It was old and tired and overheated constantly. He placed a beer can between the engine and the hood to keep it ajar and help with the cooling. Even so, we had to stop and let it rest repeatedly. Eventually we arrived and had the normal wonderful experience. Even with this car there was no spot inside or out or under the hood that you could not have eaten off of.

“Thom was all about planning and organization—which I am sure made him an excellent attorney. A date at our Yale dorm room was like a military campaign. Roommates were, of course, evicted. The lighting was checked and double-checked; how many candles and where should they be placed; what offending articles needed to be put out of sight. The most important thing was the musical playlist. In those days that meant stacking the records on the record player—always in what he thought were progressively more romantic tunes. When the opportunity arose, we (his roommates) would readjust his record stack—perhaps substituting Frank Zappa or the Velvet Underground for his second-to-last record, usually Johnny Mathis. We never knew how the dates worked out, but Thom was invariably infuriated.

“Thom was always proud of his dancing—which was confident and exuberant. At one of our reunions, Thom danced with my daughter Kelly (12 at the time). It was the classic Isley Brothers ‘Shout.’ Thom was everywhere—on the floor, in the air, and all points in-between. We were astonished, he was magnificent, and Kelly was thrilled.

“Thom did not attend many reunions. For the 40th, Don Glascoff and I really bullied him to attend. It looked like we failed. However, he made a quick foray to New Haven for the Friday night dinner. I think the Corvette made the trip this time. Thom showed up just in time for the lobster and we enjoyed a great meal. After eating Thom looked around the courtyard and pronounced, “These people are all old.” He then got in the car and drove home. We had better luck with the 45th reunion where he signed up for the entire time, and we all stayed together in the dorm at Timothy Dwight. Since you have to pay in advance, we knew he wouldn’t leave. Even though he had just received an unexpected and devastating medical diagnosis, he went everywhere and enjoyed revisiting much of what we had enjoyed at Yale.

“Over the last several years (yes, years) my conversations with Thom were dominated by the great collector plate saga. Thom inherited a number of Yale University collector plates, presumably acquired by his father (W. Albert Rill ’33) when he was at Yale in the early 1930s. Thom had nowhere to display them and felt that they should go to an alum or organization that would appreciate them. This became a virtual obsession with him. They were beautiful. (Yale blue is a perfect color for collector plates.) I checked out the Yale Club of Central New York, but they do not have a real location and no one seemed that interested. He brought them to the 45th reunion, but everyone seemed to be downsizing or deaccessioning. Don Glascoff said he would check out the Yale Club of New York City. I am unaware of the final disposition of the plates. I hope they found a good home. I hope Thom did, too.”

Thom practiced law at Melvin & Melvin in Syracuse his entire career. My deepest sympathy to his wife Shelley and his sister, Margaret Reeves.