Alumni Notes: May/June 2017

Slim pickings this month, now that our classmate Wilbur Ross, whose nomination was still up in the air the last time we wrote, has been confirmed as Secretary of Commerce, the class’s first cabinet member. Meanwhile, the renaming of Calhoun and other campus controversies continue to reverberate in vigorous e-mail exchanges among our classmates, many of them critical of the decision, others feeling it was overdue or at least inevitable. One big point of concern was the university’s disregard of the alumni; our secretary, Joe Staley, was quoted prominently on the subject in the Yale Daily News. The issue of alumni participation in Yale’s future was the main topic in our class council meeting last fall in Calhoun, with whom we have had a long relationship, and will almost certainly be brought up again when we reconvene in what is now Hopper College. The relationship, which consists in part of annual grants to Calhoun/Hopper undergraduates to subsidize summer internships and the like, will presumably survive the renaming.

I recommend two relevant pieces of commentary to those who have not seen them, one new, one 16 years old. The first is Roger Kimball’s delicious Op-Ed in the February 12 Wall Street Journal. Mr. Kimball has fun with the Yale administration’s sententiously named Committee to Establish Principles for Renaming. He notes that if owning slaves was the disqualifying issue, then the edifices that bear the names Timothy Dwight, Benjamin Silliman, Ezra Stiles, John Davenport, Jonathan Edwards, and old Elihu Yale himself would all need new identities. The bottom line, Kimball suggests, is that these luminaries merely owned slaves, whereas Calhoun held slavery to be in the natural order of things.

The second commentary is Lewis Lapham’s superb “Quarrels With Providence,” an elegant historical essay of several thousand words written for the special Tercentennial Edition of the Alumni Magazine in March 2001. Lapham, a graduate in the class of 1956, was then the distinguished editor of Harpers and is now editor of Lapham’s Quarterly, a rare literary bird in this digital age. It’s impossible to do his essay justice here, but one of its central themes is that Yale has always been unique among Ivy League schools for the idealism and sense of public purpose of its undergraduates—even though displays of those sentiments can cause consternation among the administration, the faculty, and especially the alumni—and sometimes all three. Yale somehow survives, he says, even prospers. The essay is as timely now as it was then. Try this:

This month’s roll call:

Jim Wade reports with great sadness the death of his roommate and friend, Milt Nelson, last fall. Milt grew up and lived his entire life in Park Ridge, Illinois. He got married in the summer before his senior year and lived with his new bride, Loretta, at Cosey Beach in East Haven. Jim and Tom Molumphy were part of the wedding party. After law school at the University of Chicago, Milt began a career with the Santa Fe Railroad, ultimately becoming general counsel. He enjoyed golf, his children, and life with Loretta, whom he adored and who survives him. Jim persuaded Milt to return to Yale for our 50th. Jim remembers him as one of the nicest and funniest people he ever knew.

Malcolm Johnson died in February at Yale New Haven Hospital. A product of Hartford, Malcolm graduated from Loomis in 1955, spent a year in the army after Yale, then returned to Hartford, where he spent the bulk of his career writing and editing in various important roles at the Hartford Courant. As a kind of sidelight, he was also editor of the paper’s poetry column, “Our Singing World.” Shortly after Yale he married Betty Jean Johnson, becoming stepfather to three children and then having four of his own, who were with him when he died.