Alumni Notes: September/October 2013

This column does not know what it would do without our busy authors. We have recently noted with pride John Knott’s latest excursion into the cultural and environmental history of his adopted Great Lakes region — “Imagining the Forest: Narratives of Michigan and the Upper Midwest” — as well as Herb Hallas’s newly-published biography, ” William Almon Wheeler: Political Star of the North Country.” Now comes news involving two of our most prolific writers, Richard Rhodes and Richard Posner.

Dick Posner has already written close to 40 books on jurisprudence, economics and other subjects. In October, Harvard University Press will publish “Reflections on Judging,” wherein he distills his 30-plus years as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, to which he was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1981. According to the dust jacket of the uncorrected proofs I found the other day on a table here at the Times, Dick surveys changes in the judiciary over the last three decades and offers practical advice on how lawyers should argue cases, how judges should decide them, how trials can be improved and, most urgently, how to deal with the dizzying pace of technological change that makes litigation ever more challenging to judges and lawyers. I have read just enough to know that the book is accessible to the non-lawyer, full of entertaining examples, and replete with incisive commentary about other judges, their opinions and how some of the most compelling cases of our time came to be decided.

Dick Rhodes has written one wonderful book after another; his “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 and remains the definitive work on that subject a quarter-century later. That book is under option to Paul Giamatti (the actor and son of the late Yale president) for a feature film or miniseries in partnership with HBO and the BBC. Dick has been told that Giamatti wants to play Leo Szilard, the Hungarian gadfly who convinced Einstein to alert Franklin Roosevelt to Nazi Germany’s early uranium research, and who threads through the story from the discovery of the neutron to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Meanwhile, the German actress Diane Kruger has optioned “Hedy’s Folly,” Dick’s latest book, which deals (among other historical surprises) with the role that the Hollywood temptress Hedy Lamarr (a very smart and mathematically-inclined temptress, it turns out) played in the development of various communications technologies, including technology used in radio-guided torpedoes. A script is in preparation with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Dick notes that film options are a dime a dozen, and seldom lead anywhere, but in these two cases things have progressed to the screenwriting stage. This gives hope that he will at last be able to retire the mortgage. In the meantime, he is hard at work on a book about the Spanish Civil War.

Ray Clevenger and I were thrilled to be invited by a couple of our former students to the 50th Reunion of the class of 1963, which held a luncheon in Davenport honoring some of their old teachers. Ray and I were Carnegie Fellows, teaching History 10 to members of that class when they were freshmen in 1959-60, and living in Milford with John Knott, the three of us staying up late at night to try to stay one jump ahead of our students. We felt we were among giants at that lunch; Howard Lamar was there, as was John Blum’s widow. Ed Morgan was among those too frail to attend. As most of you probably know from his obit in the Times, Mr. Morgan died not long thereafter at the age of 97. He had a particular fondness for our class; our classmate Dan Morgan is a cousin, and Charlie Hoyt and Joe Staley recall that Mr. Morgan spoke at our 45th reunion. He published his seminal, prize-winning book on Benjamin Franklin when he was 87 — giving all of our authors, Messrs. Rhodes and Posner included, something to aim at.

The Yale Alumni Chorus is celebrating the 15th anniversary of its founding with a two week tour of the Baltic states which is underway as I write, in late July. Ed and Sue Greenberg, Peggy and Al Atherton, Dennis and Marie Corcoran and Larry and Roberta Krakoff are the 59ers on the tour. Meanwhile, Ed reports that the Greenbergs and the Athertons got together on Nantucket earlier in the month with Jim and Chris Cowperthwait, Art and Diane Kelly and Randy and Lea Ney. All are looking forward to the 55th in Jonathan Edwards May 29-June 1, 2014, about which more in the next notes.

I have the distinct feeling that this column has never recorded the death, last year, of Robert “Bob” Louis Helmreich. Bob deceived a B.A. Magna cum laude in 1959 and returned to Yale after the Navy for his Phd in psychology in 1966. He became a full professor of psychology at the University of Texas in Austin in 1969 and served on the faculty until his full retirement in 2007. His work focussing on group behavior in challenging environments — undersea exploration, aviation and space, for instance — earned him the university’s highest award, the Pro Bene Meritus Award, in 2006. He is survived by his life partner of 32 years, Carlos Canales, with whom he shared a passion for boating , collecting cars and Texas football.

Another drumroll, this for John Leonard Whipple, who died in May in Arizona, where he lived in retirement in Cave Creek. Jack was born in El Segundo and lived and worked for most of his life in San Francisco. He is survived by his wife, Patricia, twin sons Richard and Jeffrey, daughter Elizabeth and three grandchildren.

And , finally, this sad note from John Funkhouser: “Bob: My wife Avery died on June 9th thirteen days short of our 50th wedding anniversary. It was a yearlong struggle with
metastatic lung cancer and we had great support from many of our classmates and many of my fellow singers. She was not part of my life when we were in college, but she certainly enjoyed our five year reunions, our mini-reunions, the Glee Club and Alley Cat reunions, and the Yale Alumni Chorus trips we took. John.”

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