Letters to the Editor

Letters: July/August 2023

Readers write back about Howard Lamar, the Regicides, long COVID, and more.

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be emailed to yam@yale.edu or mailed to Letters Editor, PO Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to respond to or publish all mail received. Letters accepted for publication are subject to editing. Priority is given to letters of fewer than 300 words.

Readers remember Howard Lamar

The photograph on the cover of your latest issue speaks volumes in itself about who Howard Lamar was: a gracious, kind, warm gentleman (“The Westerner,” May/June). Yale and the New Haven community have been blessed to have had Howard in our midst. As great a scholar as he was, William Cronon said it best: “Howard had a genius for friendship.”
Myles H. Alderman ’58
North Haven, CT

Howard Lamar had many friends, and I was one of many because he loved the Whiffenpoofs. At Sam Chauncey’s request, a group of antique Whiffs assembled to sing for him at his 99th birthday celebration at the Graduate Club. Though physically diminished and wheelchair-bound, he greeted us all with his infectious smile, and it looked to me that he was tearing up—as was I—when we sang the Whiff Song. What a guy.
Richard Nash Gould ’68, ’72MArch
New York, NY

The comments about Howard Lamar as a teacher and scholar, written mostly by his former students, were all eloquent and warm. My own words of condolence to his and Shirley’s family come from a quite different quarter; all my degrees were earned in French and Spanish, and shortly after finishing my doctoral studies, I was employed by Sterling Memorial Library as a humanities bibliographer. Western US history was a subject I could barely remember and which did not (does not to this day) hold my interest.

However, during the Arab oil embargo, the university paired Howard and me in a ride-sharing scheme so that employees with similar commuting patterns and who lived near one another could—it was hoped—save some money on what became overnight a scarce commodity. This turned out to be a very wonderful pairing, and all of the personal qualities in Howard (as well as Shirley) that were noted by others in the magazine were in evidence in our morning and late afternoon drives from the Wallingford-Cheshire line (me) and North Haven (Howard).
The oil embargo was the catalyst for a pairing that no one at Yale could ever have put together if they had tried.
Charles S. Fineman ’72MPhil
Cambridge, MA

Rick Levin's story

I loved reading President Levin’s  first-person account of his ascendancy to the presidency of Yale (“The Road to Woodbridge Hall,” May/June). The article was beautifully written and made this extraordinarily accomplished scholar and leader accessible to all. His remarkable journey to greatness, overcoming challenges and meeting the moment, serves to inspire. I met him as a board member of AYA and interacted with him periodically. I have always been impressed by his humility, his quiet reserve, cerebral manner, and unique leadership style.
Steven N. Cousins ’77
St. Louis, MO

Rick Levin was a great president of Yale. Among his many strengths, he lived in the New Haven area with his family for a long time. He understood Yale from a community as well as a Yale point of view. He reversed Yale’s historical distance from the community.

For more than 30 years, labor relations at Yale were tumultuous, including five major strikes. Rick chose to get personally involved in settling the 2003 strike. He became convinced that stabilizing labor relations was an integral part of positive community relations. He appointed John Pepper, the retired Procter and Gamble CEO who was senior fellow on the Corporation, to lead Yale’s work with the unions, and he assembled a good team that included former vice president Bruce Alexander, former human resources director Mike Peel, and vice provost Stephanie Spangler, among others. Locals 34 and 35, led by Local 35 president Bob Proto and former Local 34 president Laurie Kennington, came to believe that Rick Levin’s team was serious about stabilizing the relationship.

The result is that there has not been a strike since 2003. Even more important, the unions and Yale have developed a mutually beneficial relationship in which each party listens to the other and looks for positive solutions to the difficult issues that arise.

I hope that current and future generations of Yale leaders and union leaders continue the labor relations progress that Rick Levin inspired.
John W. Wilhelm ’67
Los Angeles, CA

Mr. Wilhelm was business manager for Local 35 from 1978 to 1988 and chief negotiator for Locals 34 and 35 in 1980, 1984–85, and 1988. He was president of UNITE-HERE, the Yale unions’ national parent organization, from 1998 to 2012.—Eds.

The state of humanities

When dropping me off at Yale for my freshman year in August 1980, my father implored me to take up something conventionally practical. His hopes were soon dashed when the university’s president, a great English Renaissance scholar, blocked this paternal advice.

A. Bartlett Giamatti gave a rousing freshman address that championed the humanities and eschewed the transactional pragmatism my father espoused. It would be a waste of Yale’s prodigious resources, Giamatti said, to be there for so-called practical reasons. In that tug-of-war between a well-intentioned physician father and Mother Yale in all her intellectual splendor, Dad, for once, lost.

I majored in English and never looked back until this February, when a New Yorker headline made my heart sink. “The End of the English Major,” it announced. The attendant article reported that “enrollment in the humanities is in free fall at colleges around the country.”

Yale’s present humanities leadership owes it to students, faculty, alumni, and society itself to provide some qualitative analysis—and remedies—around the steep decline in English and history majors so minimally reported in your magazine (“Whither the Humanities?” May/June).

The potential sunsetting of the humanities poses an existential threat to the Yale I once knew. One expects Yale is not taking this alarming trend lying down and that you will be dogged about covering it.

President Giamatti would have de- manded so.
Peter Vertes ’84
Moreland Hills, OH

DeSantis at Yale

Since Ron DeSantis reports being so proud of resisting the indoctrinations of Yale and Harvard (Quoted, May/June), perhaps the world would be a better place if he had instead graduated from Hillsdale College, the conservative Christian school upon which DeSantis is trying to remodel Florida’s New College and, to a certain degree, the entire Florida university system. If he was happily overcoming the indoctrination of some place other than Yale, he might not be attacking Florida children and adults who may be gay, trans, racially diverse, immigrant, enjoying Disney, or simply wanting to learn history.
Larry Reimer ’69MDiv
Gainesville, FL

A test for long COVID?

As a recent COVID victim, I was struck by the amazing, pathbreaking work of Sterling Professor Akiko Iwasaki (“Akiko Iwasaki and the Fight Against COVID,” March/April). She is Japan’s gift to humanity and truly a “sterling” scientist.
I was particularly intrigued by her recent work on long COVID, since I myself have some recurrent bouts of fatigue following it. My question for Professor Iwasaki is: have you developed a test for detecting long COVID?

I hope you will publish her answer, since it would be helpful to those like me.
Paul Wortman ’62
Providence, RI

Akiko Iwasaki responds: “Thank you for your question and kind remarks. We are indeed trying to look for biomarkers to help long COVID diagnosis, as well as to define biomarkers for endotypes based on disease drivers. The latter will help identify effective therapies for the individual patient. To accomplish these goals, we will need to examine many more long-haulers and controls. We hope to get there soon.”

Read about the regicides

A friend who is a Yale alumnus noticed your excellent Old Yale column, “Escape to New Haven” (May/June) and sent it on to me, since he had read and enjoyed a book I wrote about John Dixwell, from whom I am directly descended. In 1649, John Dixwell was one of the regicides of Charles the First. He came to these shores as a fugitive from justice in the 1660s, and hid successfully in New Haven until the end of his days. Despite naming me Sarah Dixwell Brown, my father never breathed a word about our forebear.

I am indebted to Yale for so much! Ezra Stiles’s 1794 book about the three regicides who hid here served as my first, shocking introduction to my ancestor. I stumbled on it in the British Museum in London, in 1980. Franklin Bowditch Dexter (1842–1920), a Yale alumnus, librarian, and administrator, edited the Dixwell Papers at the New Haven Museum. As part of my research I visited Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library, and also got wonderful help from curator Patricia Kane, who showed me Yale’s several pieces of silver made by the regicide’s son, another John Dixwell. Sterling has a copy of my book, which is titled Regicide in the Family: Finding John Dixwell.
Sarah Dixwell Brown
Amherst, MA

Of the many worthwhile pieces in your May/June issue, I took particular interest in “Escape to New Haven,” about the three regicides who took refuge in the Elm City. The article noted that “their story has been represented in histories, paintings, and novels”; however, I felt that it was remiss in not mentioning Christopher Buckley ’75’s very entertaining The Judge Hunter. The novel inspired me to ride my bike to Judges Cave when I attended my 45th reunion. Apropos of the trial of Charles I, I also recommend Geoffrey Robertson’s The Tyrannicide Brief, about lead prosecutor John Cooke, who was among those executed during the Restoration.
Dave Helwig ’72
Pittsburgh, PA

Lessons for life

I was saddened to read of the passing of two professors who impacted my life on a lifelong basis—Ramsay and Edith MacMullen (Milestones, January/February).

Ramsay MacMullen was appointed as my academic adviser in my sophomore year. I had no previous experience with him. I sauntered into his office for what I thought would be a five-minute rubber stamping of my proposed academic schedule. At that time,  I was an overenthusiastic history major, and I thought a course load of four or five history classes was a reasonable “distribution” of classes. Surely this history professor would applaud my focus, right? Not so. Instead, Dr. MacMullen took the time to explain what a liberal arts education actually meant, and I left our hour-long conference with a course load that included a variety of classes that broadened my horizon in that moment, and enlarged my worldview forever.

Edith MacMullen was my mentor in the Teacher Preparation Program, leading me into the teaching profession. I remember a wonderful evening when the MacMullens hosted the Teacher Prep students in their home. Truth be told, I only lasted one year as a middle school teacher (the kids and their parents were brutal!), but the skills and perspective I gained from Dr. MacMullen formed the bedrock for how I have taught and mentored young lawyers over the past four decades. I just finished a four-year program of teaching a paralegal “the law” so that she could sit for the Washington State bar without attending law school, in part due to the mentoring example of Dr. MacMullen.

These two titans were instrumental in encouraging me to be a lifelong learner and a lifelong teacher.  My condolences to their family.
Deane Minor ’78
Everett, WA

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