Remarks for Yale 50th reunion panel

Steve Buck
“What are we doing next?”

I think it’s an interesting and important question, one brought home to me by the classmate who has led and was going to lead this panel. Rob Titus. After a long illness Rob’s sister died and he must be at the funeral – today. We’re sorry that he can’t be with us.

We have a varied panel – Eli Newberger, a musical M.D., Dave Hummel, who revels in the wide open spaces of Montana and travel, Mike Gill, who has an amazing story to tell, and me, the fellow who has filled the class website with articles on the Arab world. You have short blurbs on all of us.

We will each speak briefly on how we’ve handled retirement and what’s next and then turn the session over to you classmates – and your spouses/partners. Because in my experience at these reunions it’s often the spouses that really get the conversation going.

I’ll start and then turn it over to Eli, Dave and Mike.

Prior to retiring from the Foreign Service ten years ago I drove my men’s group and my wife near crazy by obsessing on what would I do after retirement. I entered the Foreign Service at a time when it was almost like entering a catholic order. You took the vows, worked your butt off and it became your life. The Foreign Service accentuates this because it controls not only where you work but where you live, not only the country but usually your house and furniture, and work stretches through the evening. Dinner parties can be as important as negotiating sessions.

Washington is a town of power. The first question always is what you do.

So what happens when you no longer do what you do? It can be an existential question.

Studies show that many men who have suddenly retired or who have not sorted out what they are going to do after retirement die within a year.

“Feeling uncomfortable with my peers forced me to confront real pain.”

What happened to me, a prime candidate for that fate? Part of the answer is that I had chosen a specialty, the Middle East, that was in high demand, so there were speaking and teaching opportunities and many events to go to to keep up with my area of interest.

Helpful, but not the real answer. What has really fuelled me was in fact that which most troubled me from my earliest years – feeling somehow different, not that comfortable with my peers. As I wrote in our class book, it was probably this feeling that made it so easy to interact with people from very different cultures. It also, most importantly, forced me to confront real psychological pain and through that become much more empathetic with the plight of others – and wanting to help others.

So this is what got me into joining and then creating and leading men’s groups and then to tutoring and then mentoring teen-aged boys. In some way my greatest fears and hurts became like the rods in a nuclear reactor, turning into “fuel” that is very powerful and can last a long time – and in this case does not cause a disposal problem.

And another very important part of all this is that I was lucky enough to find a wonderful, beautiful soul mate, Hala, who like me had issues with fitting in because she is the product of a mixed (in this case religious) marriage in a country where one’s religion defines you. So she understood and has been the main reason I was able to do my psychological work.

I have much to be grateful for and my guess is that most of us can celebrate where we are.

Questions for ’62. The question of interest for many of us, I think, is –
Where are we going?
And – how about the challenges as well as the opportunities?

I again invite spouses – who sometimes are more willing to venture in a setting like this than their mates – to talk about what they see as having happened as their husband retired or reached 70.

How has the old one-liner “I may have married you till death do us part dear, but not for lunch” – worked out? What adjustments were made once you were home during the day rather than in the office?

Have you transferred some of those skills from work into retirement or do you see retirement as a clean break with what you did before retirement?

An issue Hala and I have been dealing with – how many of you are in the “sandwich generation,” with one parent still alive, perhaps with Alzheimer’s, and a child that is not having it as easy in the new economic world as we had. How are you handling this?

For you fellow classmates, what brings you meaning and joy at this time of your life and what’s the “bucket list,” particularly beyond say seeing some exotic places?

What do you see as being your life’s meaning and what is there meaningful that you still want to do?

What is the legacy that you would like to leave?

“What are we doing next?”


Steve Buck

My life has centered on getting to know people, often very different from me. A summer internship in Turkey right after graduation led to a life-long interest in the Middle East, meeting my wife Hala in Beirut, and serving at 8 posts in the Arab world during a 39 year career as a Foreign Service Officer after degrees in international relations and Middle Eastern Studies from the Fletcher School and Harvard. Assignments included two breaks in diplomatic relations, reopening an embassy on resumption of relations Deputy Chief of Mission in Baghdad, Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and teaching the Middle East at the National Defense University. Realizing that what I had feared most was the answer to my fear of “retirement” has been a great awakening and why I’m so looking forward to encouraging you to share your journeys into and in retirement.

Eli Newberger

My life has focused on music, medicine and family. Just before commencement, I married Carolyn Moore, a junior at Sarah Lawrence, to whom I was introduced by our classmate Fred Starr on the way to a jazz gig in Manhattan. So it seemed to us right to celebrate our May 31 golden anniversary in New Haven, where we lived until taking an assignment with the Peace Corps in Africa on my completing an internal medicine internship in 1967. We’d dug some deep roots in New Haven, too, playing with the New Haven Symphony (me on tuba, she on flute), and for Carolyn, commencing a brilliant career in child psychology by teaching first grade at the Hamden Hall Country Day School.

Africa drew me to pediatrics and deepened my jazz performance career. Back in the States in 1969, we both continued our training at Harvard, focusing caring for the most vulnerable children while serving on the faculties of Boston Children’s Hospital and Judge Baker Children’s center. After 3 decades of medical and mental health work balanced by music. I published “The Men They Will Become: The Nature and Nurture of Male Character” and Carolyn began a new career as an artist. We thrive on our grandchildren and their parents.

Dave Hummel

After receiving an MS degree in Civil Engineering from Stanford in 1963, I went to work for the Bechtel Corporation in San Francisco. Moving between construction projects for seven years proved to me that living in one place was my preference. In 1969 we permanently settled in Billings, Montana. I was first involved with a couple of highway and heavy construction firms, finally selling my interest in 1979 and entering the geo-environmental consulting engineering business. I ran the Billings office of Maxim Technologies, now Tetratech, until I retired. In addition to my business career, I have been active in professional and civic affairs. I am a past national officer in the National Society of Professional Engineers, an elected member of the City of Billings Local Government Study Commission, Trustee of Rocky Mountain College, President of the Billings Symphony Board, board member of the Yellowstone Art Museum and board member of the Red Lodge Mountain Ski Area. I also served the State of Montana as an eight year member and chairman of the Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors.

Michael Gates Gill

After leaving Yale, I decided to take “early retirement” in Ireland, finding a very congenial culture of drinking, reading, walking and talking. But after a couple years there I got a call from a Yale classmate, Jim Brewster, who told he had a job where I could get paid for talking and writing copy. Jim set me up with an interview for the advertising agency J. Walter Thompson owned by a Yale man. I got the job and stayed at JWT for 26 years as a Creative Director.

Then when I was 53, I was invited out for breakfast and fired by the new boss who didn’t realize the amazing benefit of having a Yale man in his company! The next ten years I tried to have an advertising “consulting business”, but found that I was much better at creating ideas than sending out bills. By the time I was 63 I was virtually broke and had also gotten divorced. Then I made the mistake of going for a “routine physical”. I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. By that point, I had given up all health insurance. The day of my physical I felt like my life was over; I couldn’t believe how far I had fallen from the Bright College Years in New Haven.

Full of fear and depression, I wandered into a Starbucks store for what I told myself might be my last latte. I sat down next to a young African American woman who was there to hire people for her store. She asked me: “Would you like a job?”  Without thinking, I said “Yes”. I became a barista at a Starbucks in New York City – an old white guy who clearly was a minority in such a situation. But I found to my surprise I was much happier in that job than I had been as a Mad Man on Madison Avenue. I wrote a book about my first year as a barista called How Starbucks Saved My Life. The book became a New York Times best seller, and someone in Hollywood still is working up a script for a possible movie.

My story is the truth that you never know what surprises life can bring you and that some of the worse things that happen to you are blessings in disguise.

Robert Titus

I have enjoyed a variety of vocations, each freely chosen and each generating less (although sufficient) compensation than the previous one!
Following our graduation, I worked in a family construction business in New Hampshire for three years, before finally choosing Yale Law School over the Yale School of Architecture – a wise move in retrospect since I do not believe I would have been an imaginative architect. I practiced business and securities law at a large Hartford firm (where classmate Mike Halloran was and has been a partner for many years), becoming a partner in 1974. Wanting a try after 15 years at a different engagement with the law, I moved on to teach business and commercial law for another 13 years as a law professor, a most satisfying period in my life. I also had the occasion during that time frame to pick up a new kidney via transplant that has been with me since. Toward the end of that period, I had the fortune to spend a two year sabbatical as the Deputy Banking Commissioner during the independent Governor Weicker years here in Connecticut. Coming on the heels of the S & L banking crisis of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, that was an interesting and challenging time.

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