Anyone who lived in the same entryway as Sean Fenton ’04 could tell when he returned to his Davenport College dorm room each day.
“You could always hear him laughing coming up the stairs,” said Walter Badgett ’04, Fenton’s roommate of three years.
Friends said Fenton’s laugh was one of his most distinctive, and endearing, features.
“He had this deep, hearty Sean laugh,” said Adam Wolf ’04, one of Fenton’s suitemates.
Friends recalled Fenton’s laughter in the days before his death in a tragic automobile accident that claimed the lives of four Yale students and injured five others.
A native of Newport Beach, Calif., Fenton’s ingenuity and dedication were evident from an early age. In sixth grade, Fenton had to earn $150 to buy a bike. Ignoring baby-sitting and lawn-mowing, Fenton started a brownie business, passing out flyers and buying ingredients himself. The one-man operation earned him over $1,000.
Fenton also showed an early love of sports that would follow him to Yale, playing football and baseball and running track in grade school and high school.
“Sean really was one of the hardest working football players at our school,” said Joshua Yelsey ’05, who had known Fenton since grade school and was on Fenton’s high school track team.
Fenton played football during his freshman year at Yale but grew frustrated with the grueling schedule and his lack of playing time. At the beginning of sophomore year, he quit the team.
“I remember he loved football,” said Giovanna Masci ’04, a friend of Fenton’s. “It was really a hard decision for him to stop.”
Fenton took special pride in his strength. None of the weights in the Davenport weight room were heavy enough to satisfy him. During his freshman year, Fenton forgot his Spanish homework in his room but didn’t have a key. His roommates returned a few hours later to find the door kicked in and broken. But ultimately, Fenton was a gentle giant.
“You saw him and he looked like the stereotypical football player,” Masci said. “But he was just a big teddy bear.”
One of Fenton’s motivations for quitting the football team was the sport’s interference with his plans to major in computer science. As with everything Fenton did, he jumped into his new goal with both feet.
“He liked the challenge,” friend Richard Guiltinan ’04 said.
Fenton spent much of last summer building a computer from scratch, tinkering with parts and adding features.
“He worked forever on this thing,” Wolf said. “And then in the middle of the year he said, ‘Anyone want to buy this? This thing is slow.'”
Fenton took special pride in his job as a computer assistant. But he seldom billed Yale for the work he did for his friends.
“It doesn’t feel right getting paid if I would have done it anyway,” Fenton would say, his girlfriend Lenore Estrada ’05 remembered.
Once, Fenton spent an hour and a half repairing a friend’s computer. After Fenton had finished repairing the computer, his friend came to shake his hand, but accidentally spilled a drink onto the keyboard. Without annoyance, Sean simply said he would come back tomorrow and fix it again.
Offering to help dozens of students with computers and weightlifting, Fenton earned a reputation for being an honest and patient friend.
“He was more of a big brother to so many people,” Masci said.
Friends especially remembered Fenton’s constant optimism. When asked if there was any expression he used frequently, his friends answered in unison, “I’m over it.”
“He was really mellow all the time,” Badgett said. “He wouldn’t let things get him down.”
He was a person who, quite literally, would give a friend the shirt off his back. Once, a friend of Fenton’s got sick at a party. Using his own shirt to clean up the mess, he walked back to Davenport shirtless with her.
“He walked back in the dead of winter and he was freezing,” she recalled. “He was shaking.”
At Fenton’s memorial service Saturday, Robert Fenton, Sean’s father, recalled his son’s remarkable dedication to his friends.
“His friends were his life,” Robert Fenton said. “Anyone that knew him knew that.”
The experiences Fenton had had in only 20 years constantly surprised his friends. In Fenton’s suite, they excitedly rattled off the stories he had told them.
“He caught a 400-pound swordfish,” Estrada said.
“He’d been in all 50 states,” Guiltinan said.
“He ate monkey brains in Indonesia,” Estrada added.
Next year, Estrada said, Fenton wanted to become president of DKE, which he pledged during his sophomore year. He also dreamed of someday starting a business with his friends, often discussing what positions each person would have.
“He was so driven and motivated,” Wolf said. “He would have been so good at it.”
Ultimately, though, his dreams for the future were simple.
“I think he just wanted to be happy,” Estrada said.
On Thursday afternoon, Fenton was looking forward to DKE’s trip to New York City.
“He was really excited about going to the city,” Wolf said. “He had done that last year as a pledge.”
Before leaving for New York, Fenton said goodbye to his roommates and walked out the door. A few minutes later, Wolf heard two little knocks at the door. He opened the door a crack and found Fenton grinning mischievously on the other side. Fenton then left his entryway for the last time, laughing “that deep, hearty, Sean laugh” all the way down the steps.