As the Class of 1954 contemplates its 65th (and hopefully not last) reunion this coming weekend, a great many thoughts and memories come to mind. First of all, our classmates, who are all male, respected and revered the Reverend Sidney Lovett, Yale’s Chaplain, who literally put the fear of God in us — and also inspired us. While the President of Yale, Whitney Griswold, was a wonderful man and greatly admired, Sid Lovett was the person who really got our motors going, or stopped the wrong ones.
We had a tightly knit class from the beginning. Our first class secretary, the late William K. (“Sandy”) Muir, Jr., was an inspirational leader and a great man, even though he did it all from a wheelchair, having contracted the dreaded Poliovirus the summer after our graduation. Sandy organized the class council, and got people behind him. It has been a very productive council ever since then.
At one point, around 25 years out, Dick Gilder ’54, Joel Smilow ’54, Fred Frank ’54, a few others and I got together and decided we hoped we would be able to give a significant gift to Yale for our 50th reunion. We formed the 54/50 fund and invited classmates five years later to make contributions.
After the fund was formed, around 60 classmates had contributed approximately $600,000 to it. The university offered to manage the funds for us, but we were young and optimistic, and maybe even a little visionary, so we gave the funds to Joe McNay ’54 in Boston, who managed it with Dick Gilder and a few others, and leveraged it to the hilt. The fund grew dramatically. Ultimately, with some prodding from Rick Levin, the class was in a position to give Yale around $70 million to fund the Class of 1954 Science Center.
There was some serious negotiating between our class and Yale. At the time of our 50th reunion, the fund was nearer to $110 million, and our brilliant classmates, Gilder, Smilow and company, arranged for us to have the Class of 1954 Skybox at the Yale Bowl, which we still have.
One of our classmates, Charlie Johnson ’54, who played football and was recently encouraged to join our 1954 Whiffenpoof group, which still performs, made one of the largest gifts in collegiate history, providing the initial funding for Yale’s two new colleges. Irv Jensen ’54 and his family provided the funds for the dramatic entrance to the Yale Bowl, and Joel Smilow ended up endowing the Smilow Cancer Hospital as part of the Yale New Haven Health System. During this period, Dick Gilder and his daughter Ginny also funded the beautiful Gilder boathouse for the winning Yale crews. Also, at President Levin’s request Fred Frank helped establish and fund the Yale School of Management in 1976, now a globally ranked business school.
None of this would have been possible without the spirit that Yale drummed into us — namely, to become leaders and to do the right and honorable things for the right reasons. Today, Yale is a vibrant, thriving, much different place than it was in 1954. So many changes have taken place. Change creates not only opportunity, but also controversy. There are those in our class today who feel that the university is too liberal, and there are others who probably think it is not liberal enough.
The good news is that regardless of what we think, and concerns we may have, Yale College is stronger than ever, financially and academically, as are its flourishing world-leading law school, medical school and divinity school. To have been part of the great Class of 1954 has been a particular blessing for all of us. I hope Yale will continue to encourage people to do the right things for the right reasons, and to listen to the Chaplain, as well as the professors and the coaches.
Our class is just one of many, but we have been lucky to have some very generous classmates.
Our class motto is “Be Positive, Be Grateful, and Be of Service.” I am very proud of our classmates, who have exemplified our motto.
Russell Reynolds ’54 is the founder and chairman of Russell Reynolds Associates, an international executive recruiting firm. Contact him at email@example.com.