Jocke Stevenson

In Remembrance of Jocke Stevenson by Bill Rees

I don’t remember knowing Jocke at Yale. I certainly heard of him as one of the other mighty members of the Class: a pundit and a wit and the Editor of the Record. My first vivid recollection of him was at a party after graduation: he was a proud student at the Yale Law School, sitting in a huge arm chair, dazzling everyone at the party with his humor. A small man with Hirohito glasses, no doubt with a glass in his hand to call forth and fan the hilarity from that spring reserved for a chosen few. And he was chosen. He could string out a jolly line. But as with many comics, there must have been sorrow on the inside: perhaps, as a member of a minority, by the strain of having to excel, especially as a minority within the Yale quota system; or perhaps by anxiety born with childhood dreams destroyed by knowledge of the Holocaust. He finished law school and then got tied up with Lolliard, maybe as a summer job, I don’t remember, but I do remember that he did not seem intent on practicing law as I would imagine my doing had I the same ability and opportunities, entering a prestigious law firm and working up to achievement and position. And then I saw Jocke often at class functions. He was always there and always a little drunker and less funny; as though the exhaustion did not end at graduation, as though the crassness of capitalistic competition was out to crush him, as though membership in a presidential brain trust, which could hold crassness at bay, was not a right bestowed by two Yale degrees. And so he drank, both to deny those shattered myths and for the exhilaration to restore them. And once he showed me a photo of a girl with whom he was smitten and later introduced me to her, a nondescript lady like so many of the others: tall, thin, upper bland Ivy. Soon she appeared with him as his wife and soon thereafter she was gone and whatever job he had was gone and whatever life he had was also gone. He stepped into a 10th Reunion meeting at the 21 Club as from a binge. Eyebrows were raised and comments were made about asking him to resign from the class committee. I don’t remember if I defended him, I hope I did, but I remember believing that such a move would strip him of his last shred of dignity. He was not asked to resign, nor was the subject ever raised publicly. But privately we all acknowledged that he was in desperate shape, which is as close as men from the north-east of America come to helping other men. And then there was radical discovery: that this square world of ours was indeed flat, for he had been to its very edge and had not fallen off. The moment he set foot on dry land he was changed, changed radically. The booze was gone and Barbara had come and with her his former, brilliant, confident, witty self. And then Marshall came who was so dear to him: “…sometimes I find myself on the Lexington Avenue Subway in Manhattan going down to Wall Street at rush hour and the idea of the ultimate perfectibility of mankind is not there…but then I look at my son and it comes back”, he said on May 29, 1981 at the class panel of our 25th Reunion on the Things That Make Life Worth Living. And then as association with an older attorney who became like an uncle and then the assumption of the practice when he died and then participating with a new partner in expanding the practice every few years. And with this and to this talent came many offers for help: leadership of his condominium, leadership in his synagogue, and Corresponding Secretary of our Class. Jocke loved Yale. I was fortunate to have been chosen the Chairman for our 25th Reunion, and Jocke was one of the most enthusiastic members of our Advance Party, calling classmates, spreading the news. He supplied me with a trove of old snapshots of how we were: it became the keystone of a slideshow, which ran continuously and always riveted spectators. Who would have thought such a series of amateur photos could have meant so much to so many? He supplied me with a record, which became the basis of a cassette that we sent to every classmate encouraging them to come. And he was the anchor on our panel. He wrote to me accepting the invitation to speak: “You may be assured I find myself in the spirit of Mozart…perhaps even Vivaldi”. And his remarks were equally joyful.

He was always willing to help others. A few years later I agreed to arrange a few seminars on post Yale careers for students of Davenport College, the protégées of the Class of 1956. I asked Jocke and another classmate to explain the legal profession, and he did so cheerfully to an audience of two or three more in number than that of the panel. He relieved my embarrassment for having him come from New York for such a poor turnout with the gratitude of his having been thought worthy.

And Jocke was devoted to his friends: when another friend and classmate was dying of cancer, racked with pain and penniless, Jocke found a record of his accounts receivable and squeezed enough money out of them in an afternoon to secure the necessary deposit to a hospital for admission and for care in his final days. After he died, he not only settled the estate free of charge but also helped his former wife and children move the furniture and files from his apartment.

Here was a man whose stature was opposite to his height, who loved to the point of bursting and unashamedly. A rare men, both intelligent and humble. To have known this generous man was to take on part of his gravity as a parachute does to earth.

William H. H. Rees

New Haven, Connecticut

April 25, 1989