Amherst Magazine

Roger S. Pratt '60

Deceased December 11, 2011

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In Memory

After a long illness Roger Sherman Pratt died at his home in Woodbury, CT on December 11, 2011. Roger was born and raised in New York City and spent summers and school vacations in New Milford, CT, Martha's Vineyard and his family's fishing camp in New Brunswick, Canada. He came to Amherst from The Putney School.


Roger was a scion of a family that had left a major mark on Amherst in the names of several buildings and facilities. Although it was natural for him to come to Amherst, he did not take his connection as part of his birthright. He was always modest about his family. His parents had divorced, and he was close to his mother, Trude Lash, a prominent activist on behalf of children's welfare organizations and human rights issues, and stepfather, Joe Lash, a well-known liberal journalist.

Roger's diverse interests reflected the two parts of his family. Like his father, he had a love of the outdoors, particularly for fly-fishing. And from his grandfather George Dupont Pratt (Amherst class of 1893) he inherited considerable athletic ability, which he applied to skiing at Putney and to squash at Amherst, which he played with elegance and competitive success, ultimately as co-captain of the squash team.

From his mother and stepfather he developed a strong social conscience and a highly discerning esthetic appreciation. I remember very clearly the care and insight he put into a term paper on the slow movements of the later Mozart piano concertos. He was deeply touched by those great works. It was also his esthetic appreciation that directed him toward becoming an architect. He was an English major, but started taking architecture- related courses at Smith in his junior year. From the start, his designs showed the same creativity and precision that characterized all his work at Amherst. He prepared for his profession at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Architecture.

We lost touch with each other after Amherst. I was glad to read in the very nice piece he prepared for the 50th reunion book. He described his successful and satisfying career as an architect, first in Philadelphia and later in Western Connecticut. He mentioned with obvious pride his family: two daughters from his first marriage and their five children as well as three sons   from his second marriage to Ann Nevel. He noted how much he enjoyed walking on the woodland trails near his 1800's house in Woodbury.

Roger shunned most reunions, but he did show up for his 50th at Putney in 2006 where we had a nice conversation about the design features of the recent buildings at the school. He and Adam Sonnenschein, his roommate for three years, spent a long afternoon and dinner catching up at our Amherst 45th. Even though his illness was just beginning to be apparent, Adam and I were pleased to see that he was still the lively, generous and friendly person that we had known when he was at Amherst.

John Richardson & Adam Sonnenschein

Comments

Here’s my favorite Roger S. (Mickey) Pratt remembrance.

Mickey and I became fast friends early on, and prior to Thanksgiving our sophomore year (when I was 19 years old), knowing that I had planned to hitchhike home to spend Thanksgiving at my parents in Brookline, Mass., Mickey pre-empted that exercise by inviting me to his New York City home.

I had absolutely no idea who his parents were and I knew nothing about his mother and stepfather. That would change quickly. I was overwhelmed by an elaborate Manhattan East Side Town House (never been in one before) and an elegant and beautiful woman (Trude Lash, his mother) who ruled the roost. Somewhere in the house (I met him once) was his stepfather Joseph P. (Joe) Lash, later to win national fame as the author of Eleanor and Franklin, and other Roosevelt books, but at the time a columnist for Dorothy Schiff’s liberal New York Post. Our first evening was to be a special affair. Trude had arranged for Mickey and I to have orchestra seats for West Side Story – yes, the then just opened original cast version! Later I figured out that was to get us out of the house for the evening, because a special guest was coming over. Shortly after an early evening meal, and about 45 minutes before we were due to go to the theater, Mickey told me that I was welcome to meet the special guest.

He brought me to a small room off the main living room, and there waiting to see us was Eleanor Roosevelt! It was a WOW moment for me. My parents had loved the Roosevelts (from a distance), thought FDR had saved the country during the Great Depression and World War Two, and had instilled that special respect in me. So not knowing what to say except “Hello Mrs. Roosevelt,” I wound up being interviewed by HER.

After establishing my age and the fact that I was from Massachusetts, she asked me what I thought of Senator John F. Kennedy. I responded that Senator Kennedy was a clearly terrific person and a great Senator.

Mrs. Roosevelt would have none of it. She proceeded to tell me at length and in no uncertain terms about the serious moral, ethical and policy failings of the Kennedy family.

Though I was absolutely stunned and wanted to know more, the details were not to be. Trude Lash came in and announced it was time for us to go to the theater. We said Goodbye to Mrs. Roosevelt, and off we went.

 

I had a great evening. And a great stay. And from then on I was forever grateful to Mickey for his kindness, and to Mrs. Roosevelt for her brutal frankness. 

 

Mickey offered me my first insight into how the “American elite” live and think. It was a lesson that I have never forgotten.

 

 

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