Amherst Magazine

William A. Snedeker ’79

Deceased April 15, 2011

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In Memory

William Audley Snedeker – universally known as Sned – passed away on April 15 from a stroke he suffered after taking his beloved daughter, Tatiana, to school.  Sned is survived by his wife of 25 years, Linda; his son, Garrett (of the Great Class of 2009); ten-year-old Tatiana; an extended family; and more friends than I will be able to collect in eight lifetimes.

Sned would want the usual stuff disposed of quickly.  Born in New Jersey.  Andover, class of 1975.  History major; wrote a thesis about early 20th century arms control.  Georgetown Law.  New York City lawyer with a bunch of law firms, massive to small, before setting up his own shop within a regional firm.

What defined Sned was his devotion to family – with “family” being defined broadly to include pretty much everyone he knew.  Sned was not a Facebook friend, he was the real deal.  If you had troubles, he was there for you, to listen and console.  If you needed help or advice, he would give you every bit of his time and attention.  He celebrated others’ successes as if they were his own.  Sned did not show off his smarts – there was not a shred of pretense in the man – but he was one of the best-read and most cerebral people I have known.  And, of course, he was possessed of a contagious ebullience; you simply could not help but smile when Sned was around.  As Jamie Brigagliano said:  “There is no one, no one, who celebrated each day more than Sned.”

The stories of Sned’s revelries are, as they say, legion.  I could tell you about Sned igniting some table decorations at the old Trader Vic’s in the Plaza Hotel after a few Samoan Fog Cutters.  Or the time we had a “snowball” fight with a sack of dinner rolls we discovered outside a restaurant at 4:00 a.m.  Or Sned crashing, and being ejected from, a very haute party -- three times.  Or Sned’s smuggling, not just a flask, but glasses, ice, and mixers, into a movie theater and serving drinks throughout Blood Suckers From Outer Space (Sned’s choice, it should go without saying).  Or the time we managed to get kicked out of a NYC cab.  What made all of these escapades so Snedian was not only the laughter we shared, but that they all happened in one night.

Sned loved Amherst.  I think he loved the College because that was where Bill became Sned.  He thrived on the academic challenges.  He reveled in the informal rituals that animate the place (Sned barreling down Memorial Hill on a Valentine tray was a vision of all-consuming joy).  He even enjoyed the occasional snooty ceremony, in a Pythonesque sort of way (Peter Friedrichs said, “while Sned loved tradition, he wasn't traditional”).  But what he mostly loved about Amherst College were the friendships he formed there, and which he made sure endured and deepened through the years.  Sned was an enthusiastic DKE, but the entire College was his fraternity – he was as comfortable joking with Amherst's Presidents as he was with Officer Keyes.  He was also renowned among Amherst parents.  Amy Wilfert, whose daughter, Kate, is a classmate of Garrett's, wrote:  "As much of a legend as he was when we were at school, he was equally so as a parent of a student. He just seemed to belong there in a way that needs no explanation to anyone who knew him."  It is right, then, that his ashes are strewn about the campus of the Fairest College.  As Sned would say, “So be it.”

-- Kurt Schwarz '79

Comments

There is so much to say about my friend and classmate Sned.  That he lived with gusto – with a take-no-prisoners, no-holds-barred zest for life – is well chronicled.  The day we arrived at Amherst, I wandered into a room down the hall in Pratt because I heard The Marshall Tucker Band blaring from the stereo at an ear-shattering level.  I walked in and found Sned and Kurt Schwarz bouncing around the living room, playing air guitar (Sned was a lousy guitar player, but a gifted air guitarist), screeching “Yee Ha!” at the tops of their lungs.  When Sned saw me, he immediately introduced himself, handed me a beer, and invited me to join them, which of course I did.  It was the first of many “Yee Ha” moments Sned and I would share.  

Sned’s exploits are the stuff of legend.  There was the time he was a passenger in Ron Ottinger’s car and convinced Ron to attempt to hurdle the 10-foot hedges at the bottom of the DKE lawn.  He and Ron ended up having to be extricated from the car by Amherst security when it got wedged mid-way up the hedges.  Or the time Sned passed out on a couch at DKE while consuming a Bells pizza (actually, inhaling is the more accurate verb to describe what Bill did with a pizza), woke up the next morning to find the half-eaten pie still in its box atop his chest, and, without so much as yawning or stretching or even bothering to sit up, calmly finished the cold pizza and washed it down with a warm beer.  

But for all of the memorable “Yee Ha” moments we shared, what I will most cherish about Sned is that he was a warm, generous and devoted friend.  Although he and I had not been in regular contact over the last several years (a fact I now painfully regret), whenever we did see each other, it was as if no time had passed at all.  He was as kind and gracious as ever, and we were able to reconnect, catch up, and share many laughs.  I credit Sned for making this possible:  his easy-going nature, his genuine concern for the people around him, and his inability to hold a grudge allowed us to remain closely connected in spite of the passage of time and the physical distance between us.  When Sned was your friend, he was your friend for life.  

And because he made friends so easily, Sned’s circle of friends was vast and varied.  This was certainly true at Amherst, where despite a fraternity system that segregated people into tightly knit cliques, Sned had friends in every fraternity and among every group on campus.  He liked everyone, and everyone liked him.  There is perhaps no greater evidence of this than the e-mail thread among his Amherst friends after we learned the grim news a few weeks ago.  The spontaneous outpouring came from a broad group of people who are not necessarily friends with one another, but who share a common bond:  their love and affection for Sned.   

Sned also had a unique ability to bring people together.  Through him, and because of him, his friends often became good friends.  When I was in law school in New York City, Bill used to call me at night and insist that I meet him and his Andover buddy John for drinks at Trader Vic’s.  If I hesitated because I had homework or an early class the next day, his response was typically, “Weed-man, you worthless sack of shit.  Get your lazy ass down here.”  And so on more evenings than I can remember, I did as instructed and met Sned and John.  When we first started meeting, I hardly knew John, but by the time I finished law school, because of Sned’s generosity in bringing his friends together, John and I had become very close.  That was Sned’s way.  

Bill’s wife Linda has lost a loving husband.  His children Garrett and Tatiana have lost an adoring father.  Amherst has lost an esteemed and loyal alumnus.  And I have lost a good friend. 

Peter Weidman '79

 

Sned's passing wounded me more than I thought it would; even when I was aware of his dire condition, it didn't occur to me that such a vibrant and loving guy could die so young.  Losing Sned is not just losing a friend; it is losing the person who defined friendship to me.  Peter Weidman's tribute to Sned brilliantly captures the essence of the man; my only beef with it is that I thought Sned reserved the phrase of praise  "sack of shit" for me.  That said, Peter's said pretty much everything that needs be said.

I met Sned almost 40 years ago.  We really didn't become close until our senior year at Andover, when both of us -- against all reasonable estimations of our intellectual abilities -- were admitted to the Fairest College.  It seemed wise to room together, so we did, with Dave Brummer.  Local friends in Pratt included "Weed-man", Ron Ottinger, Alan Kaufman, Ellis Moss, and many others.  Sned struck a distinctive note that year, if only because he argued that the best way to eliminate some vomit from our shared bathroom was to ignite  it with -- I'm not sure what, but it burned, but did not dispose of  the recycled pizza.

 

 

Well done Peter. What a legacy to leave even if it is too, too soon.

Dear Bill,

The other day, I received some very sad news from Pete Weidman.  I processed this very sad news with a sit down and a drop of the Scottish balm.  And I had a kind of Proustian recollection of a letter I received, in Manhasset as it happened, one summer day in 1975 from a William Snedeker (pronounced SNEE-DECKER) of somewhere in Massachusetts, a state with new and special significance to me following my acceptance to Amherst College.  The letter found me in a state of low-grade anxiety.  It (Amherst College) was to be my first experience living away from home and I was (am?) a high-functioning agoraphobic.  What a boon to receive a message from my soon-to-be roomy welcoming me to the club and reassuring me that life as I knew it was about to change for the better.

I mean, this is not something that a teenager does, at least not any teenager I knew (know)---"Hi there, my name's Sned.  Damn glad to know ya"---and it meant a great deal to me.  (Not that I every told you; not that I ever wrote back)  It was my introduction to the warm, over-stuffed, pleasantly unctuous sphere of your acquaintance.  Friendship, installed and serviced.

I don't mean to be maudlin.  This is more than a little embarrassing.  But when a Sned-sized hole opens up in the fabric of life, and we catch a glimpse of the works---the engine room---it gives a guy pause.  It makes a guy do strange things. Like attempt to work a few things out, in the form of a letter, to someone he's never written to before, that now will never be read.

I'm sitting here trying to give a name to a leaden helplessness not even the Scottish balm can lift.  It feels like I have discovered a new species of fear.  Most things I worry about won't happen.  This one will.  All of us---we of contemporaneous age---are in the same boat, together.  And whatever it is we're all floating on, you, my friend, are now swimming in.  At the moment, I could use another letter, like the one from 1975.  Something reassuring.  Something along the line of, "the water's fine."  You could tell me not to be sad, that these things happen.  That you wouldn't change a thing; that you would take quality over quantity any day of the week.  You could forgive me for being such a lousy correspondent; for treating friendship as the inverse of space and time.  You could try to persuade me that I am right to be so religiously convinced; that my Imaginary Friend, such a zero when it comes to protection, can still be counted on for a little comfort when it's needed the most.

I remember a lonely afternoon in April of 1979, sitting at my desk on the third floor of Deke, in a completely quiet and empty house, having just learned that I would not be attending veterinary college in the Fall.  And there you were, knocking softly on my door, staring a hole in my floor, looking as grim as I had ever seen you.  Somehow you had heard, and you walked all the way from campus just to tell me how sorry you were that things had not worked out the way I had hoped.  You kept saying that it wasn't fair, it just wasn't fair.  You implored me not to be discouraged, that things would eventually work out; that life as I knew it would change for the better.  It hurt you---physically hurt you---to see me fail.

There's a word for this, you know.  A word for what it means to experience another's pain; to participate in another's suffering; to want the best for someone.  The word known to all men, Joyce called it.  But don't worry, I won't say it.  It would probably just creep you out.

I'm going to take a trip to Amherst on June 18th.  In the grand scheme of things, it's no farther than the distance from "B" Dorm to Deke.  Maybe it's finally time to repay a long-remembered act of kindness.  Maybe, at a time like this, we all just want to be together; to re-install and service some old friendships.  Maybe, the closer we are to each other, the closer we are to you.  There will be plenty of Sned stories---there will always be Sned stories---memory the surest immortality.  But it won't surprise me if the stories are somehow different than before, tinted with something like meaning, revealing something that was always there but that we did not see.  Or could not name.  Like whatever it is we're floating on, we your friends, in this boat we're all in together.  The one you've left us in.  What are we floating on?

At the moment, it feels like your love; deep, and steady, and endless as the sea.

 

In The Bonds,

Dave Brummer

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare

 

Act 5; scene 4;  An off stage call to battle. Enter Brutus, Messala, Young Cato, Lucillius and Favius.

 

Brutus:  Yet, countrymen, O yet hold up your heads.

                  (exit with Messala and Flavius)

 

Cato:  What bastard doth not?  Who will go with me?  I will proclaim my name about the field.  I am the son of Marcus Cato, ho! A foe to tyrants, and my country’s friend.  I am the son of Marcus Cato, ho!

 

 And then young Cato charges fearlessly into battle and is instantaneously dispatched by some beefy Roman soldiers.

 

 

Many of you will remember that our own Bill played the part of young Cato in the Masquers production of Julius Caesar in 1978.  You will no doubt remember because in the weeks leading up to the performance previously routine salutations such as, “hey Sned, how’s it going?” were met with, “I am the son of Marcus Cato, ho!”.

 

I recall commenting to Bill at the time that I had no idea he was a thespian.  Only, I didn’t say “thespian”.  I was a science major, and I thought it was pronounced “thesbian”.  To which Bill replied that he was, indeed, a thesbian---a thesbian trapped in a man’s body.  Which I didn’t understand; again, science major.

 

The part of Young Cato was perfect for Bill.  It gave him the opportunity to say “bastard!” at the top of his lungs in a room full of people including, theoretically, his professors.  The part allowed him a reasonable period of time on stage, long enough to feel completely at ease at the cast party.  But best of all, owing to the fact that following his one speech he was promptly killed, most of his time on stage was spent lying down, completely motionless, and without those annoying lines to memorize…the ones without the word “bastard!” in them.  Yes, the Bard must have had our Bill in mind when he wrote the part of Young Cato, ho! Remaining motionless was a talent for which Bill was an acknowledged master.  If the task at hand required staying absolutely still, Bill was your man. 

 

The night of the performance arrives, and we his adoring audience have nothing but high expectations.  And when we finally make it to Act 5, scene 4---it is, after all, at the very freaking end of the play---Bill does not disappoint.  His lines are incendiary.  We would have all marched into the jaws of Hell with the son of Marcus Cato, ho!, were it not for the fact that he was in no condition to lead anyone anywhere owing to his immediate dispatching, the one to which I alluded earlier.

 

And it’s not like he’s run through off stage.  It’s not like its merely referenced.  The act is committed right there, in full view.  Bill takes a spear, like a man, ho!, stumbles briefly, and settles into his stage-nap, in front of all assembled.

 

It is while Lucillius is lamenting, “ O young and noble Cato, art thou down?”, that Bill has what I guess you could call a wardrobe malfunction.  At some point during his ferocious, if instantly futile, attempt at self-preservation, Bill’s helmet comes loose.  Having lost its mooring to his now supine head, it starts to roll, in slow motion, toward the edge of the stage.  Bill, now seized by a very uncharacteristic tidy fit, brakes character, crawls over to retrieve the itinerant bit of costume, and lies back down just as Lucillius, now at a bit of a loss, adds, “why, now thou diest as bravely as Titinius,” and briefly transforms the Tragedy of Julius Caesar into the Comedy of Julius Caesar.

 

As the scene ends, the son on Marcus Cato, ho!, is carried from the stage by Roman soldiers, clutching tightly his hard won accoutrement. 

 

 

Bill played the guitar.  He was an accomplished musician.  It will help here to know that my personal definition of “accomplished musician” is someone who can play the first fifteen bars of “Dance With Me”, a popular song in 1976 by the band Orleans, and a favorite with the ladies. 

 

Whenever Bill was tickled by his muse, whenever he felt the urge to make some music, he would pick up his ax and pluck his fifteen bars of “Dance With Me”, and be utterly satisfied.  On those occasions when we entertained visitors in 104 Pratt, and someone would notice the guitar propped against the corner, next to the decorative bong, the conversation would go something like this:

 

Guest:  “Who plays the guitar?”

 

Bill:  “I dabble.”

 

Guest: Would you play something?

 

Bill: If you’d like.

 

And then he would rip into a flawless, heartfelt “Dance With Me”, right up to the break, when he would suddenly catch himself and protest, “listen, we’re not here for a concert…let’s talk about you.  What’s your major?”

 

The point is that it was never about the music.  It was about breaking the ice.  Voluntarily arresting one’s artistic development at fifteen bars of “Dance With Me” was the musical equivalent of going to the beach and tanning in the clothes you intended to wear that evening.  There was no wasted effort.  Everything was secondary to oiling the wheels of social intercourse.

 

 

 

 

I was going through some of my snap shots of college days, and I came upon some pictures of the Amherst College $26 Marching Band…my baby.  My one, very short-lived, contribution to student life at the Fairest College.  Bill was in just about all of them. 

 

It was very difficult filling the ranks of the marching band most Saturdays.  Asking a guy if he would like to play in a marching band was pretty much like asking a guy if he would be interested in a couple of breast implants.  But Bill could see that I needed him…and he was a good friend.  He was a very good friend.  So he joined the $26 Marching Band, because I needed him.

 

As none of the halftime shows featured the music of Orleans, Bill traded his beloved guitar for a kazoo.  He wasn’t a big fan of rehearsals; he liked to keep his performances fresh.  Edgy.  As a result, he didn’t have a clue when game-day rolled around. He would kind of skitter about, to the degree that Bill skittered, until I pointed to a spot on the field and he took his place in the formation.  And as the rest of the instrument-baring members of the band launched into “Love Will Keep Us Together”, or “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”, I could just pick out, in a soft, tissue paper buzz, the first fifteen bars of “Dance With Me”. 

 

 

Now, if you’ll indulge me, I need to get something off of my chest.  More precisely, I need to get something off of Bill’s chest. Even more precisely, the thing I need to remove from Bill’s chest is a cold Bell’s pizza, cheese and pepperoni, and probably some sausage is involved.

 

The story goes something like this: 

 

The morning after the night before--- some form of collegiate debauchery---Bill was snug in his bed, enjoying a well-deserved sleep-in, with a portion of the afore named Bell’s pizza, replete with cheese, pepperoni, and probably sausage, inverted on his chest, the assumption, of course, being that he had passed out mid-nibble.  Upon awakening, Bill quickly re-assembled the world----essentially from scratch----and recognized his good fortune.  He righted the now stiff wedge, flicked off a few errant specks of lint and pectoral hair, and quietly enjoyed his miraculous petit dejeuner.

 

That’s the story.  And it must have struck a very deep, resonant chord, because it has been told and retold for over thirty years.  There have been modifications over that time---different toppings, number of slices, in a box, on his chest, on the bed (sounds like Dr. Seuss) ---but the gist remained the same.

 

And I’m here to tell you, it never happened.  It is all made up.  I made it up.

 

Back in the day, I served some time as the secretary of Delta Kappa Epsilon.  My job, for which I was paid nothing, was to create a humorous monolog, masquerading as minutes, and to present this humorous monolog, masquerading as minutes, to the assembled fraternity at our gote meetings.  Much as I am doing for you now.  My attempt at humor was generally at the expense of other members of the fraternity, and I am not at all proud of this.  I’d like to think that I got as good as I gave.

 

But that’s where this story comes from.  Minutes to a gote meeting.  Completely made up.  And I’ve been trying to figure out why it has such staying power.  Why it’s hung around for all these years.  How it is we’ve come to remember it as an actual event.  And why the story wouldn’t make any sense if it involved anyone but Bill.

 

Unless I’m mistaken, this story has become a myth.  And like any myth worth its salt, it carries a metaphoric truth beneath its literal fiction.  It is connotation rather than denotation.  Stay with me. It is poetry rather than prose.   It is a lie that tells the truth.

 

And the truth about our friend Bill is this:  the trick for all of us, in the time we have, is to learn what it is we really want; what it is that makes us truly happy; the thing that’s worth a life. From where I’m standing, Bill learned early on what it was he really wanted.  And to his great delight, he realized that he already had it.  And it wasn’t a pizza….that’s just a metaphor.  What he wanted most of all is what I’m looking at right now:  a room full of laughing flesh.  A room full of his family.  A room full of his friends.  The people he cared about, and who care about him.  And they were already there---they were always there--- all around him.  All the time.  It seems to me that the truth, waiting in this made-up story, this myth, is this:  to ask is to receive for the fortunate few who know what to ask for.

 

Somewhere, right now, William Snedeker is comparing me and my thesis to the excreta of a large ocean-dwelling mammal.  So if all this sounds just too, too wrought, that’s O.K.  A myth can do its job on several levels.  Try this:

 

If some morning you wake up, and you are fortunate enough to find a piece of cold Bell’s pizza plastered against your chest, peel it carefully away, inspect it for lint and pectoral hair, and enjoy it.  Eat it with profound gratitude for the miraculous abundance of your life.  Its pointless joy.  And if your odd behavior happens to be witnessed, that’s O.K.  A big-hearted person like you would want your friends to share a laugh.  Trust me, they’ll tell and retell the story every time they get together; and they’ll remember you fondly.  Who wouldn’t want that?  Chances are good that the story will be told, and you’ll be remembered, for as long as there are people to tell it.

 

 

To Bill Snedeker

 

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