Kenneth B. Cutler, Jr.
Ken Cutler passed away on June 12, 2008, exactly three months before he would have turned 40. Ken was one of those classmates that, once I became Class Secretary and got to know him that way, I came to regret not having known at Amherst.
Ken was a regular correspondent, keeping all of us updated on his life after Amherst, as he became a dermatologist and set up his own practice in Southport, CT. He met and married his wife of 13 years, Emmy, and together they had two kids, Amanda and William. His e-mails always revolved around his love for his family or his pride in Amherst -- usually both.
But if you knew Ken, you know that he always delivered his news with a sly wit. Updating me once on his new contact information after a move, he asked that I pass it along to “to all the Alumni fund-raisers so they can take all of my money.” Yet this is the same man who gave back to Amherst time and again, participating in phone-a-thons year after year and playing an active role in the CareerCenter’s mentoring program for younger alumni. (See also his comment, upon acquiring a boat, that he’d wanted to name it AMHERST but been forced by his daughter into making it AMANDA after the first two letters were painted. By the way, he generously offered at the time to take out any fellow alum and “make them seasick.”)
If you were lucky enough to know Ken at Amherst, then you probably already know that he majored in Economics there, and ran track-and-field and cross-country. That he’d grown up in Bronxville, NY, where he went to BronxvilleHigh School. But did you know he’d been an Eagle Scout?
After Amherst, he went to DownstateMedicalSchool in New York City. He was a resident in internal medicine at Columbia Presbyterian and a dermatology resident at New YorkMedicalCollege. Never straying far from his WestchesterCounty roots (aside from four years at Amherst), he made his way to the Connecticut suburbs with his young family and set up shop in 2002.
Ken never told me that he was an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at New YorkMedicalCollege. I guess that was typical of his self-deprecation; in his very first e-mail to me, he wrote, “nothing particularly interesting since Reunion has happened to me,” before remarking on how unusual his street address at the time was.
I’ve gone a back a few times, since learning of his death, to look over all the mentions of Ken in the Class Notes the past several years. The final time I heard from him, early last year, he wondered where he could find Amherst clothes for Amanda, then in the fourth-grade, because he’d spotted one of her classmates wearing Williams gear. As I said, his love for his family and for Amherst seemed to run through all our correspondence.
Still more telling were the remarks made to his on-line memorial. There I found page after page of guest-book comments -- several from other alums. Mike O’Connor ’90 wrote, “What I will remember most about him is his smile, his wide-eyed grin, his joyous demeanor.” And Andrew Cleminshaw ’92, who ran track with Ken, said, “I'll always remember the kind words of encouragement he gave me when he was a junior running well on varsity and I was a struggling freshman.” A fellow doctor wrote about recommending Ken to patients. “He is extremely skilled, very kind, and takes the time to address all your concerns,” she would tell them.
In addition to the expressions of shock at his untimely passing, I was most moved by how many of his patients posted their thoughts. Months later, the encomiums are still coming in, from those long-time patients who are only now learning of this loss. They talk about Ken’s boundless knowledge (medical and otherwise), his limitless patience, his keen empathy, his passion for the job, his constant enthusiasm and optimism, his generosity toward the uninsured, and his respect for patients of all ages. And I know they’re talking about the same guy I knew because of how many of them cite the sense of humor he brought to the job.
That same sense of humor that made my job easier, in chronicling our class’s lives, had the much more important effect of putting his patients at ease. Old and young, they came to Dr. Cutler with real problems -- the burn victim, the teen with severe acne, the pregnant woman newly diagnosed with melanoma, the young girl he talked out of having plastic surgery, the distraught child -- and he found a way to reach out and comfort them. Clearly, he was not just a doctor but a friend as well.
They wrote about driving for miles out of their way to see Dr. Cutler rather than anyone closer to home. They wrote about going to doctor after doctor without a proper diagnosis, until they found Dr. Cutler. They wrote -- you won’t be surprised by now to learn -- that he talked endlessly of his own family and how much they meant to him.
And many even wrote to say Ken had saved their lives, or their children’s lives. I mean that not just metaphorically. (One mom posted: “He took a little girl with terrible skin problems and turned her into a beautiful swan. When she cried to him, he would gently dry her tears and tell her she was beautiful.”) I mean that literally.
Though Ken is gone, there are others still alive only because of him. As one of those fortunate patients of Dr. Cutler wrote, “I hope his family takes some comfort in the fact that he helped many, many people. There are people that can live 100 years and not have the impact that he had during his life.”