Deceased Sunday, April 17, 2011
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A long life of color and productivity came to an end at 93 on April 17, 2011, for Donald Richards Hart Jr. (known to his universe of friends and acquaintances as “Pete".)
Latterly for many years, Pete had returned home to Connecticut, where he and his wife, Elvira Delaney, had converted for occupancy as their dwelling the former West Cornwall station of the abandoned Berkshire Division of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.
Born and raised in New Britain, Pete was a gregarious member of a band of siblings and cousins to whom he remained devoted. His father was Donald R. Hart, a stockbroker; his mother, Elsie Russell Hart, was known in the family for the imperious pose that gave her, in her work during World War II for the organization Bundles for Britain, the imputed title of general.
Following his grade school career at Mooreland Hill School in New Britain, Pete enrolled at Avon Old Farms School in Avon, Conn., from which he graduated in 1936 and matriculated at Amherst College. Although eschewing the fraternity life adopted by some 85 percent of the student body in those days, Pete had an active social and academic life and a wide circle of friends who enjoyed his high spirits. He occasionally “jazzed up” the conventional activities of college life with innovative and invigorating initiatives.
For me, this “creative” approach in later life was best exemplified in Paris in 1944. I was a civilian employee of the U.S. Office of War Information busily engaged in setting up a supposedly secure code room. He and a buddy in the CIC burst in on me, their automatic brandished. Fortunately, since it was lunch hour, there were no witnesses to this mortifying breach of security.
Pete was multilingual, which talent took him into teaching French, German, Spanish and Latin in his post-Amherst life. (During his junior year, he studied at La Sorbonne in Paris, in spite of opposition from the college to his leaving campus for a year.)
Pete was one of those fortunate ones whose number in that notorious Selective Service goldfish bowl in Washington meant that he was drafted into the army early on. He volunteered during his army career for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services; later, the CIA). He dealt with French sabotage operations in France, without actually going behind the lines. However, later assignments took him into behind-the-lines intelligence work for the OSS. Through keeping active in the army, combined with duty in the active reserve (a total of 33 years), he retired with the rank of colonel.
At war’s end, Pete was mustered out in Europe. He took advantage of this circumstance to stay on the continent by teaching French at a U.S. Army R&R facility in Biarritz, France. There he discovered that many of his G.I. students were perfecting their French out of class—on the Biarritz beaches, with many an alluring demoiselle exposed thereon.
Pete’s next important move was marriage, to a Frenchwoman, Paule-Marie Giordano, in Paris, and in 1947, they started Crow’s Nest Summer Trips to Europe. The name was taken from the family place on Martha’s Vineyard. The trips were supposed to be limited to those between the ages of 18 and 30 (perhaps so that the two guides would not be overawed by older people?). However, the publicity did state, “applications by older persons will be considered.” These trips consumed their summer vacations for eight years.
Later on, Pete coordinated and directed summer horseback-riding programs in Andalusia, Spain. Somehow, with all this, he was appointed delegate to the United States from the tiny Principality of Andorra, located in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. In the period that Pete was delegate from Andorra, he got permission from the Andorran government to appoint “sub-delegates.” His first appointment was a well-known Amherst professor, Charles E. Rogers of the Arts and Theater Departments at Amherst College. Of all the sub-delegates that Pete was eventually to appoint, Rogers took the job the most seriously, even paying his own way to visit Andorra to see “what gives.”
Many people, even after a lifetime of activities that do not seem like “real” work, stop their 9-to-5 jobs at 65 to try to enjoy their golden years doing the things that they felt they had not the time or opportunity to do between college and the end of employment. This, commonly known as retirement, was not true of Pete; between teaching, travel and spending time on Martha’s Vineyard, he had already led a full and rewarding life. But another whole chapter of useful living started at the time a relaxed retirement might have been expected to begin.
This next activity began with a joint move by Pete and Vera (they had married in 1979); they signed up to work as volunteers in the disaster relief program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and flew out on a variety of emergency assignments for 15 years. This meant being on call for assignment on short (sometimes no more than hours) notice to go anywhere in the United States where disaster had struck and the president had declared an emergency requiring the assistance of FEMA.
The result for them was excitement, colorful adventures, the sense of fulfillment provided by doing an important job, and the opportunity to see a great deal of the country. Also, much hard work, many sleepless nights. Their experiences on the job, of course, provided the veritable mine of good stories. They were always on tap for anyone who would pay in the legal tender of interested attention.
An active person throughout his life and into his 80s, Pete was an avid skier who maintained high muscle tone in snow-free areas and seasons by swimming, riding and bicycling.
He and his family were enthusiastic and faithful summer inhabitants of Martha’s Vineyard; their parties were a legendary delight.
Pete will be missed as a devoted father and husband, a faithful friend, a genial host, a merry raconteur, and for all the other virtues he, as a gentleman, so strikingly exemplified. A mild antidote for the sadness and solemnity of his passing may be found in the epitaph Pete suggested for himself: He only dreamed of dissolute living.
Besides his wife, Hart leaves three children, of his marriage to Paule-Marie Giordano, which was his second marriage and ended in divorce: Christine H. Morlock, of Brattleboro, Vt., CEO of a large, low-cost housing project; Peter Russell Patrick Hart, a city employee in New Britain, Conn.; and Philip Donald Hart, of Oakland, Maine, a surveyor. He is also survived by a sister, Mary Hart Clark, of New Britain, who has retired as a teacher of languages; and by a brother, Dr. David L. Hart, a Jungian psychoanalyst, of Oak Bluffs, Mass.; another brother, Henry Russell Hart, is deceased.
His first wife was Marion Hubbard Carey. That marriage, without issue, ended in divorce.
—Lou Dolbeare ’40