Deceased January 24, 1997
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A good friend, John Bretl, died in January. A note in my pocket was reminding me to call him the day his wife, Valerie, let us know that he was gone. I knew John was battling cancer but did not know the end was so near. John doubtless knew, yet in discussing his struggle so objectively and optimistically he had convinced me a way would be found to save him. Characteristically, he even sounded nonjudgmental describing how various chemical cocktails would slow the “little buggers” attacking him.
We became friends in the fall of freshman year. He lived in the upper reaches of James dorm along with Dave Joys ’65, Charlie Ayers ’65, and Forbes McMullin ’65. From his dorm window he would watch me after dinner trudging to Appleton to study and then complain about my “grinding.” But his teasing, as always, was gentle and mixed with respect.
As sophomores, we moved into the Chi Psi “penthouse” along with Forbes, Dave, Charlie, and Tom Roush ‘66. Already a craftsman, John renovated, wall papered, painted murals, and created a rotating wagon wheel coffee table. Flashbacks include memories of his cat Ivan, a bunny whose name eludes me but whose generous pellets did not, his skydiving for a UMass psychology study, a beloved Jaguar, a prom weekend lobster bake, and the remarkable rifle-light contraption he fashioned for study break rat shoots at the dump. I also recall John driving me to Springfield and picking out inexpensive ski equipment, understanding without asking that I did not have much to spend. Then, using his best German ski instructor accent, he tirelessly gave me lessons beginning on a Chi Psi stairway.
Post Amherst led to Columbia Business School, FoMoCo in Dearborn, back to NYC with Oppenheimer, and finally to his breathtaking home on Narragansett Bay. John was the one who stayed in touch. I counted on him for financial advice, arguments about books (which he often mailed to me), and kindly, wise career counseling. Right now on my desk is that insufferable math riddle he sent which I’m still trying to solve.
John was a loving and proud dad of Todd and Betsy, his and Valerie’s young children. He was also the world class sailor who just a year ago captained a voyage to the Azores as well as the master artisan who never ran out of work. Discussing his projects, John had a way of saying the word “perfect” that always thrilled me and which I can still hear.
John’s death has left a hole in many lives that will never be filled.
Don Kopp ‘65