Deceased October 1, 2021

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In Memory

Frederic J. Gardner ’49, P’79, G’15, died in Boston at his Back Bay home October 1. Born April 30, 1925, he lived his near century-long life at full-tilt, as an infantryman in the Second World War; a devoted father, husband and friend; a lifelong student of history; an outstanding amateur athlete and a businessman. 

Fred was born in Boston and raised in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts, the son of Louis and Elizabeth Gardner. He attended Wellesley public schools until 10th grade, when his father enrolled him at Noble and Greenough in Dedham because, Fred said, “I was having too good a time in the public schools.” 

At Nobles, Fred began his study of history and took German language classes, which served him well as an infantryman in the Second World War. He enlisted in the Army in 1943, before graduating from Nobles, but the school later sent him his diploma in the mail. 

Fred referred to his stint in the Army as “the most unpleasant three years of my life.” Working his way up from an ammunition carrier to gunner in the Second Infantry Division, he started his combat tour two days after the Allied Forces landed at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, and ended it on May 8, 1945, V-E Day, in Pilsen, formerly Czechoslovakia, liberating its citizens. During that time, he also fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and before that, in the Battle for Brest, in Brittany.

He was wounded twice in combat, which, paradoxically, he believed, saved his life. While he was recuperating in a hospital in southwestern England in July 1944, the Second Division sustained heavy casualties in the battle of St. Lo. “What saved me was my time in the hospital,” Fred said.

“I managed to survive the war by sheer luck,” he said. He was awarded two Purple Hearts, among other citations and medals. Throughout his life, Fred remained clear-eyed about his time in the Army, refusing to glorify either his service or how the war was operationalized.

“Before they could defeat Hitler, G.I.s had to defeat the U.S. Army,” he said, referring to the bureaucracy.  

Honorably discharged in October 1945, Fred took advantage of the G.I. Bill to attend Amherst, his grandfather’s alma mater. “Going to Amherst out of the Army was like getting into a country club with no dues,” Fred noted. “Three square meals a day, with no responsibilities except to pass the exams, with a bunch of congenial people.”

While studying European history at Amherst, he met his wife, Sue (Suzy) Hemphill, an English major at Mount Holyoke. On Saturday nights, he would lure her to Amherst with the promise of a 90-cent spaghetti dinner at Delmonico’s, in the center of town. 

Fred graduated in 1949 (he spent one summer at Amherst studying to make up for starting a semester late), and they were married in 1950, soon after her graduation. “Marrying Suzy was the smartest decision I ever made, by a mile. I don’t know if she would say the same thing or not, but it was for me,” he said.

They moved to Wellesley, where they raised five children. Fred and his brother Dick owned a small heating oil company which they doubled in size before selling it on the cusp of the Arab Oil embargo in the early ’70s.

In 1970, Amherst College recruited Fred to become director of alumni relations. It was a job he relished. A devoted alum, with scores of Amherst friends, Fred helped raise the College’s profile and endowment significantly. 

In 1978, Fred retired from Amherst, and he and Suzy moved to Boston, where they actively supported the life of the city through civic engagement, including supporting political candidates. Suzy died March 14, 1999, at age 70, following a long battle with a rare blood disorder.

In 2001, Fred was once again extremely lucky, this time to meet Sherley Smith, a Weston resident and dedicated teacher who had been widowed in 1997. They married in 2004. The two shared many interests—a love of family, politics, education and reading—which sustained the lively partnership until his death.

A true believer in the value of healthy living and exercise, both mental and physical, Fred played squash well into his 70s, skied until his mid-80s and played tennis until he was almost 90, ultimately competing in a national doubles match at Longwood Cricket Club before he finally put down his racquet.

Music, history, politics and bridge were lifelong passions (he made pocket money playing bridge at Amherst). During COVID-19, he moved his weekly bridge games online so he could continue playing. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz greats like Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, and the music of his youth was his constant companion. Profoundly shaped by his wartime experience and the cultural shifts that took place during his lifetime, he was a deeply curious person who relished reading and talking about history. 

Above all, Fred possessed a great sense of humor and wit, which, no doubt, helped him live and enjoy life well into his tenth decade. 

A beloved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, he leaves his wife, Sherley Smith; his daughters, Suzanne, Anne, Katherine ’79 and Laura; his son, Stephen; 10 grandchildren, including Lizzy Briskin ’15, and two great-grandchildren. 

In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Emily Dickinson Museum: www.emilydickinsonmuseum.org/support/donate.

Laura Gardner