Deceased April 26, 2020

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In Memory

Eric died April 26. At his Zoom funeral service, and following Shiva, Eric’s grandchildren kept using the same phrase: no matter what we were doing with him, he was “a force.”

But we’ve known that for a long time. Frosh Weekend. “Amherst Confidential.” Eric wrote an original musical comedy. I. W. Klein ’56 and Fred Karlin ’56 composed the music. I. W. and Al Levenstein ’56 wrote lyrics. Orchestrations were by Fred Karlin ’56 and Jimmy Atlas ’56. Oh, and the choreography was by Gloria Steinem, Smith College ’56.

By sophomore year, Eric had decided on a medical career. Reason was simple: his penmanship was illegible. 

Eric loved the doctor-patient relationship. But, he loved academic medicine even more. Lecturing was enough like theater that it felt “familiar.” His Harvard Medical School teachers got him interested in orthopedics, and, in particular, the subject of why joints wore out and how to slow or stop that process. Combining both the medical and mechanical, Eric was simultaneously a member of the medical school faculties of Harvard and MIT. When he pissed off the Cambridge pooh-bahs, he decamped for the West Virginia University Medical Center and then the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Over the decades, he often returned to an issue with which he had been at odds while at Harvard—the need for effective and efficient training programs for medical professionals. At West Virginia, he became, in his own phrase, “radicalized about healthcare delivery.” The senior position that he enjoyed at both West Virginia and Henry Ford Hospital allowed him the freedom to verify if his ideas on teaching had validity.

At one of our last visits, sharing reminiscences, I asked how he would sum up his life. “Definitely the most interesting experience I’ve ever had!” And then, he laughed.

Somewhere along the line, this non-swimming Amherst grad became a sailor. For years, he sailed summers out of Buzzards Bay, up the Maine coast with a crew of his wife, Tove, and daughters, Melissa, Jessica and Allison. These family voyages were some of the most enjoyable times of his life. But, knowing how demanding Captain Eric was, one suspects the trips weren’t nearly as much fun for the crew.

Starting in the 1990’s, Eric sailed Tanqueray (named after his most important cargo) several times to Bermuda and also to the Canadian Maritimes, dropping anchor in deserted harbors and old fishing ports. Each winter, with second wife, Crete, Eric researched harbors, tides, dates and airports where crew changes could be effected. The voyages were creations. He/we sailed into the furthest reaches of the Bay of Fundy. Harbors into which we entered at high tide would, six hours later, find us resting on Tanqueray’s keel with topside fenders leaning and tied to the dock. With Crete and classmates (Sandy Chaitovitz ’56, Arnie Poltenson ’56, Mike Ritter ’56, Larry Young ’56, Jay Jacobson ’56), Tanqueray circumnavigated Newfoundland and covered the Gulf of Saint Lawrence; once we went onto France! (St. Pierre and Miquelon, two tiny islands off Newfoundland, have been French owned forever.) Arriving offshore St. Pierre, the Tanqueray lowered the Canadian courtesy flag, raised the tricolour, and the crew sang “La Marseillaise.”

No project gave Eric more delight than editing our 50th reunion book. The book became a glorious labor of love. Reconnecting with classmates and recognizing the enthusiasm he heard was, in Eric’s words, “a hoot and a half.” His joy in being a part of the class, grew greater and greater over the decades.

Jay Jacobson ’56