Deceased October 29, 2022

View alumni profile (log in required)
Read obituary

In Memory

David Aaron Soskis, one of two class of 1964 summas, passed away on Oct. 29, surrounded by family at his home in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. Born in Brooklyn, at Amherst he demonstrated the excellence, scholarship, engagement and breadth of interests that were lifelong characteristics.  He won the Taylor prize in his major, American studies. He was awarded the Psi Upsilon prize for the graduating senior “preeminent in scholarship, leadership, athletics and character.” He was Theta Xi rushing chairman, played in the band and the Smith-Amherst Orchestra and worked on the Amherst Student. He headed the Northampton State (mental) Hospital project, recruiting student volunteers to give aid and comfort to the inmates of that grim place. 

After medical school at Yale as a lieutenant commander, USN, he served at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital from 1972 to 1974. He taught psychiatry and psychotherapy at several hospitals in Philadelphia and at the Ohio State University. He authored books on self-hypnosis and on the victims of terrorism and worked with the FBI to form its first psychological services program. 

David was a man of many interests: a clown and skilled magician who frequently performed at charity events (and formed a group with his two sons as the Magic Men); a collector of old watches, pens and cameras; a published poet many times over; a champion breeder of birds; a fly-fisherman and certified scuba diver; and a nature photographer. He loved the idea of wombats, Drake’s cakes for breakfast, Stalag 17 and Jewish humor. He took service to his community seriously but didn't take himself too seriously. He was a good person and lived a wonderful life. 

He is survived by his wife, Carole; his sons, Benjamin and Michael; his daughters-in-law Rebecca and Alyssa; his granddaughters, Mira, Daphna and Clara; and his cat, Max.

Bob Knox ’64


Bob Knox '64: I roomed with David sophomore year in South College and, again, in junior year at Theta Xi. So many stories to tell, but here is just one that remains in memory after all those years. It was late in senior year, and there was some sort of party at Theta Xi, to which assorted professors had been invited. The inimitable Arnold Arons was among them. Any Amherst-connected reader of this space probably knows a great deal about Arons, the source of numerous freshman nightmares from his then-required physics course. David and I got into a conversation with Arons after a couple of drinks had been consumed all around. David, the future psychiatrist, asked him rather point blank, “How come you had to be such a scary, threatening SOB in Physics 1-2?” Or words to that effect, which clearly Arons understood. By then, David, the stellar American studies major, of course was in superb academic standing and had nothing to fear from Arons. Perhaps to David’s surprise, though not so much to mine since my physics-major connections had revealed to me some less fearsome aspects of Arons, he did not blow a fuse. Rather he said more or less plainly that his deliberate modus operandi was to rattle the shallow conceit of many frosh that they knew a thing or two about the scientific enterprise, as manifested in their secondary school physics or science studies. If that conceit arose merely because they knew a bunch of formulas for velocity, acceleration, Newton’s laws, etc., without knowing whence these concepts came or what they really meant—in other words, showed ill-rooted comprehension decorated in “chicken scratch” formulas, to borrow an Arons phrase—he was set on rattling that and building deeper comprehension. Whether Arons’ pedagogical technique was effective or just plain terrifying, David had hit on a key question, and Arons responded thoughtfully, respecting David’s seriousness of purpose in raising the question to begin with. Discussions on the pros and cons of the Arons approach will last as long as there are living alumni who remember that course. But David—summa cum laude and brave to boot—was able to elicit a reasoned discussion of the matter back in the spring of 1964. I listened and mentally applauded.

Gene Palumbo ’64: David and I often studied at night in a classroom in Chapin Hall. I usually headed out to the snack bar at about 10:20, getting there just before it closed and downing three cups of black coffee to keep me awake. One night, when I returned to the classroom, I found David motionless, staring at the ceiling. This continued long enough that I began to worry. Finally, I said, “David, are you okay?” His reply: “Yes. I’m just waiting for an insight.”

Bill Weary '64: Dave Soskis' death closes out for me a friendship that began first weekend freshman year, classes yet to start. Crossing paths and introducing each other on the stairwell to third-floor Stearns, a lively, happy, wide-ranging, and, at moments, surprisingly deep exchange connected us for life. We kept up throughout Amherst, our rooms a few doors apart all but sophomore year, and then after Amherst, first at Yale, then back at Amherst (where I taught for many years), in greater Philadelphia, and in Maine (his wife's and my parents' family homes, and, now, my own). Over the 13 years that both Dave and I lived in the Philadelphia area, we had dinner each month.

Those years privileged me in a friendship that grew out of and between two individuals, two careers, and two lives. Dave was loyal, sensitive, attentive and supportive, smart, voraciously curious, wise and direct and articulate, the range of his expertise exceptional, his tone, variously, upbeat and light-hearted, serious and reflective, stern. I watched him grow, intellectually, in knowledge and spirit, in identity, in partnership with his wonderful wife, in the building of his family, and in the years beyond. Because of that friendship, I also know that I am—and have lived—a different, more productive, and more satisfying life.

One particular memory stands out as capturing much of Dave's intellectual style, impact, and success. In Creative Writing, spring 1963, he opened a poem, “Robert Frost, I'm glad you're dead!” Anger! Outrage! How dare he?! Provoking thought and reflection that might otherwise not have occurred, he himself grinned ear to ear and sat back. Dave normally had points to make, points often unconventional, unpopular, and even unwelcome—and he made them, acting upon them as appropriate. We might not have known it back then, but Dave exemplified the provocative, questioning, and daring intellectual ideals the College held dear.