Deceased March 19, 2002

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In Memory

It is with great sadness and a profound sense of loss that I write about the sudden death of Steve Cutler on March 19. Steve suffered a massive heart attack while playing a pick-up basketball game at an elementary school a stone’s throw from his house. Steve would have turned 51 on March 26.

Steve and I first met in the fall of 1968 as teammates on the Amherst College freshman football team. Steve left the confining world of regular practices, scouting reports, training meals and coaches for the more creative, equipment-less world of rugby, a sport that he would pursue with relish for the next 25 years. Steve’s passion for this most social of sports typified his nature; he simply loved to get together with people and revel in their enjoyment of the moment. At Amherst Steve was a stalwart member of Chi Psi, but his relationships were campus-wide. I don’t think that anyone knew more people than Steve; it was probably because he had tried to recruit everyone he had ever met to play rugby, and even when his rugby sales pitch failed, he always invited the mark to the next post-game party, convinced that that event would sell itself.

After those vital, turbulent years at Amherst, Steve moved to New York City where, for the next four years, he studied to become a podiatrist. For nearly three of those years he lived with classmate Tom Small, who recalls “my friendship with Steve blossomed after Amherst. We lived one block below Spanish Harlem at a time when New York was definitely not fashionable and the word YUPPIE did not exist. Now that’s when I got to know Steve! And you know, in thinking about it, I don’t think in all that time, there was ever a cross word between us. He was just the most generous guy—couldn’t do enough for his friends.  Such a positive, loyal, friendly person.”

Following a year of residency in Philadelphia, Steve moved to Buffalo, the Queen City of the Lakes, in the fall of 1977 to join a practice. It was there, in the office, that Steve met his wife Jan Weizenegger. The story Jan likes to tell hilariously is that after two nearly successful operations on her feet, Steve had to marry her or face a malpractice suit. In 1978 Steve and Jan moved to Amherst, where Steve set up his practice, and they were married in 1979. Their wonderful sons Matt, Mike and Dan were born between 1981 and 1984, and parenthood has dominated the past 20 years.

Steve was the first podiatrist ever to have admitting privileges at Cooley Dickinson Hospital. In addition to offices in Amherst, Northampton and Greenfield, Steve consulted at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Health Services and for UMass athletic teams, working closely with the basketball team. He also worked with other local college health services. Dr. Norm Perr ’72 spoke about the shock and sadness that patients and staff alike felt at the news of Steve’s sudden passing: “I was in the hospital (the day after Steve’s death) seeing a new patient, an 80-year-old female with heart problems. She asked me while we were talking if I knew Steve, and I explained that, in fact, I did and that we had gone to Amherst and generally saw each other Tuesday afternoons between patients. I asked her if she knew Steve. She said she had gone to him, and when she heard about his death, ‘I just cried,’ she said. All of the staff I know that knew him, and all the patients I have heard from, all say the same thing. They thought he was a terrific person. ... They all thought he was incredibly nice and caring. They (his patients) felt good about going to see him.” Steve had a gift for making people feel comfortable and at ease; he loved connecting with and engaging people.

Right behind his family and his practice was Steve’s love affair with his alma mater. This is where Steve became “Cuts.” He loved being at the epicenter of all that was going on at Amherst and being the conduit of information regarding the College and our classmates and friends. Cuts was at every reunion/homecoming/big game/event at the College, and I couldn’t wait to get the call from Cuts regaling me with who had shown up and their recent histories. For years he would go to the football field the night before Homecoming to park his car “just to the right of the goal posts at the scoreboard end” so that the Class of ’72 and friends would have a familiar place to meet; coolers of refreshments greeted anyone who stopped by. Most recently he was serving on our 30th Reunion committee, having just arranged, according to Sandy Rosenberg ’72, for “the tent that we’ll be gathering under on the TD lawn.” Cuts especially loved our reunions, these great times to catch up with friends and rehash old stories with great cheer.

Never was it more evident how many lives Steve touched than on the day he was laid to rest, Friday, March 22. After a private burial in the morning, a visitation was set for the early evening at the Amherst Funeral Home (across the street from the old Amherst Cinema), followed by a reception at the Lewis-Sebring Faculty Dining Commons in Valentine Hall. What transpired was one of the most extraordinary expressions of community respect and admiration that I have ever seen. For over two and a half hours, there was a steady line of about one hundred strong waiting in the cold outside the funeral home to pay their respects to Jan and the family. They closed the doors at 7 p.m., telling those waiting to go to the faculty dining commons (the old East dining hall). The reception was an incredible cross section of the Amherst community: high school kids, former UMass basketball players, professors, doctors, patients, friends, coaches, golfing buddies, relatives and classmates. Jon Black, Mike Bulman, Chris Dunn, Chip Gordon, Paul Koulouris, Norm Perr, Linc Schoff, Marshell Schell, Jay Ward and I were there from our class. Other Amherst grads present included Scott Frew ’74, Mike Moran ’74, Tom Quinn ’74, Bo Salem ’74, Bill Weaver ’74, Dave Hixon ’75 and John McKechnie ’77. I apologize to those I may have missed, but it was a huge turnout, and this was the best I could come up with. It was simply the most diverse wake I have ever been to. I know that Steve’s parents, Paul and Marilyn, his brother Jonathan and sister Barbara were blown away by the community response. Living in Florida and New Jersey, they had no idea of how beloved their son and brother was in tiny Amherst.

The most moving part of the event was the extraordinary testimonials given by Steve’s sons. In turn, Matt, Dan and Mike told anecdotes, speaking alternately poignantly and hilariously about their father. Matt roasted Steve’s Amherst English senior thesis but used it to express the love and respect he had for his father; Dan went on forever about Steve’s idiosyncrasies; and Mike spoke about Steve unexpectedly making arrangements to return to Amherst from Chicago so that he could be at Mike’s Saturday morning third grade basketball game. They painted a picture of a man who cared deeply about them and who was “always here”; from grammar school games to golf tournaments to high school plays to college improv performances to intercollegiate basketball games, Steve was there. Linking all of their stories was the irony, as Mike pointed out, that it was the person with the “biggest heart” whose heart gave out. These are fine young men, and I know that Steve would have been extraordinarily proud of them that night.

I can only add a personal story to all of this. Two years ago my father passed away. I had to call my son John, who was PGing at Deerfield Academy, with the news on a Saturday morning. John had a basketball game that afternoon. As I couldn’t get a flight home for him until Sunday, I told him to play in his game that afternoon. I called Steve to see if he could get John to the airport on Sunday. Steve dropped everything he was doing that Saturday, went to the game at Williston, picked John up at Deerfield after the game, took him home, put him up for the night, got him to the airport the next day, picked him up the next weekend and got him back to Deerfield. That was the kind of friend Steve was. He cared so much for others; he always put himself at the end of the priority list.

My wife Deborah and I have grown extremely close to Jan and Steve as our families have grown up over the past two decades. I know that my two oldest children’s decision to PG a year at Deerfield was made easier knowing that they had “family” living in nearby Amherst. Within the last month I sat with Steve at the NESCAC basketball championships at Trinity; we both found the semifinal victory over Williams particularly tasty. I last saw Steve the next weekend at an NCAA game at Amherst. He loved the packed gym. He loved the event. He loved the team. He loved that good things were happening at his College.

Steve Cutler was the most generous person I have ever met. It seemed that all he wanted to do was to help people. He loved his family, his friends and Amherst. He was a good man, a stand up guy. While Steve’s passing leaves a tremendous void for us all, I will always be grateful, as I know all those who got a chance to know Steve are, for having had the opportunity to call Steve Cutler my friend.

Donations may be made in Steve’s name to the “Friends of Amherst Athletics Fund” for the purchase of portable defibrillator units.

George Kloepfer ’72