Class of 1974 Reunion in Aspen

August 14, 2016

View photos of 1974 Class Reunion

26 Rhodes Scholars and 26 spouses and children of the Class of 1974 attended a marvelous sun-spanked reunion in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado at the Aspen Institute, Thursday, August 11 through Sunday, August 14.  The entire, delightfully varied and wonderfully packed program, along with all logistical arrangements for lodging, feeding, transporting, and entertaining the large diverse gathering, were arranged by and executed to perfection by our classmate Elliot Gerson, the American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust, who is also the Executive Vice President of the Aspen Institute and Dr. Jessica Herzstein, his spouse, along with his able staff, principally Thomas Yu and Joyce Knight.

Members of the great Class of 1974 who attended the Aspen reunion on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the year when most of our number went down were:  Nicholas W. Allard (New York and Merton ’74), Thomas A. Barron (Colorado and Balliol ‘74), Maurice J. Burke (Montana and Exeter ’74), Richard D. Cogswell (Tasmania and St. Peter’s ’74), Graham J. Craig (South-Africa-at-Large and Brasenose ’74), Christopher S. “Sean” Day (South African College School and Oriel ’74), Charles E. Garvin (Mississippi and University ’74), Elliot F. Gerson (Connecticut and Magdalen ’74), Edmund G. “Grant” Gibbons (Bermuda and Queen’s ’74), Bruns H. Grayson (California and University ’74), David I.W. Hamer (Ontario and Merton ’74), Walter S. Isaacson (Louisiana and Pembroke ’74), David L. Johnson (Indiana and New College ’74), Robert N. Jose (South Australia and Magdalen ’74), Alex A. Kerr (Florida and Balliol ’74), Albert S. “Pete” Kyle (Texas and Merton and Nuffield ’74), Kenneth A. “Sandy” MacIver (New Brunswick and Merton ’74), Charles T. “Tom” McMillen (Maryland and University ’74), Robert B. Mitchell (North Dakota and Merton ’74), Michael Oristaglio (Pennsylvania and University ’74), Roy Pea (Michigan and Corpus Christi ’74), Claus-Jorg H. Rutsch (West Germany and University and Trinity Hall ’74), William J. Sims (Arizona and St. Edmund Hall ’74), Ramaswamy Sudarshan “Sudarshan”(India and Balliol ’74), and James A. Talcott (Montana and Balliol ’74).  Ralph H. Smith (Alabama and Corpus Christi ’73) who is unofficially an honorary member of 1974 and the current Vice President of AARS attended with his wife Betsy Smith.

The reunion began on a marvelous note, or literally notes.  After an opening reception and dinner where old friends quickly were reacquainted and many new friendships formed among colleagues who under the system of our time had amazingly never met, the group moved from the Aspen Meadows restaurant to the Aspen Music Tent for a spectacular concert featuring a dramatic juxtaposition of classical, popular and rock music.  The performing artists included violin virtuoso Robert McDuffie, Mike Mills of R.E.M., and other gifted professional musicians along with a string orchestra of young artists, all conducted by William Kunhardt, the principal conductor of the Arensky Chamber Orchestra and resident conductor of the Piraeus Festival in Athens.  A post-concert drinks reception in the Aspen Meadow Lounge braced everyone for a fairly vigorous Friday morning hike from the East Maroon Trailhead to Maroon Lake for a picnic lunch with a view of the Maroon Bells Mountains.  (Barron reported that he made the same hike earlier that morning, while in contrast, McMillen’s pet Chihuahua “Kareem” had to be let off the leash and carried most of the way.)  Friday evening began with a class group discussion about Oxford memories on the Aspen campus in a library decorated with our class photo and our application photos, courtesy of Rhodes House.  Everyone was recognizable.  This session was followed by a wonderful reception and barbecue dinner at the nearby home in Snowmass of Elliot and Jessica.  Saturday morning the class appreciated a much gentler hike through the Ashcroft mining ghost town and Castle Creek.  Elliot and Bruns Grayson chose to bike and beat us all to the Pine Creek Cookhouse where we enjoyed a fabulous lunch and remarks by the proprietor who was an ABC sports producer at the 1972 Munich Olympics.  His talk nicely complimented the remarks made by our own Olympian Tom McMillen at Elliot and Jessica’s dinner the night before they spoke about their experiences at those games which were marred by the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes and the antics of Eastern bloc judges denying the gold medal to the U.S. men’s basketball team that Tom captained.

Back at the Institute Saturday afternoon, classmates and guests enjoyed another nostalgic group discussion which this time also included remarks by Elliot reporting on the state of the scholarship program and highlighting the extent to which Rhodes House has become a hub of activity for all Rhodes Scholars and a major component of the contemporary scholars’ Oxford experience.  Bruns Grayson concluded with a report on the state of the Trust and encouraged everyone to support the Trust financially, as we are now both the beneficiaries and the “governors” of its worthy mission. 

Saturday evening festivities began with a reception hosted by our classmate Walter Isaacson, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, at Cathy and his townhome featuring spectacular views.  Festivities continued as the class moved to downtown Aspen and took over the entire Wild Fig restaurant for dinner.  The most adventurous night owls moved on from there for after dinner drinks and dancing at the Caribou Club.  By Sunday breakfast most had said their goodbyes, while about 12 hearty souls took the gondola to the top of Aspen Mountain for photos and brunch.  Eventually, everyone began their journeys home, expressing enormous thanks to the organizers and urging that the Class of 1974 continue to gather on a regular basis.

The bonhomie and energy of the Aspen reunion is especially remarkable in that 1974 is the class that literally "missed the boat.”  In the fall of 1974 the scheduled Atlantic crossing of new US and Canadian scholars on the liner France was suddenly cancelled due to a labor strike (the France was decommissioned and never sailed again).  Rather than have a leisurely on board bonding experience while practicing dressing for dinner and sipping tea with extended pinkies, we all made our separate ways from all points of the compass to Oxford. Notwithstanding this false start and despite arriving in Oxford without the benefit of either the current so-called AARS "Bon Voyage Weekend" or the impressive contemporary extensive array of Rhodes House programs and events that for the first time knit together global classes of scholars and patch them into the worldwide alumni community, 1974 has overcompensated and become a wonderfully close band and extended family. It may in fact be the case that this latest Aspen reunion marking the 40th anniversary of when most of us went down is the first truly international reunion of a single Rhodes class with attendees from Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe, North America, including the special domains of Tasmania, Bermuda, and even Brooklyn.

One idiosyncratic, slightly oddball outcome of this extraordinary gathering is the enthusiastic encouragement our classmates have given to their Secretary to write a murder mystery centered on a Rhodes 1974 reunion in Aspen with each of them meeting an untimely death one-by-one by various accidents, ingestion of poisonous mountain berries, cliff falls, bike crashes, hot tub electrocution, allergic reaction, hunting and other mishaps. The concept seemed to gain momentum on the merits, and not solely due to the generosity of the Gerson and Isaacson cellars, or because of certain unique Colorado laws about hallucinogenic ingestibles.  Rather, if successfully completed, the Agatha Christie meets Inspector Morse roman-a-clef novel might well provide a darkly humorous tongue-in-cheek celebration of a truly great cadre and even rare opportunities for each classmate to have a hand in penning a first draft of one's own obit.  The working title is "Love You to Death".  The mystery book opens with Ralph Smith of AARS who stands in for a late arriving Walter Isaacson to greet the reunion class, being hit in the head at the outdoor podium by a concrete planter of mountain flowers that falls from thirty feet above.  (Perversely cruel because AARS provided funds to help in part underwrite the reunion, as did the hosts and several other generous classmates.)  Watch this space for more.  Suggestions for methods of mayhem and plot twists welcome.

Nick Allard
(Brooklyn, New York)