A Conversation with Sam White

April 2022

A lifelong career in land use law has afforded me opportunities over the years to learn, explore and even profess some knowledge of local historical architecture. Recently I appeared before the local zoning board to see the restoration of a magnificent home designed by Albro & Undeberg circa 1914 in East Hampton Village. Advocating on behalf of the owners of beautiful, architecturally significant properties allows me the additional benefit of associating with the people who specialize in their restoration. In the course of my work on a new project, a home built in 1926 by Roger Bullard, designer of the renowned Maidstone Club, I made the acquaintance of Sam White, a great grandson of Stanford White. Stanford White was a partner in the firm of McKim, Mead & White and was arguably the most famous architect of his day, during America’s Gilded Age. His legacy survives in the many buildings he designed and built including the spectacular “Seven Sisters” shingle-style houses on the cliffs of Montauk at the easternmost tip of Long Island.


In my meeting with Sam, I asked what it meant to him, as the descendant of such a famous architect, how it had impacted him personally. His response: “It is a privilege that I did not earn” –a modest response from an unassuming man who has staked out an impressive career of his own in architecture. In addition, he has written, together with his wife, some four books on Stanford White and lectured extensively about his great grandfather and his legacy. Sam explained that he wrote the books to clarify a misunderstanding about his great grandfather. “Too much attention was directed at how he died and not his work.” The circumstances surrounding Stanford White’s death were sensationalized in the press and at the time overshadowed his professional accomplishments. The impact of what he did achieve was felt through the generations, as Sam’s grandfather, Larry White, had thirty-five grandchildren, five of whom became noted architects and one a landscape architect. Sam himself is one of eleven siblings.


My conversation with Sam was via zoom rather than a preferred sit down with him in the original Stanford White home in St. James on Long Island, New York–still owned and inhabited by descendants of White. After Harvard and Vietnam, Sam attended architectural school at Penn. He sought to carve out his own destiny in architecture and embarked on a career restoring historical homes on Long Island. Sam reflected on the state of architecture today. “No one except for perhaps Peter Marino is equal to Stanford White’s capacity with color and texture in his design.” A worthy compliment to a contemporary architect and designer.


It was a wonderful conversation about an architect of generations ago who lives on today in the many homes and commercial buildings he designed in New York, Newport, Montauk and Southampton. A pleasure to meet you, Sam.

Some Lessons of Covid

February 2022

The lessons of Covid are many, and the sheer numbers are staggering- of lives lost, long-term health compromised, jobs disappeared, economies ruined. It all paints a tragic picture of our age. On a smaller scale, the effects of life under Covid are more personal, yet just as powerful. My interest is in the individual. How has Covid affected those close to me, both in terms of behavioral changes and mental health-often the same thing? The answers I get vary as much as the people of whom I ask the question, though there are underlying similarities. The common theme seems to be the reduced level of human interaction and the losses associated with that.


My recent conversations on the subject with friends have been revealing. There is talk about the emotional strain of coming out of the pandemic only to be faced with the prospect of new variants, preventing any chance of a return to “normal.” The issues run deeper than having to forego a long­anticipated trip, or planning celebrations with family members. Especially now that some of the travel restrictions have eased, people are getting around more. But there is a general uneasiness and the habits of quarantine and living under the threat of a new variant linger. One of my friends said she has watched more television in the last two years than in the rest of her 70 years combined. She expressed regret that she wasn’t spending more time reading or painting or perhaps cleaning out old closets-­something more active and productive. Motivation is sapped away by the endless protocols that have also protected us. Social lives have been scaled back, friendships sustained by video conference or phones, or not at all. loneliness may be a pandemic on its own.


Last month I visited some of my oldest friends, a couple who live in New York City. The husband, a retired physician, is less active due to health issues than he was pre-pandemic but his wife of 50 plus years lamented about the lack of socializing. Her indoor tennis and card games were cancelled. Though she knows things have opened up a bit, she now spends more time cooking and cleaning, out of habit. People have gotten out of the routine of socializing. Face to face contact with friends and family has been curtailed and is only slowly making a comeback. While in the city, I noticed the restaurants were packed despite the close seating and the wet, chilly weather. Many restaurants have the enclosed, individual outdoor seating, constructed of plywood and decorated with artificial plants. There were mostly young people out and about, presumably all vaccinated–a New York requirement for indoor dining. I was pleased to be able to do my usual New York City routine: a haircut and shave at my barbershop on Lexington (everyone masked), followed by a stop at Hunter College bookstore for a slow circuit around the stacks (again, everyone masked). I vowed to keep up my old New York City routine as long as I can.

While in Manhattan, I had the opportunity to sit down with my 11-year-old grandson, Billy, to ask him about his thoughts, observations, reactions -and those of his friends-to the changes brought about by Covid over the last couple of years. “It is so, so different, Grandpa, learning at school instead of zoom class at home,” he said. “School is normal!” During quarantine, he continually complained about the lack of socializing and he spent a lot more time on his phone. Fortunately, his school recently reopened-with protocols in place-providing convenient cover for meetups with friends during lunch break and between classes. Playdates are happening more frequently now, except of course when a family member tests positive. Though he and his friends miss the socializing during school shutdowns, he admitted that, “When school is closed, we can sleep in later,” pointing out one of the few positives. As attractive as it might seem to sleep late every morning, Billy said he would gladly get up early to go to school and be with his friends, rather than hanging out in bed the extra hour. Traveling to and from school on the bus is also an opportunity for socializing. Billy attends a private school on the West Side so he “commutes” from his home on the East Side. He uses the time to catch up with his friends and plan activities. Schoof bus time was sorely missed by him during quarantine. Many of Billy’s friends from last year’s public school are being home schooled since the parents found the school system’s response to Covid so chaotic and disorganized. Private schools were open sooner and their closures have been more limited. It will be some time before we understand the long-term effects, if any, of the Covid disruptions on children, but my talk with Billy was a hopeful one, and a reminder of the resilience of youth.


Life during quarantine is a good time to reflect on family values and relationships. Confined to a limited space for months at a time, the closeness eventually reveals who we are as a family and what we really think of each other. But what about all those missed dinners and matches and classes and
coffees with friends? What about the lost jobs? A recent article in the New York Times called upon readers to leave any regret behind for the missed opportunities caused by Covid. On the other hand, the book The Myth of Closure by Pauline Boss, explores the idea of “social bereavement” and how with certain losses, closure is unattainable. We grieve as a community over the changes wrought by the pandemic. Sometimes, the loss never ceases. Loss is never perfect. We all experience the phenomenon differently. For me, I deal with the issues of loss and closure by looking beyond and anticipating impact. We rely on science for the facts, and we look to our family and friends for support and understanding, so I stay in touch whichever way I can. Even a zoom call with a friend can make all the difference.

Anniversary

January 2022

It was nearly two years ago that Carl Butz and I first had a conversation about his acquisition of The Mountain Messenger newspaper.  I had called him mainly to offer my congratulations, as he had just rescued the paper from closure and in doing so made national news, which is how it came to my attention.  We quickly hit it off, and it was that phone call that led not only to a weekly column for me, but to an unexpected and rewarding cross-country friendship.  

During that initial call, I told Carl about my late wife, who passed away in 2017, and how I had continued writing letters to her as a way to deal with my grief.  I learned Carl, too, lost his wife in 2017.  A phone call about a newspaper became something more, as we bonded over our mutual loss and loneliness.  He suggested channeling the letter writing into a weekly column.   The idea was to put down in 250 words or less, my impressions of life from where I was living at various times of year–Maine and East Hampton in the summer, Palm Beach and New York City in the winter. So, under the heading “Here Back East,” my first contribution to the Mountain Messenger, “Open Remotely,” was published on May 7th, 2020. 

Two years and 65 columns later, I look back on what has happened during that span of time, to me personally and in the wider world.  I tried to put so much of it into words on a page as I experienced it –maybe I was being ambitious, but it was always from the heart.  There have been concerns expressed, from friends and colleagues who thought that I might say too much in these columns, that it might harm my business—I am an attorney and discretion is paramount.  But my political columns were few—about the January 6th insurrection and the Inauguration Day reading by the poet Amanda Gorman.  Most of the topics are purposeful and personal — what I think about events at the time and how they affect me, my family and friends. And I write a lot about fishing—writing about it is the next best thing to doing it.  

There is no denying we live in difficult times–the never-ending pandemic, inflation, wildfires.  So much of it leaves us unsure about what is ahead.  Yet we must look to the future and not without hope. The pandemic will become endemic, like a seasonal flu.  Interest rate hikes will quash the inflationary bubble.  Technology and proper forest management will quell the flames out west.  With a positive view and an appetite for understanding and love we will get through it. We are not the first generation to think we are living through the worst, and we won’t be the last. 

I will be visiting the Sierras this summer to fish, as I will fish East Grand Lake in Maine.   My new partner in life, my sweetheart Patti, will join me.  There is much to look forward to and to write about.  My best to Carl and my friends in Downieville. See you soon.  

Fishing with Jay

January 2022

After our inaugural fishing expedition to Beaver Kill in 1990, Jay and I embarked on a fishing romance spanning 24 years until our trip to Iceland in 2014.  I returned to Iceland again in 2017 but that time as a loner.  Jay was not fit to travel after a bout of illness and I, suffering from a back injury, plowed through the trip with a distressing inflamed something or other.  Leading up to that last trip alone, was a wonderful series of travels with Jay and a few other friends, some now gone.  Our first real expedition together was deep sea fishing in Gardiner’s Bay off of East Hampton, with Captain Paul Dixon, on the hunt for bluefish and stripers.  Eventually, Jay surpassed me in his collecting of flies and gear as he had a number of friends and work colleagues in the dental profession who regularly went to the Catskills to fish on the Delaware.  Jay, being a surgeon, was into the technical intricacies of fishing.  I was more interested in finding sources for English country fishing attire, and of course I was into the travel. 

Our next outing together was trout fishing on the Connetquot River on Long Island.  More like fishing in a bathtub, with assigned beats where fish waited for meals.  The fish dined on a schedule, and as long as you were on their timetable you caught plenty.  Like shooting in a barrel.  After that, we were ready to explore beyond the shores of Long Island.  Thus began our European adventures and over the years we went to Scotland and Ireland, and to Iceland twice.  We often took local trips in between–during economic recessions and off times in the real estate practice, Jay and I would do the three-hour drive to Al Caucci’s fishing establishment called Riverfront Lodge, on the West Branch of the Delaware River in the Catskills, near Hancock, New York.  Caucci was an interesting fellow– a fishing guide, entrepreneur and hotelier, who wrote the basic treatise on fishing entomology or, for us simpletons, the guide to flies that attract fish.  Interestingly, with Al it was technical fishing but rarely catching. It seems there just weren’t many fish.  It was with Al that I first heard all the immortal fishing guide sayings that begin with “should have.”  “Should have been here last week.”  “Should’ve been drier—the water’s too high.”  “Should’ve rained—the water is too low.” Once there was a dam release issue on that branch of the Delaware.  Al must have been a bit amused watching us beginners wade in so far over our heads we had to swim back to shore.  

The best part of a trip to Al’s–aside from the exceptional motel décor–was the dining.   Always outdoors, weather permitting, the meals were first rate.   Al would bring in talented up-and-coming chefs on the weekends, one of whom was Tom Colicchio.  Later on, we would see Colicchio’s name in print in restaurant reviews, as he gained fame from his many restaurants in New York and beyond.  Al knew beginner fishermen faced a lot of frustration on the water, and casting all day was tiring, so in the evening a special dinner put everything right again.  There were always stories from the day’s events to tell over a meal, and it was always a happy exhaustion, from casting away for those supposed fish in the dark waters of the Delaware. 

Couples Meet

January 2022

I sat across from a lovely couple last week at a friend’s birthday party, in a private room at a local club.  The couple were acquaintances, having met them on several previous occasions socially, but this was our first opportunity to get to know each other more personally.  In the course of our conversation—the usual background enquiries and more–I casually asked how they met.  Their story made me realize how fortuitous it is when couples meet and truly live happily ever after.

Harry and Miriam had met at Purdue University where they both were teaching in the mathematics department.  A mixer for single faculty members was planned, and they were each prompted by colleagues to attend.  At the event, the two met and seemed to click right away, to the point that Harry, the senior professor, was comfortable enough in asking Miriam, the young associate professor and future lovely wife, “Do you plan on having children?’  She laughed and responded, “Of course and many!”  That sealed the deal and shortly thereafter they became a couple.  They have been calculating the algorithms of their large family and careers ever since.  

After hearing their story, I was intrigued enough to ask the question of other couples Patti and I know.  Their answers have been wide ranging, yet all the stories seemed to share the element of fate in common.  Meets early on in childhood, high school, Hebrew School, holidays, family events, college and more currently on Match.com.  Especially interesting meets included one at a camp in the Adirondacks, where families went in the 1940’s to escape New York summer heat, while another was a beach romance in the south of France, where two families reconnected after the War.  Then there was reunion of two 80-year-olds prompted by the obituary column in the local paper.  Both lost their spouses at around the same time and saw each other’s name, as survivors of the deceased, in print on the same day.  They connected for the first time since graduating high school together in Palm Beach 60 years earlier.  Many of the meets are instant attraction, even as youngsters, yet it is what emerges afterward that creates the connection.  Words like “open” “friendly” “easy to talk to” and “always laughing” are often used to describe the attributes that draw two people closer together.   

I met my late wife when I was in the 9th grade and she was in the 8th.  I originally had a crush on her sister, Harriet, who was in my grade, but Harriet was more interested in older boys. She wisely offered to introduce me to her younger sister, Judie, whose locker happened to be across from my own.  And that is where we first met, Judie and I, a bit awkwardly, in the halls of Benjamin Franklin High School.  The awkwardness very quickly gave way to a mutual attraction that sustained our relationship for the next 63 years, until her passing in 2017.   

Recently, there was another meet in my life, but this time it was a gradual one.  There were no claps of thunder or love at first sight moments, but a somewhat distant friendship of 30 years turned into something more meaningful two years ago.  It happened over a few shared meals and through the encouragement of mutual friends, and now Patti is my new partner in life.  

It was touching to see the academic couple who, when sharing their story, spoke to each other – not over each other- while she lovingly lay her head on his shoulder.  Meets that lead to lifelong relationships are like that star forever in the sky that lights up every cloudless night.  

Parents

December 2021

I recently had my Mountain Messenger columns assembled into book form, which I have shared with my friends and colleagues.  In return, I have received a number of responses from people which, perhaps inspired by my own personal musings, often include reflections on their own lives.   My life-long friend Jerry, who I grew up with in Rochester, New York, sent me profiles he had written some time ago of his parents.  Fathers were the toughs in our lives.  Jer’s father was tethered to the TV, which was a new invention at the time.  Because of his fragile health, he was home all day, which was unusual for us since most of our fathers worked during the day and in most cases evenings as well.  When we visited Jer, we tiptoed around the house so as not to disturb Jer’s dad. Any noise prompted a serious shushing from Jer’s mother.  Ron’s dad was the owner of a men’s clothing store in a predominantly Black neighborhood of Rochester, around Kelly Street and Joseph Avenue.  In the winter he would drive a few of us –Ron, Jer and myself– to school some mornings, sparing us the wait at the bus stop.  The trouble was that he was a chain smoker.   Because of the below freezing weather outside, he wouldn’t let us open the car windows, which always led to a fight between Ron and his dad, and which Ron always lost.  Ron’s dad was typical, in that all the men in our lives were heavy smokers during this era.  Secondhand smoke was unavoidable and probably contributed to health issues for many of us later in life.  I stayed away from smoking until I was introduced to the habit in college and stayed addicted for the next seven years, finally quitting when my father became ill with emphysema.   

Mothers were the main influencers in our lives.  My late wife Judie’s mother was a single parent living in a cottage behind the grandparents’ main house on Rauber Street, with two beautiful teenage girls– both sought after by young, thirsty University of Rochester college students.  My high school prom date was Sharon.  Her mother was another single parent of four– three boys and beautiful Sharon.  When Sharon and I dated, I was never far from the watchful eye of Murph, her brother who was just a couple of years older than myself and who was a linebacker on our high school football team.  When he wasn’t around, her older brother, home from attending law school at Syracuse, was never far.   Sharon and Judie’s moms worked outside the home since they were supporting families on their own.  The other moms were mostly stay-at-home housewives, although I recall Jer’s mom was a saleswoman for Encyclopedia Brittanica and we all bought a set from her.   The stay-at-home moms were there in the morning to prepare school lunches and in the evening to make dinner.  

My mother didn’t work outside the home, but her hands were always full, and I often helped her.  Sometimes it took the form of protecting her from my father’s harsh words, because of the tough fathers, mine seemed the toughest.  Whether he was dissatisfied with his dinner, or furious from the disrespect he felt from my older brother or sister, his temper was easily triggered.  My mother was always defending the conduct of my brother and sister, however insignificant it was in my mind and it led to constant flare ups.  My sister refused to go to college and married young, which caused tension in our family, as education was ingrained in us as paramount.  My brother left for college in his senior year of high school to get out of the house and away from my father.  With my brother and sister gone, my father had only me and my mother as targets for his anger.   I learned early on to stand between him and my mother when she started to cry, a sure sign of an escalation in hostilities.  Standing face to face with him, he zeroed in on me as a target for his anger.  I would lure him away from her until he physically chased me around and outside until we both collapsed from exhaustion. I was always proud that I could outrun him. Even at the end of his life my father was tough on my mother.  By then, she was suffering from dementia, and unable to perform the usual familial duties–such as putting dinner on the table every night– that he expected throughout 60 plus years of marriage.  

What Comes Around

November 2021

It has been nearly 60 years since my closest friend Jerry Poss and I palled around as freshman at Rutgers College in New Jersey. I was a newbie from upstate New York. Jerry was a Teaneck boy, following in the footsteps of his older brother who was graduating and about to become every mother’s dream:  a doctor. Jerry was a tall, handsome, athlete who didn’t have a care in the world except sports and girls. I was afraid of flunking out after we were instructed at orientation to “look to your left and look to your right–one of you will not be here after a semester.”  If anything would scare this pimpled kid from Rochester it was that pronouncement. I started out pre-med with pie-in-the-sky expectations that my high science scores on the aptitude test would support my grandiose career plans.  I quickly learned that a full load of liberal arts courses plus the sciences were too much for me–especially when I turned to my left and right and heard the New Jersey pre-med boys’ quick responses to the professors’ questions.  I dropped pre-med and picked up geology and American studies per Jerry’s advice and counseling. We both knew it was to be law school for me eventually-the other choice was podiatry, and I wasn’t going to do toenails for the rest of my life. So once my classes were straightened out and I was free of the torturous studying, Jerry and I tackled our second semester dilemma:  which fraternity to join. Jerry was a legacy at ZBA on campus through his brother, so it was an easy choice for him, and I just followed along.   We both pledged and the rest is history. Now, 60 years later, we are both widowed. Jerry lost his Stef, his coed love from Douglas, and I lost my Judie, my high school sweetheart from back upstate. Together we are bachelors again, embarking on this new phase of our lives.  I have been fortunate enough to find a wonderful companion in Patti. Jerry is just starting out, and since I am four years ahead of him in widowerhood unfortunately, this time it is my task to guide him. 

First lesson: don’t read the grief books. They will only take you down someone else’s path of loneliness. Second, find some activities that you always wanted to do but couldn’t for one reason or another.  I started writing this column and took watercolor painting classes. And finally, be open and honest with yourself.  Don’t shy away from the notion of finding another partner in life.  I know the saying “time heals all wounds.” I disagree – only companionship will heal the loneliness.  More importantly, at 80 years of age, how much fun time do we have left?  Travel, take classes, plan outings with friends.  It’s great to have the children to visit and take trips with but as bachelors at 80 we still need companionship of the female kind. So Jer, we are off.  You need to learn to fish, and I need to dust off my old golf clubs to tag along with you. We may even try to play tennis again. There is still life left in these old bones.