In Memoriam: Eric Smith '92

On September 24, 2008, I had the honor of attending the dedication of several recently remodeled rooms at the Ronald McDonald House on the campus of Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland, Oregon. The dedication was in honor of our classmate and good friend Eric Smith; his wife, Christi; their two children, Trevor and Allison; and his stepfather, David Mayer. All died tragically as the result of a plane accident in Alaska on August 16, 2007. Eric’s mom, Mindy Mayer, who survived the accident, spearheaded the project, raising over $120,000 from donors around the country.

We were all completely shocked and devastated by the news of Eric’s death. He was an amazing person — a fiery competitor, but also an incredibly sweet and caring person. For Mindy, who lost not only her son and best friend but also her husband, stepdaughter, and two grandchildren, it’s been a painful and soul-searching year. I’ve learned a lot about strength, character, and perseverance from her, and though she would never admit it, she is an inspiration to everyone who knows her.

The renovations were a beautiful and moving testament to Mindy’s love, dedication, and hard work: from the incredible murals covering the walls in the dining area depicting Mt. Hood and other outdoor areas that Eric and his family loved to a scrapbook room where parents and children can create keepsakes and mementos — something Eric’s wife Christi did often with their children. The library was renovated specifically in Eric’s honor, and includes all manner of Vassar memorabilia, including Eric’s old tennis jacket and squash racket along with pictures of the Vassar campus and even a copy of the Vassar Quarterly. I know the dedication would have meant a lot to Eric, given his service to the community as a member of the Board of Trustees for Ronald McDonald House Charities as well as his fond memories of his four years at Vassar.

The event was terribly bittersweet. While Eric’s death is still difficult for many of us, his legacy will live on in a building that will provide comfort and joy to many families in the years to come. When good people are taken away from us too soon, the loss causes us to take stock in our lives and develop a new appreciation for what we have, our family and friends, for all of the good and even the not so good in our lives. I am grateful for the time Eric and I had together at Vassar. And I know Eric lives on as a role model for many of us — as a friend, husband, and son.

I also wanted to call attention to the fact that Mindy has initiated a scholarship at Vassar in Eric’s memory: the Eric M. Smith ’92 Memorial Scholarship. The first scholarship will be granted in September 2009. The goal is to raise at least $100,000, of which $62,500 has been raised already to date. We would appreciate any donations made to Vassar in Eric’s name.

Ross Thomas ’92
San Francisco, California

Re: "Headliner" and "A Breed Apart," Winter 2008

The last issue of Vassar Quarterly had two articles that made me finally feel like “one of the crowd”— something I never felt during my two years at Vassar. [Headliner & A Breed Apart, Winter 2008] There, in 1963–65, I felt very, very different. I was a lesbian when that word was only whispered. The rumors and secrecy had their own weird excitement, but in the long run, they were destructive to my own budding sexuality and certainly destructive to my relationship.

So to have Ann Northrop highlighted in such a well-written profile made me feel proud. I have crossed paths with Ann, never knowing that she was a Vassar “girl.” In 2005 my spouse of fifteen years, Laurie York, and I released a film called Freedom to Marry. It was noted in the Summer 2005 issue of VQ. The film aired nationally on PBS stations and was licensed to Free Speech TV. Ann and Andy spoke about it on Gay USA and she, especially, liked it. It has become a bittersweet film because it records the joyful time when we could marry in California (the first San Francisco weddings in 2004). Four years later, we are again without the right to marry in California — and we are nowhere near having federal rights.

Reading about Ann Northrop, I was thinking about the direction of my own activism, when I came to the story about Vassar ranchers in the West. I don’t have a huge cattle ranch, but I do love the land and the animals, and I work to preserve nature. In 1969 I started a small farm here on the north coast of California with another Vassar dropout, Jeanne Tetrault ’67. During those first years there were many different Vassar women living here or nearby: Jill Henry ’66, Anne Rhodes ’68, Susan Wadsworth ’67, Kathy Kilgore ’67. We were all in the early stages of our search for our own unique life. Mine was clearly here on the land. I’ve been here ever since, with some prolonged stays in the countryside of France and England.

Even on the farm, my Vassar lessons have come in handy. One of the best was learning how to learn, especially how to research and learn from books. What we couldn’t find in existing books we solicited from women all over the country, and we began to write the information ourselves. Because the women’s movement of the early ’70s coincided with the back-to-the-land movement, we wrote about how feminists can live on the land. We started a consciousness-raising group. We had a weaving co-op. We had a festival. And we had a journal, Country Women, which was an important early feminist publication. A book by Jeanne Tetrault and Sherry Thomas came out of that: Country Women: A Handbook for the New Farmer (Doubleday, 1976).

So thank you, VQ, for finally writing about people close to my life. We all contribute in our own unique ways.

Carmen Goodyear ’67
Albion, California

Conventional Success

I am writing in response to the query at the end of the article about Sima Sarrafan ’86[“Conventional Wisdom,” Winter 2008]. You asked if there were other alumnae/i delegates. I was initially elected an Edwards delegate from New Hampshire, but endorsed Obama in late May. I had the fun of being “wooed” by folks who called to chat: Bill Bradley, who knew I once lived in Princeton, and Governor Sibelius of Kansas, who knew I am a public school teacher.

When I endorsed Obama, it made the AP as the school principal and head custodian turned my plan to endorse in the parking lot into some political theater. They had a podium set up in the gym, invited the whole school, and rolled out the red carpet from the previous weekend’s prom. The inflatable prom palm trees that flanked the podium were a special touch.

I was lucky to cast my vote in the roll-call that took place before Hillary Clinton moved to endorse President Obama unanimously, and I am proud to be part of one of the only state delegations that voted unanimously to support then-Senator Obama. (This was no small feat, in case you have forgotten who won the New Hampshire primary.)

I was also incredibly honored to be offered a seat right in front of the stage at Invesco Field the night Obama accepted the party’s nomination. I can pick myself out in the photos as I was behind Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

Not bad for this public school teacher.

Deb Bacon Nelson ’75
Hanover, New Hampshire


Betty Daniels
Betty Daniels
The Daytime Emmys, for decades, snubbed Susan Lucci. Harrison Ford has never won an Oscar. Was the fact that we neglected to include Elizabeth Daniels in our list of faculty emeritae/i [“Where Are They Now?,” Winter 2008]an omission of similar magnitude? We think so. Daniels’s contribution to Vassar is immeasurable — which perhaps explains our error, in that although she is indisputably faculty emerita, having taught in the English department for almost four decades, she has only ever been out of the college’s employ for two days. (In 1985, Professor Daniels told President Virginia Smith that she would agree to give up tenure on one condition: that she be allowed to begin work full-time as Vassar’s official historian, the position she has held ever since. The former happened on Friday, June 28, of that year; the latter, the following Monday. Thus, Daniels says, although she technically “retired,” it was just “for the weekend.”) The Quarterly regrets the error.