From Bob Masland: As you know Carl Frank died in September 2022. We both met him at Ingalls rink during Freshman Hockey tryouts. Carl played Freshman and JV Hockey at Yale. A few years later he attended […]
Burr C. Thomas
Remembering Burr — of course, I recall his passion for subway systems around the world — the maps he used to collect and the unique research he performed. However, two of my other memories of Burr come from reunions themselves. At an early reunion, big, burly Burr took me on a zooming motorcycle ride on the streets and sidewalks of the Yale campus, the most fun I’ve ever had whizzing through the residential colleges and their connecting walkways. Then, at a later reunion, he arrived for just the day, a bit shy and apart from the crowds. I took a photo of him, a contrast to his earlier bustling personality and solid look. I had wanted to tell him “Oh, you’ve lost weight,” until I realized that a weight loss for him was perhaps not a good signal. And, as we all know, a few months after that he died. AIDs. As we say in the Jewish tradition — “may his memory be for a blessing.” He was a lively part of my sophomore year, and much more than that to you, I’m sure.
I remember my dead classmate Burr “Carrington” Thomas in the Fall of 1968. He and my roommate Jim Clark had in August rafted down a stretch of the Connecticut River. Burr’s curly blonde shaggy long (– for then) hair and the bare feet he wore everywhere called my attention to the guy. We spent some time together; we were in Russian class together(?) & he smoked then the odd Russian Cigarettes; we shared our art pieces. On the night before Halloween he showed up at 1119 Bingham Hall with two tiny white speckled cubes and Stewart Ressler. Burr and I each had a 0.66 dose of LSD; one could say Burr became a life changing event that night. He was the first friend of mine to be openly gay, a brave guy.
I had no contact with Burr after graduation until at our tenth reunion; while sitting with a few classmates on the big lawn north of the Bowl, Burr on a big motorcycle came zooming over the grass to join us and I remember thinking, “he’s not supposed to ride on the grass, what a rebel.” After that I moved back to New Haven, breaking the second of my graduation day vows. (“I will never attend a Yale reunion and never live in this town again”) I stayed for ten years and spent two or three nights a month when he’d drop by my “Skybox” apartment in Crown Tower. He’d descend from his Ames Hill crude cabin near Brattleboro to hook up for his sundry art and computer graphics freelance work.
Burr had some bad information about the risks of certain homosexual activities. He was surprised when -it might have been only fifteen months before Burr died- that he learned he had the plague. I visited his grave in 1998. I recall his aliveness and grace about twelve times a year. I miss him…..
Burr Carrington Thomas, my roommate and housemate for four and a half years, and my good friend ever since, died on December 2nd, 1992. He was forty-two years old.
Well, here we are, Durfee Hall, all the way up, top of the stairs. My mother wept when she saw the dilapidation; but for you, Eastern-prep-school non-preppie, it is another school dorm, a base of explorations, made hospitable to this Southern kid right off by your inclusive good humor, your brimming cheer. Soon now we’ll be down in the steam tunnels beneath campus, figuring out where-all they lead and what mischief we could perpetrate on the actors above from beneath the stage. Or late one night, our backs pressed to the railroad embankment, we’ll look up, from the blackness that conceals us, at the passengers in their lighted cars not five feet away: a secret close-up glimpse into their unsuspecting lives, a link between them and us, appearing and, just as quickly, passed.
I’m soon to learn of your connoisseurship of the subways (trains in tunnels), your maps of every rapid transit system on earth; of your penchant for languages and song and generous high-jinks; of your delight in producing each year a silk-screened calendar for your friends. Before long I’ll be honored with a collection of these, their seasons festooned with color and speaking design. And, after college, I’ll be reminded of your delight in costume: at my wedding in straitlaced rural Virginia, your curly tresses splendid above white tie, tails, and bare feet, you cut the figure of élan, set us all a-twitter with your audacious fun. It takes us well into our married life to eat up all the wheat berries you and I gather from around the loading port on top of a boxcar on a siding. (“But do they need to be washed or anything?” my wife wondered.) You bring us nourishment from the ecology of the branch line, a precious commodity of unlooked-for connections.
We are a variegated lot, your public through the years, we the spokes to your hub, riders on your bus, beneficiaries of an erotic attraction to the world like some Greek God’s. When you show up at our house in Alabama on your annual cross-country hitch-hike, it’s as if the great beyond suddenly arrives, like a wind. At an early class reunion, one of us remembers you unchanged: “big, burly Burr,” she says, “took me on a zooming motorcycle ride on the streets and sidewalks of the Yale campus, the most fun I’ve ever had, whizzing through the residential colleges and their connecting walkways.” Then, at a later reunion: “he arrived for just the day, a bit shy, and apart from the crowds.” You had lost weight, she said. Not a good sign, for you to be away from the crowds. Not for you, and not for us.
Henry Davis McHenry Jr
Just a little memory from when we were both working at Yale: Burr Thomas, sauntering down Broadway and up York Street, wearing his paint-spattered white painter’s overalls, smiling, sometimes singing, enjoying life in New Haven after graduation.
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