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Bruce Harmon Detwiler

January 10, 2024

Bruce Harmon Detwiler was born July 4, 1944 in New York City, the son of Ben Howard and Louise Schneider Detwiler. He prepared at the Hotchkiss School and entered Yale in September 1962. He was an English major and a member of Davenport. He was a member of the Yale Civil Rights Council and ran freshman and varsity track.

The following memories are from his good friend Morgan Bulkeley: “In 1958, Bruce and I were freshmen at Hotchkiss School, he being one of the first people I met. One day I went up to his room to see if he would go for a walk; he pointed to a belt around himself AND the chair, saying he couldn’t…he had to study. His marks were abysmal, his mind unable to focus as his father had died a year earlier. Later that year, when his mother remarried, he shot to the upper part of the class.

“After graduating from Hotchkiss, Bruce and I went to Europe, stopping in Ripton, Vermont to visit my father’s friend, Robert Frost. Oracle-like, Mr. Frost asked what we were studying next year at Yale, Bruce mentioned Engineering. Frost suggested English would make him a man; Engineering would make him a tool. Bruce switched to being an English major.

“Then at Yale, Bruce became involved in Civil Rights, going to Mississippi in the summers of 1963-1965 to register black voters. After college, Bruce went to Zambia to teach for a year. He was originally meant to teach English, but the school, lacking a science teacher, assigned him to be the science teacher. The village had one word for snakes, and killed them whatever their species. One day hiking in the bush, Bruce saw a snake tail protruding from a hole in a giant anthill. He pulled it out. It was a 12 foot python. Bruce had read that if you control a python’s head, you could handle it. The villagers dispersed as he dragged it into a cage, where he gradually introduced it to people there as he taught about different species.

“On returning to the states, Bruce wrote for a variety of magazines, such as the New Republic, The Village Voice, and The Atlantic, amongst others.

“In 1973, Bruce and I moved into a commune in Cambridge, MA, a wonderful, lively house with writers, artists, architects, mathematicians, and various other exciting fields. There he met his future wife, Sandy Winters, a terrific painter and forever partner.

“Bruce returned to Cornell to get his law degree and a PhD. His thesis was turned into a book published by Chicago University Press, “Nietzsche and the Politics of Aristocratic Radicalism.” He taught Civil Liberties, Constitutional Law and Political Theory as a tenured professor at Florida International University for many years.

“Bruce and Sandy built a house in the woods about a mile from our house in Mount Washington, Massachusetts, where they spent many happy years and days, until Bruce, struggling with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, gradually slid downhill. After running long distance and cross country at Hotchkiss and Yale, Bruce continued to run about four miles a day until a few months before his death, when his balance was too impaired to continue. Our conversations generally avoided yesterday’s events, but often, talking about his family, our trip to Europe, the good old days, Bruce recalled endless details.

“Now I remember all the vision, joy, enthusiasm and intellect he brought to the world over the years.”

— Morgan Bulkeley