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Geoffrey Suess Law

Died: June 18, 1980

Geoff Law came to Yale from Avon Old Farms, lived in Branford College, and was active throughout our four years in the Dramat, the Political Union (first as a conservative and then as a member of the progressive party and finally as a member of the Yale Democrats). That spectrum of political operations prepared him well for a quick (one school year) stop with the Coro Foundation. Along with Don Kornblet, Geoff was a Coro intern in Los Angeles from September 1966 through June of 1967 in Coro’s program in Los Angeles. The Coro Foundation, well known to the Yale Placement Office, has, since 1942, sponsored a nine-month fellowship called “An Internship in Public Affairs.” Originally, and this was so in 1966, Coro operated in both Los Angeles and San Francisco, placing 12 interns in each city in various charitable, municipal, and State governmental offices, and, as well, on political campaigns, for assignments that ranged in time from several weeks to several months.

William Farnam remembers:

Geoff was one of my best friends. Always positive and humorous, I enjoyed being with him more than anyone I ever met. And when we would get together with other friends, now gone, such as Bruce Eberle in Branford College (member of the Yale Bellringers, now Carillonneurs), the wine flowed and laughter was non-stop. I kept up with him as long as I could, both as a grad student at Penn and later as a professor at Bates in Maine. Fortunately several of his friends are still around so his memory stays fresh. I feel like he’s still around.

Christopher Givan remembers:

Geoff and I and Eric Gordon and Linc Russing roomed together in Branford our sophomore year at Yale. Geoff was a great friend and died about twenty years ago while taking a group of students (he was a professor of history) to India.

While Geoff unfortunately never lived to be an old man, he marvelously played one in a musical at Yale in 1964, called Paint Your Wagon, and I remember he did a great job.

He had a great sense of humor and I miss him.

Michael Crutcher remembers:

Geoff and I were in the Political Union and I recall vividly his participation in a debate on civil rights, the burning issue of our day.

The debate was over a pending civil rights act to provide equal access to public accommodations in interstate travel. Geoff and I each spoke for passage of the civil rights act on behalf of our respective political parties, Geoff for the Conservatives and I for the Progressives. I spoke before Geoff and rather messed up my speech, getting over my head in legal cases discussing the term “reasonable” as in “reasonable accommodations.”

Geoff took the podium and had the light of inspiration in him. He didn’t bother with legal technicalities and went straight to the moral issue, transfixing the considerable audience. He denounced segregation as illegal, immoral and just plain mean. He finished with a paraphrase of Hubert Humphrey’s plea to the 1948 Democratic Convention, that “we move out of the shadow of states’ rights and into the sunlight of equal rights.” He brought down the house and, thanks entirely to Geoff, we won the debate. I have never forgotten his fine oration.

Donald Kornblet remembers:

Geoff Law is marked, by those who knew him, as someone requiring a large canvas on which to visualize his zest for life. Consider this: he entered Yale ready for his formal membership in the campus Republican Party, and left at graduation as a member of the campus Democrats!

Thus, it’s not surprising that he followed his graduation from Yale with a nine month fellowship in public affairs which planted him into business, labor, government, political, community, and association organizations. He accomplished this through the Coro Foundation in Los Angeles, which placed its “Fellows” (both female and male) in a variety of internships serving as “classrooms for public service” and direct contact with leaders and professionals engaged in many different fields. It was through Coro that Geoff and I hooked up after Yale and became roommates for the nine month west coast experience.

Geoff was a very good teacher, I discovered during our time together in 1966-67. First and foremost, he was a good teacher of humor and self-deprecation. If there was a way to twist a sentence, a thought, or an experience into something that brought a smile to your face, he would find it and then deliver it. He was also able to employ his intellect without making those around him feel challenged or uncomfortable.

He was at home with the world of ideas and liked nothing better than to exchange them with friends and colleagues…always with that smile at hand throughout the conversation. And finally, he was an experience gatherer. He took joy in being transplanted from his home base in Connecticut, where he was born and schooled, to being in Los Angeles, where he could take in west coast symphony, theater, museum, and operatic offerings.

He had a William F. Buckley sense of style in his syntax and speechifying, and was able to balance his obvious “smarts” with a down-to-earth, “don’t take me too seriously” charm. The Law grin constantly gave him away. Geoff also was a skilled chef. Geoff loved to cook, shared his culinary knowledge freely, and thus left a mark on me that has grown over the years.

Geoff left us way too early, but not without making sure that those he knew were beneficiaries of his gifts of charm, stimulation, and culture.

Eric Gordon remembers:

Geoff Law, Kit Givan, and I became good friends in freshman year when we were forced to take Science I as part of our graduation requirements. Arty humanists to the core, we barely passed the course, but found each other and remained close all through Yale. We decided to room together at Branford sophomore year. Geoff and I appeared together in a college production of Guys and Dolls. He was a carillonneur and although I was not, he once invited me up to play a simple tune I had written. I was able to appreciate the special medieval thrill of sending out music to the whole campus. My relationship with Geoff was especially close because we were both originally from Connecticut — he from Kensington, near Hartford, and I from New Haven, so we enjoyed many opportunities to meet up during summers and vacations. Geoff went on to the beginnings of a distinguished career in history. He had a position at Bates College in Maine and specialized in British colonial history.

In the early 1970s I came out as a gay man, and most of my friends and family soon knew. What I did not realize just yet was that Geoff, too, was struggling with the same issues. (How readily today we would recognize the obvious signs!) Not until the late 1970s did he admit to me that he was gay and had just begun exploring his long-repressed sexual side.

We are principally known for the quality of the life we live, and this is certainly true of Geoff, who was a beloved teacher at Bates, a devoted friend, and a loving son and brother. But in his case, the manner of his death bears some comment. In June 1980 he left for India with a group of Bates students to study firsthand the legacy of the British colonial system. He had been feeling tired, and presented some remarkable bruises that inexplicably wouldn’t go away. Not long after his arrival in India, he could no longer function and was admitted to a hospital. The Indian medical team had no idea what they were looking at and could do nothing for him. He died at age 36.

Only well into the 1980s did it become apparent that Geoff had been one of the earliest victims of AIDS, a year or so before the first published reports emerged of a new fatal syndrome affecting gay men in America. A life of great promise was cut short well before its natural time. I am still in touch with his mother and sister, who shared with me many of the details surrounding his death.