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George G. Musgrove

Died: March 28,2020

George was my appointed roommate freshman year in Bingham and selected roommate throughout the remaining three years at Morse College. Few, if any, classmates had a background similar to George. His father was a Black World War II veteran who married an English nurse and brought her back to America. George grew up in West Haven and was an academic and athletic star at West Haven High School. When we all arrived on the Old Campus, he found two prep school roommates from Berkshire School…myself and Jimmy Anderson. What a threesome. The people who manned the “roommate office” must have been clairvoyant – each of the three of us learned significant life lessons from the other two and developed friendships which endured until Jimmy’s untimely death Sophomore year, and gradually diminished after graduation as George and I found different life paths in different cities.

George was of pale complexion, short blond curly hair, and piercing blue eyes. He laughed readily and was enormously quick on the uptake. By that I mean he adapted quickly to the routines formed at Yale in respect of our academics, our social relations, and life on and off the campus.

George’s father was a fabled employee at one of the Secret Societies and, while that relationship was largely unmentioned during our entire four years on the Yale campus, I believe that George was deeply affected – and made somewhat uncomfortable by that circumstance. However, for my own part, some of the best times that I remember during our four years in New Haven were Sunday brunches at the Musgrove home in West Haven. George’s mom and dad were gracious hosts, warm and engaged, and gave us a sounding board for issues of the day and for our relation to the University and the world ahead of us once we graduated.

After we graduated, George earned his EdD from UMass, married his Yale sweetheart Margaret (we knew her as Piji), and began his government career. Together Margaret and George had two children, Taura and Derek.

George was accomplished in many areas of administrative work and made his career in city government, leading agencies through times of crisis or reorganization. After a stint in the New Haven Human Resources Administration, he traveled to Baltimore, Maryland, to lead the Department of Social Services during the socially turbulent crack epidemic. In Norfolk, VA, he was charged with reforming a Department of Human Services shaken by years of leadership instability and rank and file discontent. In Oakland, CA he left his position as Assistant City Manager to create a blueprint for turning around the city’s troubled public schools. A hard-changing reformer, he likened his approach to a “fever…to improve service, to make the system work, to change, to take risk…. My impatience is when people have not caught that fever.”

When George was appointed Interim Superintendent of the Oakland public school system, there were some public questions raised, and, in an interview in the Oakland Tribune (5/8/99) George was quoted: “I have no hit lists. That’s not the kind of person I am. I am results-oriented. If people produce, they have nothing to fear….”

That intensity was what we saw during his Yale years as well. George brought this same intensity to his personal pursuits. From high school well into his forties, he was a bruising basketball player, using determination and hustle to maximize his 6’1” 200-pound frame. Said one old friend of George’s game, “He was never shy about throwing his elbows around.” An avid collector – and lover of a good deal – George prowled the swap meets, flea markets, and antique shops of every town he called home. He packed his house with African art for decades before pivoting to hand-knotted rugs and East Asian sculpture.

But he could relax too. George spent his free time in every manner of games with the three children, Taura, Derek and Craig, reading sci-fi novels, or watching (absolutely horrible) B movies. A talented cook, he made sumptuous pots of gumbo, racks of ribs, legs of lamb, and kept his guests rapt with masterful storytelling skills and a wicked sense of humor – these last two were significantly honed during our years in New Haven.

In the early 2000s, he retired and relocated with his second wife, Barbara and their son Craig to Rock Hill, SC. There he evolved into an avid gardener and landscaper, planting scores of palmettos, expanding his vegetable garden, and even building a rock “pier” into the lake behind his home. One of George’s last long-term achievements was his service and work on behalf of the Serenity Club of York County, SC. He died on March 28, 2020.

My only disappointment was an inability to re-engage with George and get him into our ’66 reunion routine. That regret will remain.

Andrew Berkman