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Gerald A. Rosenberg

Died: September 5, 2009

Gerry came to Yale from Riverdale Country Day School, and along with his bike, immediately established a presence for himself. He was a Philosophy Intensive Major and, with his usual wit, often posed the question as to whether Heidegger (for purposes of deep understanding and comprehension) was best read from front to back or from back to front. Gerry was active in Morse (squash and golf) and in the Yale Film Society.

For nearly three decades he was a partner at Rosenman and Colin, a firm he joined in 1975. From 2004 through 2007, he served as Chief of the Charities Bureau of the New York State Department of Law. In 2007 he became of counsel to the firm of Patterson, Belknap, Webb and Tyler.

An enthusiastic golfer, hiker and rollerblader, Gerry was a witty raconteur and writer who loved a good political debate, never missed a worthwhile play, and was equally at home discussing Russian Constructivism or the finer points of estate law. He also traveled widely, enjoying especially his farmhouse in France. Gerry’s civic roles reflected his commitment to legal justice and his deep affection for New York and its parks. He was a Life Member of the American Law Institute, and a director of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, the Parks Council (now New Yorkers for Parks) and the Central Park Conservancy. He was a founding director of the Non-Profit Coordinating Committee of New York and a director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

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Gerry Rosenberg in June, 2006 excerpt from the 40th Reunion Book:

When I think back on my Yale experience, I recall many things: billiards in a room off the Morse College library, navigating the eighth hole of the Yale Golf course, Saturday night discussions of whether Heidegger makes any less sense read backwards than forward, and special friends, some no longer among us. But I also think back on the magic of sophomore year: French 58 with Victor Brombert, and History 58, a history of France with Stanley Mellon, a dazzling lecturer. What does all this add up to: hard to say. But I can report that a few years ago my wife and I bought an 18th Century farmhouse in the Vaucluse, which we tried to restore and modernize with some fidelity to the region and the period. Our mas has been visited so far by the Berkmans and the Parishes, and it is the retreat to which we repair whenever possible. I am still married, very happily, to my first wife, Rosalind Rosenberg, who is the Anne Whitney Olin Professor of History at Barnard College. Our older son, Cliff, teaches French history at CUNY. And our younger son, Nick, who was married last year at our mas, is finishing up a Ph.D. in Psychiatry at the New School. We have two daughters-in-law, one grandson and a granddog, all living close by.

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Rosalind Rosenberg remembers:

Gerry died on September 5, 2009. Having reread his entry for the 40th reunion volume, I see that he made no mention of the incurable illness — chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) — that had already come close to killing him several times since his diagnosis in 2000. Days before the 40th-reunion celebration in 2006, he landed, once again, at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York. I worried for his life. He feared he would miss the party. Defying doctors’ orders, he checked out early, and although the weekend was cold, with unremitting rain, he had a wonderful time in New Haven, reconnecting with friends, remembering old times.

CLL changed Gerry. He had always grabbed life with both hands, but in illness he did things he would not otherwise have contemplated. Besides attending reunions against medical advice, he bought a farmhouse in France and risked medical calamities to be there often; he left the private practice of law to become Chief of the Charities Bureau of the State of New York; he focused on his family, as never before. Had he lived to write this memoir, I am sure he would have mentioned his love for and pride in his children: Clifford the historian and Nick the psychotherapist; and his grandchildren: Henry (16), who has come to love math as much as he did, and Jasmine (3), the granddaughter he longed for but never got to meet. Finally, he would have remembered something about his time at Yale, where he gained an extraordinary education, which sustained him through the years, and where he was surrounded by friends, who stood by him to the end.

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Josh Rubenstein, a former law partner remembers:

Gerry was a young, charismatic litigation partner — athletic, witty, urbane, and prematurely white — the Anderson Cooper of his day. Yale College, Harvard Law School, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Chief of Civil Appeals.

Verbal banter with Gerry was one of my favorite recreational activities. He always spoke on multiple levels, and was quick witted beyond belief. It was like playing extreme verbal ping pong where the ball never touched the table. Gerry’s highly accomplished parents, Irwin and Doris, were hard acts to follow. I had the privilege of serving with Doris on the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, which sends its condolences, and Doris was a verbal black belt. But Gerry was the master.

If you loved Gerry, you had to forgive him his minor idiosyncrasies: he thought golf, not baseball, was the national pastime — and that everyone loved dwelling on it at length; he thought that no worthwhile popular music was written or performed since Motown — not even the Beatles; he thought that the worst thing that was French was better than the best thing that wasn’t French; and he thought that technology was a passing phase.

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Stacy Creem, a former associate in Gerry’s firm remembers:

Gerry, Josh and I worked on a case where we represented the sister and niece of the famous ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev against the executor of Nureyev’s estate. The case went to a bench trial in Federal Court. While we believed in the justice of our cause, we were saddled with clients who, at the end of many years of litigation, refused to show up or participate in the trial. Not surprisingly, the judge did not look favorably on our side, and I will never forget that right before Gerry was to make his summation, the judge told us that he was inclined to rule for the defendants, and that Gerry would have a hard time convincing him otherwise. Then we broke for lunch.

I gathered our notebooks and notepads so we could work on the summation. Gerry grabbed only his Zagat, and the next thing I knew we were off to Arqua for lunch. The associates and paralegals, myself included, were so nervous that we couldn’t eat a thing. Gerry decided to have something light, just some ravioli with veal ragu and two glasses of Pinot Grigio. I thought I was going to throw up. But when we got back to the courtroom, and Gerry started his closing argument, I was spellbound. He explained our position so completely and convincingly, and I don’t think he even glanced at a note or a paper. The judge was obviously impressed, and his tone changed. He wasn’t so sure anymore, and he took almost a year to decide the case. Ultimately we didn’t win, but Gerry had the respect and admiration of everyone in the room, and he got to enjoy a great meal as well.

William Cole remembers:

I think it is difficult to grasp or appreciate just how extraordinary Gerry was because most of us don’t really ever have the opportunity to know people like him and have nothing to compare him to. There are a lot of smart people, but not a lot of people like Gerry. I think of him as human magic of a very high order.

Gerry had exceptional powers of observation and retention; he heard and saw everything and remembered all of it. Gerry was curious, inquisitive. Gerry was keenly perceptive of every nuance, every subtlety, every implication, every interpretation, every argument, every possible result and outcome. Gerry was analytical and could relate everything to everything else better than anyone. Gerry ranked things and could tell you why something was better than its alternative, with uncanny accuracy. To grossly understate reality, Gerry was very competitive. Gerry had extraordinary abilities to think, to write, to speak, to express, to communicate. There is also a sense that Gerry was way more and better than the sum of these magnificent parts, in ways we can’t fully understand, but in ways we can only appreciate. And he was always on, full blast, 100 percent, pedal to the metal. It was so interesting and so much fun to be around that and to watch, with a sense of awe, what he could do with his fabulous mind and abilities.

Imagine having Gerry as a student, or perhaps better, as a teacher or even a classmate. Think of who you would want to run your business, to head your foundation, to be on your board, to be your closest advisor, to be the general in any wars you might be conducting. In the event you were involved in something really hard and complicated and important that needed to be negotiated or litigated, who would you want representing you. If you were opposing counsel who would you most dread seeing on the other side of the table or courtroom.

Being around Gerry enriched and enlivened all of our lives. He had the gift, that when you were around him, it made you feel good. When you spent time with Gerry, and it came to an end, what you wanted was more time with Gerry.

When I first met Gerry he seemed a lot like many other kids at Yale then and now: smart Jewish kid from New York with skinny arms and big glasses. I quickly learned two things about Gerry: he was full of surprises (all good ones) and he was not to be underestimated, ever.

On the squash court, I learned, the hard way, just how competitive he was. In this venue, as in others, Gerry was focused, disciplined, concentrated, cunning, wily, and extremely dangerous. Gerry always had a plan, and he was relentless in its execution and in its endless and creative revisions. To compete with him required the opponent to summon levels of effort and skills previously unknown to the opponent. We won’t even talk about golf.

While I did not have nearly as much contact with Gerry as I should have in recent years (my fault, lesson learned), I can imagine Gerry’s quest for excellence and improvement, for making the most of every moment, putting forth the maximum effort and adding the most value continuing until the last moment of his life. That is just who he was. His effect and impact on us was significant. He mattered. He was important.

Gerry made the world a better place for me and I think for everyone who knew him. Our lives are enriched and enlivened. We will miss the hell out of Gerry, but we will always treasure the memories of each and every moment spent in his company and be eternally grateful for the opportunity to be his friend.

Robert Snyder remembers:

I would echo the remarks of William (Wade) Cole above. Like his parents — Doris and Irwin — Gerry was a most extraordinary person. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have known him at and in the years following Yale and to have had him as a good friend.

Jeffrey Parish remembers:

I tried often to persuade Gerry of the wisdom of Pascal’s wager. We acknowledged that reason makes it hard to believe in God or heaven. But what if the other guys’ faith turns out to be justified? So, Blaise suggested living a good life anyway, in case it might get you into heaven.

Gerry did live a good life, not as a ticket to the hereafter but because he was a good man. And he had Soul. And, without asking his permission which might well have been denied, I’ve been praying for him. So if anyone is going to get into Heaven, it ought to be Gerry.

Whatever his travels now, he has achieved as much immortality as any of us can expect. He lives in our fond memories, and in the memories of his godchild (editor’s note: JJ’s eldest daughter) and her children and the rest of his family, and we will all tell the youngest about him, and expect them to remember him too.

Andrew Berkman remembers:

As did others, I watched Gerry’s slow physical deterioration over a long period of years; but, as noticed by many in the manifold circles that surrounded Gerry — his family, friends, colleagues (both at work and in his not-for-profit activities), his spirit and good humor were evident until the day of his death. He maintained his work schedule despite increasing physical adversity, and he was always engaged with everything that and everyone who had been important to him since he left New Haven. I intend in this remembrance to include (mostly in my role as scribe) memories of Gerry that were given at his funeral — standing room only — on September 10, 2009. (See previous entries.) I have identified each speaker to create a portrait of Gerry. For my part, the times I treasure and value most highly in all of Kathy’s and my collective interactions with Gerry and Rosalind are the memories of watching Gerry in conversation looking for an opportunity to pun (sometimes badly and sometimes hilariously), or to skewer an ill-expressed or not-well-thought-out argument, and, of course, to add his salty leavening to any discussion of current events and human folly.