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Lance Craig Carlson

Died: August 3, 2002

Lance Craig Carlson, who died of a heart attack on August 3, 2002, started Yale with the Class of ’65, but graduated in 1966, attending part of a year at Canisius College. He lived in Trumbull and was a member of Dwight Hall and Phi Gamma Delta as well as the Yale Guides, Yale Literary Magazine, and Political Union. Lance was always going in a slightly different direction from the rest of us. One of his friends called him “the bottle rocket” — taking off in a trail of sparks never sure which way he would go. Another friend remembers him as “a feisty little guy of remarkable kindness; I spent a wonderful summer on his family’s ranch near Rawlins, Wyoming.” His son, Oliver Rizzi-Carlson, has a photo of Lance taken at Yale in which he’s popping out of the door to his room. The caption says, “Eu, Yuppie Scum…Oh, wait a minute, that’s me.”

After he graduated, Lance managed the law firm of the flamboyant Melvin Belli. He attended Hastings College of Law but dropped out one credit short of his degree. Lance was more interested in business ventures, such as satellite radio (long before it was an established enterprise), and was more interested in his friends than in making money. In fact, Oliver says his father’s friends frequently made more from Lance’s ventures than he did.

Lance’s apartment on Russian Hill in San Francisco was known as the club house. Friends could go there anytime just “to turn the music up and watch the fog roll in.”

There was a cipher lock on the apartment’s door and all his friends knew the code. “What was inside to steal except a good time?” He was married twice, both times briefly. “High speed engines don’t run on faithfulness,” a friend said. Lance met an Italian woman during a summer in Tuscany in the early 1970s. Ten years later, she was in San Francisco and found Lance. She became pregnant with Oliver and returned to Italy to have the baby. They never married and lived most of their lives apart, but they had Oliver, who has made a career in peace education, to show for it.

In 1993 Lance moved to Costa Rica where he lived in a broken-down villa on the edge of the jungle. His mother said the only thing the house lacked was a bulldozer. He replied, “Look at this house. Look at that view. . . I’ll meet people.”

He started Ticonet, the country’s first private Internet service provider. Today Ticonet is well-established, offering web hosting and design, but in 1993 the Costa Rican government held the monopoly on internet service. By the time the government relinquished that monopoly in 2002, Lance was moving back to San Francisco.

Lance’s mother died, and he took Oliver on a road trip through the Southwest to spread her ashes. Among other places, they went to a cemetery in Santa Fe where Lance’s ancestors, dating back to the first representative in Congress from the New Mexico Territory, were buried. Oliver had lived with his father as a small child, but there were large parts of Lance’s life about which his son knew nothing. On that trip, Oliver says, “Right before leaving us, he left me all these clues.”

Robert Smith remembers:
The passing of Lance Carlson, classmate and spookmate of mine, caused an uproar on the internet in 2002. He had so strongly affected so many people in his tragically shortened life that the outpouring of tributes and testimonials from those who knew and loved him was truly remarkable. Though I had lost track of Lance after Yale, I was amazed, but not surprised, to learn how many lives he had touched.

Unfortunately for me, I only got to know Lance in senior year — we had been tapped by the same underground. He was so enthusiastic, fun and positive that you couldn’t NOT be his friend. With Saybrook and Trumbull just across the street, we were neighbors. We had many adventures that year while dating two best friends from Aggie Maggie. The fact that I didn’t graduate on time was not Lance’s fault; but it meant I would need a car in order to stay in the east. Lance was kind enough to sell me his 1961 Ford Falcon with expired California plates. (He said they had never noticed that in New England.) Would you buy a car from Lance Carlson? Of course you would; and, like me, you would probably do just about anything else for him, too. He was that special.