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Otis Holloman Troupe

Died: April 20, 2001

Otis Troupe came to Yale from Washington, DC. His grandfather was pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Washington for 53 years, and his father was a DC policeman. Otis was an English major at Yale. He died on April 20, 2001. He was survived by his mother, his longtime companion Patricia D. Roberts, and many family members.

After graduation, Otis went to Boston College and earned a law degree in 1970, followed by an M.B.A. from Columbia in 1974. He worked as a petroleum analyst for Exxon, then as an economic development director for a New York community organization before returning to Washington in the late 1970s to take a position with the DC Council. He worked briefly for the U.S. Treasury Department before being appointed to a six year term as DC Auditor in 1981. He was reappointed in 1987 and served until 1993.

Otis was notable for the courage and zeal with which he raised alarms about Washington’s troubled finances and about corruption and waste in the Sharon Pratt Kelly and Marion Barry administrations. He issued reports that were critical of the administration of the city’s homeless programs, the Board of Education, the DC Lottery Board, the administration of Medicaid funds and the DC Housing Finance Agency. In 1992 he issued a report that criticized the Kelly administration for its wasteful purchase of an office building. He was an unsuccessful candidate for mayor in 1994.

An account of his public service from the Washington Post (May 20, 1993) illustrates his role in seeking reform and good, honest government, sometimes by provoking those with authority:

DC City Auditor Otis H. Troupe is getting under the skin of certain school officials. This week Troupe is scheduled to release his fourth audit critical of DC school finances. Frankly, school board members are sick of it.”

After a news conference by the Superintendent, two school board members approached a reporter.

“You know, I just heard that Otis Troupe does not have a certified public accountant degree,” said the Board president.

“Yes, I just heard that also,” said another Board member. “I hear he just has a law degree, not a CPA.”
Troupe chuckled when told later about the question on his qualifications.

“This suggests very strongly the panic that exists.” he said.

Troupe said he was not a CPA but he does have a law degree from Boston College (three semesters on the dean’s list) and an MBA from Columbia Business School (two semesters on the dean’s list). He said that he also employs two staffers who are CPAs and two who have law degrees.

Troupe has ruffled a few feathers this year with his three audits. The audits accuse school officials of spending nearly $3 million for employees who were not authorized, and misusing construction funds. During this audit, he discovered irregularities about use of public funds for private purposes. The FBI promptly seized school financial records.

The superintendent was further annoyed that Troupe’s audits were leaked to the media before he received them. “I’ve never seen anything like what the city auditor is doing. I don’t know of any other way to bring this political hack job to closure.”

His comments only underline the integrity and public-mindedness that Otis, in his unique way, brought to public service.

Herbert Stein remembers:

Otis was very likable, one of the very few black men at Yale at that time. What most stands out is the experience of sitting in the darkened TV room at Timothy Dwight watching a movie at night when Otis Troupe walked in, took a glance at the screen, stated the name of the movie, the actors on the screen, and the next spoken line. I can’t say I knew him very well, but I was very sorry to hear of his death.

Frank Schoeman remembers:

I shared many a meal with Otis at TD dinners. He helped me understand American football. As a rugby player in S.A. I had a lot to learn. He was a friend.

Walter Guterbock remembers:

I got to know Otis after we moved to Timothy Dwight. I believe that he was admitted to Yale with the expectation that he would play football, but he quit playing after his freshman season for reasons that he never really explained to me. He was a large man, and I remember him sitting in a big leather armchair in his room, dressed in a tee shirt and sweats, like a big black Buddha. He called me Goose, based on the first syllable of my last name. We would spend hours in that room, talking and listening to music. I also remember the grace with which he moved, despite his size, and his hearty laugh. He and I shared a love of jazz, blues, and Motown music, and I loved hearing about American history from the African American perspective that he had learned from his family. We would listen to music together for hours. He also regaled us with stories of his teenage years in Washington, which were so different from my sheltered youth in an academic family in Chicago, including many sexual escapades. He and I both tried to educate some of our classmates on the realities of race relations in America. Since we were both English majors, we helped each other out with ideas for papers, and he clued me in on ways to get out of academic jams, like going to the college dean to plead for intervention with a professor to gain a little time to complete an assignment. He had street smarts and knew how to make the system work for him. Otis seemed to have many friends around the campus, but he was resolutely himself. As far as I could tell, he did not try to change to please the preppy elite that dominated Yale at the time, but he also did not take refuge in the company of other African American students. He was who he was, in our midst.

I last saw Otis at our 25th reunion in 1991. He was physically about the same, large and imposing, and did not say much about what he was doing.

Thaddeus Tuleja remembers:

Otis roomed across the hall from me sophomore year. I was a shy white suburbanite, he the theatrically brash son of a Washington DC cop who had played football at historically black Grambling College. OT played the difference to the hilt, presenting himself as a worldly Dating Doctor, feeding me and other innocents ludicrously dysfunctional pickup lines, mentoring us in “cool” and in my case, teaching me a dance called the DC Shuffle that I do to this day. His physical presence — short, compact, powerful — enhanced a streetwise persona which no doubt helped him, as one of the few African-Americans then attending Yale, to navigate its patrician waters. I believe he had as much fun playing the hipster as we did watching him.

One memory that stands out…comes from a TD Drama production of Gore Vidal’s Visit to a Small Planet, in which Otis played a general being interviewed by a television personality. At the time, his hair rose about a centimeter above his scalp. So when he ad-libbed mid-interview by tossing his head back grandly and running his hand over it as if to sweep back luxurious tresses, he brought down the house — and the cast. It was a hilarious bit of mugging that only someone with Otis’ aplomb could have pulled off.

When I saw him at the 25th reunion, he had changed little physically. Still sturdy, still flashing a killer grin, and still holding court. But in speaking that day of the woman he was seeing, he expressed a quiet, sober appreciation that sounded like love. I hope they had some good years together before, all too soon, he caught the last train. He had earned the right to have his true, warm colors shine through.

(Abridged from the 25th reunion testimonial, by Tad Tuleja)