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Remembering Jay Tanner
Ned Groth, Peter Deri, Pierre Loomis, Peter Golden, & John Ho, Spring 2020

(Editor (NG)’s note: As the byline above indicates, this remembrance differs from the single-author norm. I have written a fairly brief standard summary of Jay's time at Darrow, based on documents and personal communications, including yearbooks, class newsletters, and so on. I didn't know Jay very well then, and I didn't meet him again for 40 years after Darrow. After that we saw each other at reunions and exchanged emails now and then. Jay and Peter Deri kept in touch for many years, and although Jay had remained aloof from the class, Peter finally persuaded him to come to our 40th. Jay had a great time, and never missed a major one after that. In his first year at Darrow Jay roomed with the 3-Petes above, in Wickersham; they all reunited at the 45th, and stayed in touch thereafter. To write this memorial, I called on the class for help, and got plenty from his ex-roommates, and from John Ho, who became good friends with Jay late in life. The material they gave me was so good (and so well written—hey, they all went to Darrow) that I have incorporated much of it as submitted, with only light editing. Interspersed are photos from my collection, many of which Jay sent me. As a result, this is the first of our memorials written by a committee, and illustrated in part by the dearly departed. I hope we see more like this in the future. As always, we've aimed for an honest and loving portrait of our classmate. If anyone who reads this sees a need to correct or amend the record, let us know and we can do so.  –NG)


Jay joined us as a sophomore in the fall of 1959, and as noted, roomed with Deri, Golden and Loomis up on the 4th floor of Wickersham. Peter G left after that year but the others roomed together for two more years, still in Wickersham. The yearbook says Jay played soccer all three years, on the JV as a junior and senior (he and I were teammates all three years, see photo below). He tried JV hockey as a sophomore but recreational skiing after that, and no spring sport is listed. He sang in the choir and glee club, worked on the yearbook and took part in the Philosophy and Religion Seminar senior year, occasionally belonged to the photography club and worked in the milk bar. You can find the standard boring photos of those activities in the various yearbooks; since we have plenty of good shots of Jay, we don't need to use them here.

The informal shot of Jay in the "seniors" section of our 1962 yearbook (see below) shows him playing the banjo. I don't recall that he ever performed in public at Darrow, but he later told me John Prentiss had taught him to play, that it was a major basis of their friendship, and Jay was always grateful to John for helping him find his musical talent. Our senior yearbook also says Jay's nickname was "Rabbit." I never knew that. We had a "Weasel" (yes we did, check it out), "Goat," "Rodent" and "Rat," but I wasn't aware we had any lagomorphs. Live and learn.

Though we were soccer teammates, Jay and I never really struck up a friendship at Darrow. I had a general impression of him as somewhat guarded about who he let close, and I wasn't in his circle, nor he in mine, but that was OK. He seemed smart, capable of being quite funny, ironic. I had no idea then where his talents or his depths lay, so I'll leave that part of the story to people who knew him better.

One seemingly trivial incident apparently left a lasting impression on both of us. At a break between classes Pete Loomis and I were on the stairs in Wickersham, and Pete (who was a good friend, we were on the wrestling team together for four years) was teasing me about how much money I could probably make by selling copies of my exams. I either was playing along as if it were a serious suggestion or just laughing at the idea. Jay must have been within earshot on the stairs. A couple of years later, when he signed my senior yearbook, Jay wrote "Don't get too rich selling copies of your tests in college." Huh, I wondered, where did that come from. I have no idea why that's what popped into his head when we wished each other "bon voyage."

Here's what Jay was like in those years, from his roommates:

Loomis: Well, Jay is hard to describe. You often hear at funeral services the worn out phrase that "they broke the mold after John, blah, blah." Or, he "marched to a different drummer," etc.  Of course, we are all different, but those over-used phrases do fit Jay better than anyone I can think of. He was indeed different.  Maybe "quirky"  is a better word. He was very observant and noticed things about other people that sailed right over my head. He was smart as a whip but didn't do well academically--probably because school work bored him. His mind was on other things. 

Jay once committed the major-league crime of turning a paper in to Bethards in junior English two weeks late. The paper was returned to Jay with a grade of MINUS 180. I remember Bethards' comment to Jay clearly. "Mr. Tanner, if you write this paper over, and do a good job, I'll change your grade to zero." I suppose even Bethards had a heart. He obviously knew that a -180 averaged in with other grades would destroy any chance Jay had of passing the course. He wrote it over.

He could be very funny--again, in his quirky way. One winter night I noticed he got into bed with a sock on only one foot. In fact, he did that often, so I asked the obvious question, "Jay, why do you have a sock on only one foot?" His answer: "Because it keeps my other foot warm." That was it. No other comment. I remember looking up at the ceiling, trying to figure out what he meant. Sixty years later, I still don't get it. Perhaps that was the plan all along. Jay always thought ahead.

Deri: Jay’s father was out of central casting for Mad Men, 60 years before the first pilot was written. And Jay both identified with and pushed his dad away. His parents were consummate WASPS, mother from Providence RI. She was hospitalized (psychiatric) for a couple of years when Jay, brother and sister were young; and no one said what the problem was. They had a black maid/nanny who was important for them. The father collected vintage cars and Jay was obsessed with old MGs.

We would want to be seated at John Spencer's table in the dining hall. For the meals which Diana attended, we subtly and planfully tried to gain her attention and engagement. John clearly was annoyed so he would have us sit opposite from her. Our effort to bug him worked -- Ha!

Jay’s awareness of demographics, us being the forward guard for baby boomers before anyone coined the term, was striking, even in high school. This theme occupied him his entire life.

Jay's banjo playing coincided with an emerging national interest in American traditional music (country, bluegrass, folk, etc.) He was into that at Darrow and was friends with Stu Hemingway and Steve Foote, admired them for their musical talent.

Golden: In a way, I think J.D. Salinger got it wrong when he bestowed the name Holden Caulfield on the protagonist (and arguably the model for our generation) in Catcher In The Rye. Tanner, as Deri, Loomis, Barry [Ed. Note: Mike Barry '63, who roomed close by in Wickersham] and most others called him in conventional Darrow style, was Holden Caulfield, with a quotient of gonzo-hippie-stoner-hillbilly country singer added to the mix when I encountered him in his later years. Had Salinger known Jay, I suspect he would have plotted Catcher differently, if only out of respect for Jay's louche, utterly laid-back manner and gimlet-eyed ability to spot a phony from a mile away.

Back in that long-gone year Jay styled himself in high-prep, with an emphasis on tweed jackets and flannels draped over a razor-thin frame. His wry smile and slight, transparently ironic distance from his surroundings belied a fineness he carried about him that would verge on the delicate were he not to clearly comfortable in his own skin, refined and possessed of endless reserves of good humor tilting readily into mirth. Jay disliked con artists and self-promoters intensely, which he conveyed with a subtle curl of the lip and more than an occasional smirk.

Groth: I've pieced together an account of Jay's life after Darrow from material Deri and Golden provided, synthesized into a more or less chronological flow.

Jay went to Miami University in Oxford Ohio, didn't finish, and got a BA later from the Lang Division of the New School in NYC. In summer 1964, he went to Mississippi, working to register voters, with the American Friends Service Committee; Deri called it "serious and dangerous work." While there he was able to pursue his interest in traditional music with new intensity.

He worked professionally all his life for Catholic Charities as an administrator of group homes for developmentally disabled adults. Deri recalls, "He could talk about that stuff endlessly, like a child who relates stories about people you don't know and forgets you don't know who he's talking about." As Golden saw it, "He shared stories with pride and passion about the old-timers he looked after in a low-income assisted living facility he ran for many years."

Jay and Margaret (Wolf, I think her surname was), his wife, met at Miami but got married years later, in the 1970s. Deri reports that he and Jay had lost touch after Darrow, but re-connected about 39 years ago, in a chance encounter at a McDonald's on West 4th Street, off 6th Ave, in the Village. "Margaret and my number 2 wife were pregnant, and when the kids were born, Sarah and Isaac, they became friends. They still are friends, kind of like siblings who aren't that close as adults."

Margaret's career was in publishing. Golden, who is a bibliophile and visited their apartment in Brooklyn, recalls browsing through their library. "In volume after volume I found her name, referenced through her editorial role in bringing to press the writings of any number of distinguished authors."

Deri recalls that Jay's life in those years, after they re-discovered each other, held some surprises for him, Peter. "He had become friends, somehow, with a drug dealer who went to jail for a shooting. Jay visited the guy in prison regularly. At that time Jay was driving a cab, and living a pretty isolated life in Brooklyn. He had another friend who I met once or twice and was really odd, if not creepy." Peter Golden "…loved it when Jay shared stories with me at reunions of his outlaw years, when shadow-dancer that he could be, he skipped nimbly ahead of John Law as a freelancer in a profession now defined by products readily purchased with legal impunity by the gram or brand-name." 

Peter D. describes his friendship with grown-up Jay: "He never called me or reached out. It was always me reaching out to him. Getting him to Darrow reunions was like arguing at the Supreme Court. He was always unbelievable genial and social once there. But being friends with Jay was difficult. For one thing, at the beginning of a get together, one (I) had to renounce the expectation of a regular give and take of conversation and just listen…whether it was about his previously referenced realization that we were the crest of a wave, i.e. the Baby Boom generation; his repeated recitation about Columbus and Tiano people, his period of being into Judaism; his powerful memories of my parents and the role they played in his life (they listened to him and thought he was interesting and bright). Before he became somewhat of a Jewish scholar, he really got into his son's Bar Mitzvah, something important to his non-religious Jewish wife. I can't remember what  he said at the event but it was very inclusive. For all these pressured presentations of his, after a long time, when I settled into the inevitable asymmetry of the exchange, I would say something and something closer to a conversation would develop. I think he couldn't help himself let people know what he knew, 'cuz he had been such a fuck up academically (or maybe that's me??)"

About 25 years ago, Deri calls it "a grotesque irony," Margaret was diagnosed with a non-malignant brain tumor. Peter's words: "Multiple times she had surgery to cut the growth back, but always with something left there as it would have been too dangerous to cut it all out. So Jay had experience with acute gross and fine motor losses secondary to brain surgery, and saw Margaret, his wife, come back many times until she didn't. Some of her friends tried to prevail on Jay (and on me to persuade Jay) to manage her care differently, feeling was he was over-pathologizing the situation and putting her in rehabs and care facilities too easily. He and Margaret knew, but didn't tell anyone, that she was slowly but surely getting radiation sickness from the zaps to the head after each surgery."

Peter D. says Jay had a similarly bleak experience with his older brother, Bruce. Deri recalls that "Bruce once drove to up Darrow in a light blue convertible, looked like the coolest guy on earth to me, kind of a James Dean character. Anyway, he got some industrial agent orange toxic condition and was in VA hospitals probably for a little over 30 years. Jay visited him regularly and played guitar for him and the others and kept him in a revolving supply of porn VHS tapes." Jay's sister, Cynthia, who as far as I know  remains healthy, "has lived much of her life in a very small town in Colorado," Deri reports. "She is musical and in later years she and Jay performed together, both in Brooklyn and in Colorado." 

I myself finally "caught up" with Jay not at our 40th, where we exchanged only brief pleasantries, but at a memorial service for John Prentiss, at the Irondequoit, on Piseco Lake in the Adirondacks, in 2005, after John's suicide. Both families, Jay's and John's, had ties to the place as a summer retreat, and John lived and worked there for a while later in his life. I had been unaware that Jay and John were close. Deri says Jay "always felt that John was not understood" (I'd disagree, I think I and a bunch of us "got" John well, see his memorial.) Peter also muses "maybe their shared experience at Piseco and shared craziness was a bond." I was pleasantly surprised that Jay and I both showed up to help the family celebrate John's life. In the photo, Jay chats with Kris, John's first wife, as Jennifer, John & Kris's elder daughter, looks on. When it was over, Jay and I got to talking and he asked if I'd like to take a hike with him. I said sure and he led the way along woodland trails, to a couple of secluded lakes, explaining as we went about his time spent here years ago. We sat on moss-covered rocks in the filtered sunlight and chatted about life. I believe I spent more time talking with Jay that afternoon than I had in 46 years prior to then.

Once we were back in touch, and Jay was added (with his permission) to our class email list, I heard from him occasionally. My experience was like Deri's, I did most of the reaching out, and Jay seldom replied or took the initiative. When it came to organizing reunions, he'd resist stating his intentions, so I counted on Peter to be his proxy and manager. Once, after a reunion, Jay did spontaneously and graciously thank me for the efforts I put into keeping the class together. Our most memorable exchange arose when I thought I had located Dave Underwood, our long-lost classmate (Dave is seated next to Jay in the soccer photo at the beginning of this). Dave roomed with Loomis, Deri and Tanner, senior year, up in the Tower Room in Wickersham. Dave was another of our true eccentrics, and we had heard from him only once, in an early class newsletter in the late '60s. I found a guy the right age with the right name (NMI) who gave music lessons and owned a guitar studio in San Antonio. There was a photo on his web site and he looked very much like our Dave would look now. Jay and I got pretty excited over that. But alas, when I finally reached the Texas guitarist on the phone, he said he was not our Dave. If he wasn't telling the truth, he had a really convincing cover story and a witness-protection-quality alternative identity.

Starting with the 40th, Jay became a regular at reunions, gradually morphing from a lonely exile into "one of the gang." He and Deri usually stayed at Peter's summer house in Lenox, and in recent times they would put on a Sunday brunch for those of us who had stayed for the entire weekend.

This photo from the 50th reunion captures the joy of four roomies discovering the truth of the verse in Paul Simon's "The Boxer" (the one not on the album, that Simon, Joan Baez etc. sing in concerts), "…after changes upon changes we are pretty much the same."

Several pictures below are also from reunions. Jay would join in the jam sessions under the tent on Saturdays, playing electric guitar and sometimes singing. In the first shot, from our 50th, Jay and Steve Foote on keyboards show the younger classes how it's done. Also from that reunion, Jay and Steve taking a break between sets, outside the tent. The third picture in that set shows Pete Loomis chatting with Jay's wife, Margaret, at the brunch in Lenox, in 2007. (Frank Rosenberg took this photo.) This was the only time I (or most of us, I guess) met Margaret. She spent the greater part of the event seated in that chair, and I had the impression she was frail. I'm sad to say, I didn't get to talk with her much

Margaret's (and Jay's) long, awful struggle with her illness and its treatment came to its inevitable end in 2009. Out of respect for Jay's privacy, we didn't announce it to the class at the time, but eventually we did put up a short memorial on the "Class News" section of our website. In addition to her career as an editor,Margaret was a serious water-colorist, and was devoted to their son, Isaac. We also learned then that it was Margaret who introduced Peter Deri to his current wife, Lisa, 20 years ago. 
Jay became a more regular correspondent in later years. He'd send me reports of some of his music gigs (often with pictures, some of which are used below). He was a life-long, serious photographer, and once admitted he shot birds out his back window in Brooklyn ("Yeah, still lazy, after all these years.") He brought his camera to reunions, and about half the shots I used in the report on the 55th were Jay's.

In one of the rare chatty emails Jay sent me, in 2016, he shared this news: "I M/Ced a show of (3 Bands) from Red Hook Brooklyn...and I played solo while they  set up. At the Parkside Lounge, on East Houston street in [Greenwich Village] NYC. I was playing Nellie Belle, my oil can electric [Ed. Note, see later photo], and harmonica. I opened the show with 'Shake, Rattle and Roll,' some of you kids  may remember that one. We have been invited back in March! I am currently hosting an Asian piano prodigy in my home. He needs to choose which of three scholarships he will accept, LIU, Rutgers or the New School. He will do the rounds with me, and see what kind of music he can learn for his return trip to China. I have been invited to go there in May…I am disinclined. I am having fun here, and I am  not in great health. Other than that, I have a  woman friend who makes me proud because she has indigenous roots here in the USA. Like the Asians, they have a whole different way of looking at  things, a way  which feels good to me. Neither care for instance how things  are spelled. Remember  me, I was the one Mr. Bethards boasted of  having given the  lowest score in History on a 200 word  theme:  - 217! I didn't get above 0 until about Easter!" [Ed. note: The actual grade differs from Loomis's recall, though it's in the same ballpark. And, for the record, Boghos Hadjian – who had a decent excuse, he came from Argentina and spoke rather limited English – once got a - 465 on a Bethards theme. And yet, somehow Jay managed to pass Junior English—as did we all—well, all but poor Boghos, who got a minus grade for the quarter.]

At our last major reunion in 2017, a dozen or so of us made it, Jay among them. Jay took this shot of his two former roommates with John. He and I had some good conversations (I never had Deri's experience of sitting through a lecture) and Jay said he was "feeling freer at this point to be and do things he enjoys than at any time in his life." He was focusing on his music a lot. He spent some time in the (new, renovated, beautiful) music performance space in the Dairy Barn, playing his guitar for a small audience of classmates. Later on, back at the Inn, a group of us sitting around with beers had a discussion of bullying, and Jay had some incisive observations. He agreed with others that it was a fact of life in boarding schools at the time, maybe a useful gantlet adolescents had to go through, "but not discussed in the admissions catalog!" Jay described himself as a skinny, nerdy Jewish kid with unmanageable hair [Ed. note: In Jay's yearbook photo, at the top of this document, he looks pretty well-coifed to me.] Jay grew up in a racially mixed town (Montclair), says he was bullied a lot and developed defensive skills, in his case, using his wit to needle adversaries. As he worked out his place in the Darrow pecking order he found that masters made the easiest targets, and he recalls himself as having been unfairly hard on two in particular, John Spencer and Des McCracken. (Almost all of us have such tales of cruelty to our teachers to tell, alas, it was the unofficial school sport.)

One serendipitous result of the 55th was John Ho's late-blooming friendship with Jay. John's  night vision isn't good any more, so he doesn't drive; Xiao-Yun usually is his chauffeur, but stayed home that time because her daughter was flying in from overseas. So John took a bus up to Pittsfield on Friday, and I picked him up. He was planning to take the bus back Saturday night, but I said Peter and Jay would be driving back to NYC on Sunday, why not hitch a ride with them? It worked, John stayed for Sunday brunch, the ride home was fun, and afterward John and Jay often got together in New York. Here, they enjoy Xiao-Yun's wonton soup at John's home in Queens.   

Having known him well only for the last couple of years, here is John's take on Jay:

Ho: [John related how they got reacquainted, or really, acquainted for the first time, on that ride in 2017, then added:] Jay and I first stayed in touch by messaging and emailing, sharing our current interests and activities, since our retirements. The sharing later extended to information about our families. Jay took the initiative and I reciprocated. The communications evolved into more personal and intimate matters.

Jay told me about his work in NYC with Catholic Charities in his capacity as a demographer and provider of direct services to clients, his brief stint as a taxi driver, and perhaps a few other professions which I do not recall. But he made it quite clear that his avocations were a musician, a musicologist, and a photographer. Jay also had a long-standing interest in the plight of Native Americans. One interesting fact is that he worked at Woodstock as a cook during the festival, but “not as a participant.”

Jay spoke of his childhood growing up in the Adirondacks. He has a sister, Cynthia, who now lives in Colorado, and a son, Isaac, who lives in Brooklyn. I met both of them at the hospice care facility and also had dinner with Jay and Isaac last summer at a restaurant next to the Jalopy Theater in Brooklyn where Jay played his harmonica and guitar routinely on Tuesday evenings. Jay is well known there and has many musician friends. Subsequently, Jay visited me at my home in Flushing where we ate home-cooked meals and Jay played his harmonica and guitar. Jay, Peter (Deri) and I also got together once for a meal at an Indian restaurant in Manhattan.

He spoke about his care giving to members of his family who had passed away, his mother, a brother, and his wife.

Throughout I became interested in his knowledge of American folk music. He became a teacher/mentor in educating me about its history with roots from folk, country, gospel, jazz, and African-American music.  Jay was an enthusiastic teacher.

It is rare in my experience and opinion for a new friendship to develop as we advance in age. So It was particularly rewarding for me that Jay and I, in the course of the last few years and especially last year, became good friends.

Here are my impressions of Jay as our friendship grew. He was an idealistic person who had dedicated his working years to serving others. He was passionate in the pursuit of his avocations. He had been a loving son, brother, father and husband. He was caring and loyal in his friendships. I have been very lucky to have become a friend of his after 55 years since we met at Darrow.

Groth: The anecdote about Jay's having been at Woodstock landed here a day or so after I spoke with Chuck Arundale for the first time in years. Chuck told me he was at Woodstock, too, "operating a concession." (I didn't ask him what he was selling.) He claimed he was too stoned to remember much else, but surely if Jay and Chuck had run into each other at Woodstock (and if they had recognized each other, 17 years after Darrow), one of them would have mentioned it. What a weird coincidence! Of course it's also possible that of the roughly half a million who actually were there, 5 million now remember being there.

As John said, Jay was passionate about his music. Often when I heard from him, Jay would tell me of a recent gig. Three photos here are from a dozen or so he shared of himself playing. This one shows him with "Nellie Belle," an electric guitar I think he made himself starting with a five-quart oil can. He played the acoustic guitar, banjo and harmonica, too, and he and some of the bands he was in recorded and sold CDs, like one shown below. The last photo, taken by John Ho, shows Jay playing at a Central Park hootenanny to raise money for AIDs treatment in 2019.

A few months ago Carl Sharpe and I were musing that we hadn't posted a memorial for a classmate since Howdy Davis's almost five years ago. It felt like tempting fate even to notice. And sure enough, right after New Year's, word came from Peter Deri that Jay had had a brain stem tumor removed, was out of intensive care, and in a rehab facility; the pathology report and any kind of a prognosis at that point were still to come. As the days passed, the news only got worse. The tumor was malignant. Jay's road to recovery looked formidable, because of damage inflicted by the surgery. He could not walk, and his swallowing reflex was partially paralyzed, so he was being fed through a tube.

Deri is sure Jay decided, based on his experience tending to others, not to prolong his own dying. "He knew very quickly he wasn't going to subject himself to what he saw his wife go through. He was accepting, said he'd had a good life, and was mainly annoyed that his loved ones took longer to buy into his plan for hospice than he wanted." With Cynthia and Isaac soon supporting his choice, Jay was moved into an extended care facility in Northwestern NJ. We sent word out to the class, and a few people tried to visit. John Ho and possibly Peter Deri were able to do so, but the time when Jay was able to appreciate seeing anyone was awfully short. He passed away, peacefully, with Isaac at his side, on January 25.

Jay left life, as he largely lived it, on his own terms. Whether we knew him from the start or just got to know him recently, we all will remember him as, what Loomis said, one of a kind. Pete added, "So RIP old friend.  I hope our paths cross again sometime." And Peter Golden: "Listen Jay, you were out of sight, dude. Miss you – a lot."



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