Letters to the Editor

Alyssa Carava

Farewell to a Friend

I’m an alum and have never written to CCT. I stumbled across the lovely New York Times obituary for Tom Vinciguerra ’85, JRN’86, GSAS’90, placed by a number of his friends — lucky, I suppose; it’s so easy to miss the weekday obit notices, especially now that many of us read the paper online.

Tom was a few years older than I, but we chatted numerous times in the old Spectator office on Amsterdam Avenue when I was a freshman reporter and he was an editor; it was, in many ways, the Columbia sentimental education — a student from the provinces (I’m from Baltimore) is told the secrets of New York by a slightly older student from the Tri-State area, always at night. Columbia in one line, boom! He was smart and funny and held forth on philosophy, language, politics, culture, literature, history, NYC and, most of all, Columbiana.

Over the next 30-plus years, I regularly saw Tom’s Times byline on a catholic range of topics: Santa Claus, James Bond, The Sting, Star Wars, Watergate, WWI and so on. And in a great twist, the sister of a friend from high school reviewed his book about The New Yorker. Seeing his byline was like running into the same friend from your John Jay floor at Grand Central every five years.

Then I saw his death notice and felt really sad that I wouldn’t run into him anymore.

He was smart and funny, the highest Columbia praise.

Steve Sagner ’88
White Plains, N.Y.

Lions We’ve Lost

I greatly appreciate the online spotlight on College alumni who have succumbed to Covid-19 [“Lions We’ve Lost,” written by Alex Sachare ’71] and hope you’ll allow me to add a few details of interest.

Two of the alumni who are included were former staffers at Columbia College Today: Terrence McNally ’60, assistant editor from 1963 to 1965, before his distinguished career as a playwright revved up, and Stephen Steiner ’66, editor from 1973 to 1974, who went on to Sport magazine and a career as a public relations executive with major Jewish organizations. Both were lovely people, and proud of their connection to CCT.

Columbia University Athletics Hall of Famer Tom O’Connor ’63 was indeed, as your headline proclaimed, a football player, an officer and a gentleman. He was also the oldest of 10 siblings from Chicopee, Mass. — three girls and seven boys, no fewer than four of whom played for the Lions at Baker Field: John O’Connor ’67, Jim O’Connor ’69 and Dan O’Connor ’82, in addition to Tom. Through the years, I got to know Tom not only as a true-blue alum but also as my brother-in-law. Tom was the beating heart of a large, warm-hearted extended family I was blessed to join by marriage 20 years ago. We all miss him terribly.

Jamie Katz ’72, BUS’80
New York City

An Overdue Appreciation

Thank you for publishing the obituary of William L. “Billy” Goldenberg ’57, written by Alex Sachare ’71 [Winter 2020–21]. It is a wonderful tribute to a warm, wonderful human being.

I met Billy when I was in the Columbia Players, and he and I were songwriters for the Varsity Show in the 1950s. He taught me much about songwriting. Billy and my wife, Harriet, and daughter, Aimee, and I continued our warm relationship until his death last August.

I remember sitting in the first row for An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, when he got me a house seat because he played the piano for their performances. In those days Billy was delighted to be living in an apartment that previously was the home of George Gershwin. We kept in touch when he was in Hollywood, and I visited him whenever we traveled to the West Coast. When we last saw him, before the pandemic, he was working on a revival of Ballroom.

It has been disappointing to me that, until your obituary, Columbia had not widely recognized one of its most talented graduates. The Varsity Show annually presents the I.A.L. Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts, and for many years I have submitted Billy’s name and career for consideration. It has been frustrating that he has never won. Few people will ever match Billy’s marvelous career.

Jerome Breslow ’56
Potomac, Md.

A Hall of Fame Family

I always enjoyed Tom Vinciguerra ’85, JRN’86, GSAS’90’s “Hall of Fame” articles, such as his piece on Oswald Jacoby CC 1922 [Winter 2020–21].

One might add that the brilliant card player’s father, also named Oswald Jacoby, graduated from the College in 1890. An uncle, Harold Jacoby, also was a Columbia graduate (CC 1885, GSAS 1895), and from 1894 until his death in 1932 was a professor of astronomy at Columbia. Among Harold’s many accomplishments was working out the timekeeping details of the Sundial.

The bridge expert’s niece, Susan Jacoby, is an accomplished writer, who has authored, among other books, a fascinating study of her family in Half-Jew: A Daughter’s Search for Her Family’s Buried Past.

Francis J. Sypher Jr. ’63, GSAS’68
Potomac, Md.