Yale University

In Memoriam

Strachan Donnelley

Strachan Donnelley
1964 graduation

Strachan Donnelley was remembered at a Memorial Service in Battell Chapel on June 5, 2009 during our 45th reunion. Below are:

Memorial Service reading

by Chris Getman, '64

After returning to Yale following a year off for allegedly starting the annual freshman riot, I, a farm boy from Maryland, found myself in an extraordinary room, consisting of two summa cum laudes (McFarland and Cushman), an injured football player who decided to graduate in three years (Kalayjian), our future class Secretary (Sherman) who defeated Joe Lieberman for the position, and Strachan, who, it became clear to me quickly, marched to the beat of a wickedly different drummer (to paraphrase Thoreau).

Here was a guy for whom the world was his oyster: smart, athletic, "to the manor born," and ruggedly handsome, even though he was a three-year starter on Dan Casman's "all ugly team."

His chart seemed to have been laid out for him in advance: Hotchkiss, Yale, Skull and Bones, Head of R.R. Donnelley, Head of the Chicago Symphony, Chairman of the University of Chicago Board, philanthropist, etc. etc. — in other words, to follow in his dad's footsteps in genuinely and effectively improving the welfare of Chicago and, by osmosis, the rest of the world. Rather Strachan eschewed this predetermined route, took the road less traveled, and pursued the course of becoming a philosopher and steward of the environment. He never looked back.

For some strange reason we became close friends. I suppose it was because he needed on his Rolodex a token Deke or someone who could summon the latent pagan instincts which lurked dangerously close to the surface of his skin. He used to delight in coming into the living room of our suite with a ski pole and firing it at the pyramid of full beer cans we had on the mantle piece to deflect Sunday blue laws.

Once I left George Humphrey's 21st birthday party early to rest up for a game I was scheduled to pitch against Harvard the next day. At about 2:00 AM there was a huge ruckus in the living room. I wandered in to find Strachan, having come from the same party, in full birthday suit attire, blasting the record player, waving a broomstick and conducting Beethoven's Leonore Overture, employing what I dubbed the "two-baton technique." "Donnelley, you @$#*%#@," I yelled, "What the hell are you doing? Don't you realize I'm pitching against Harvard tomorrow?" "But this is Beethoven, you big Bozo," he retorted without missing a beat or turning down the volume.

It wasn't until a few years later that I realized that he was right, loving Beethoven did trump beating Harvard in baseball.

Strachan continued his "blue-highway" travels by marrying the beautiful and accomplished Vivian, an extraordinary woman. What great vision he had.

Toddie and I had the good fortune to visit them and their ever-growing family in "the country," several times. We laughed a lot.

One of my favorite recollections of visiting "the country," in addition to tearing into his incredible wine "cave," was the night we decided to call Sherman, in Hong Kong, collect. As it was noon there, and he was on his terrace having a Singapore Sling, he foolishly accepted the charges. Our goal was to keep him on the phone for as long as possible, which we did to the tune of $250, a sum which in those days approximated the size of the Yale endowment.

Strachan was an avid fly fisherman. I, a worm and sinker guy from the Chesapeake, had the privilege of being with Strachan in his element, fly fishing in Montana. It was beautiful to watch. He was at one with the rod, the fly, the stream, the fish and the breathtaking environment.

He was at his best, however, at "Strachan boys' week end" where a core group of five of us, often with others, would go to South Carolina and behave like sixth-grade boys. Though we all liked to hunt, none of us was very good at it. In fact Jimmy Breslin was considering writing a sequel to The Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight and have it centered at Ashepoo over Strachan boys' week-end. The local Air Force base declared Ashepoo a "no-fly zone" when we were there, while the ducks, dove and quail chortled and the clouds and live oak quivered when we were in town.

But the hunting was supplemental to the great company, the breathtaking beauty, and the wonderful hospitality at the plantation. The staff pampered us mercilessly, and it wasn't until we were gone or out of earshot that they would burst out laughing about some of our incredible whiffs on quail and dove or someone's brilliant merganser/spoonbill double.

We'd sit around drinking bourbon, usually and appropriately Old Grand Dad, demolishing his wonderful wine, smoking cigars, making strange noises, laughing a lot and trying to be the one who told the joke which was so bad that it sent everyone else to bed. That honor invariably fell to Strachan, who knew only one joke, that of the "Crocopotamus" which was always the evening ender. You don't want to hear it, but it got worse every year.

Heeding Dylan Thomas, Strachan did not "go gentle into that good night." Rather he died, or as he so succinctly put it "turfed it," on his own terms, with courage and without fear, at home, holding Vivian's hand and with his family nearby.

As Christopher Wren proclaimed upon the completion of St. Paul's Cathedral, "If you would see man's monument. Look around." Strachan's monument is extraordinary. The Center for Humans and Nature is flourishing and poised to continue his mission of sustaining the planet; The Hastings Center has a beautiful permanent home, showcased by the Donnelley lawn, and is a major force in the bioethical debate; thousands of acres in South Carolina and Illinois are protected forever; and he leaves an incredible family: the remarkable Vivian, five gorgeous and accomplished daughters, all Yalies, plus four nifty sons-in-law and 5 and 8/9th grandchildren. This, his family, was his greatest accomplishment.

I leave you with two thoughts. The first is to paraphrase Robert Frost with whom we both had dinner at the Pierson College Master's House in our senior year:

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and Strachan —
He took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference."

And…"But it's Beethoven, you big Bozo!"



Chicago Tribune
July 16, 2008

Strachan Donnelley

Printing heir, nature steward

Philanthropist also was a philosopher

Strachan Donnelley, a philanthropist and philosopher, made a lifelong study of the intricate relationships between humans and nature in pursuit of a conservation-centered concept he called "democratic ecological citizenship."

An heir to the Chicago-based Donnelly printing fortune, Dr. Donnelley, 66, died of stomach cancer on Saturday, July 12, in his New York home, said Paul Heltne, director of the Center for Humans and Nature in Chicago. Dr. Donnelley co-founded the center in 2002 and was its president.

Dr. Donnelley's interest in the natural world took root at an early age, as he roamed the land surrounding his home, Windblown Hill in Lake County, and mucked around the sloughs of the Illinois River Valley on the family duck-hunting retreat near De Pue, Ill. A couple of hunting trips to the Rocky Mountains with his father and brother were also influential, said his sister, Laura.

Dr. Donnelley was for many years affiliated with the Hastings Center in Garrison, N.Y., a bioethics think tank. As the center's director of education and later president, he studied end-of-life and animal research issues. Although he lived in New York for most of his adult life, he was frequently in Chicago, discussing regional planning and other issues at the Chicago Academy of Sciences and researching economic and agricultural models that were ecologically sustainable.

"He started in an almost theoretical vein, but based on a commitment to nature, that we are stewards of nature and we have to take care of it better than we have done," his sister said.

The Center for Humans and Nature, started in Chicago and with offices in New York and South Carolina, brings together thinkers from many fields to look at the "long-term implications of how humans live on this planet," said Jerry Adelmann, the chairman.

With the term "democratic ecological citizenship," Dr. Donnelley made the argument that "our citizenship must be seen as embedded in nature, or dependent on nature," Heltne said.

Playing off his interest in music, he often used the phrase "orchestral causation" as a theory to explain that "the whole is not merely greater than the sum of the parts, but different," said Wes Jackson, director of the Land Institute in Kansas, where Dr. Donnelley was a board member and donor.

"He was busy in his philanthropy. He was not a lazy philanthropist," said Jackson, explaining that Dr. Donnelley became involved in the causes to which he gave money.

Dr. Donnelley's father, Gaylord, who died in 1992, was the onetime chairman and president of R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., the mammoth commercial printing concern founded in 1864 by Dr. Donnelley's great-grandfather.

Dr. Donnelley inherited his father's passion for duck hunting and conservation, a cause long championed by the family's Chicago-based philanthropic foundation. He chaired the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation from 1992 to 2003, giving away more than $50 million.

He was a multisport star at the Hotchkiss School and Yale University, where he received a degree in English literature. He went on to get his master's and doctoral degrees from the New School for Social Research (now known as the New School) in New York.

Dr. Donnelley had recently compiled a collection of his writings titled, "Living Waters, Magic Mountains: Explorations of a Fly-fishing Philosopher."

Dr. Donnelley is also survived by his wife, Vivian; five daughters, Inanna, Naomi, Tegan, Aidan Rowley and Ceara Berry; a brother, Elliott; and five grandchildren.

A memorial gathering is set for 10 a.m. Saturday in the Fullerton Auditorium of the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave.


Remembrance by Chris Getman '64

It is with a heavy heart and great sadness that I write to inform you that Strachan died at 5:00 AM on July 12th after a long and courageous bout with stomach cancer.

He died on his own terms, peacefully, at home and holding Vivian's hand. He faced his death with courage and humor, just as he challenged his life.

His great legacy will be the Center for Humans and Nature which he started from scratch and which is now a vibrant and well sustained organization which deals in thoughtful and substantive ways with the many challenges facing our planet. It's a shame that he didn't have much of a chance to see CFHAN running at full throttle, but he died knowing that it was doing so.

He is survived by his remarkable wife, Vivian, five gorgeous and gifted daughters, four sons-in-law and five grandchildren with another on the way.

There will be a private funeral in Libertyville, IL, on Thursday, July 17th, a memorial service in Chicago on the 19th, and a memorial service in New York in September.

We lost a great one. I will keep you posted as I know more.


Remembrance by Ed Ranney '64

As Strachan Donnelley's first cousin, sharing a deep personal relationship with him through our shared experiences growing up 1/2 a mile apart in rural Libertyville, attending together Lake Forest Country Day School, The Hotchkiss School, and Yale, I am privileged to report on the two beautiful memorial services held for Strachan recently in Illinois.

Family members and close friends gathered to celebrate his life on July 17th at Windblown Hill, the family farm where he grew up and which he continued to maintain. The service was orchestrated by Father Stan Gumula, successor to Father Francis Kline, Abbot of Mepkin Abbey, Moncks Corner, South Carolina. Strachan had become close to both Cistercian monks through his efforts to support conservation efforts in the area near Ashepoo, the lowland plantation his parents Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley acquired in the late 1960s, which continued to be a cherished family gathering place for Strachan and his siblings, and their descendents.

Father Stan and Strachan's wife Vivian chose readings reflective of Strachan's concern for the natural landscape, highlighting the significant role Strachan had taken in spreading seeds of thought regarding the necessity of conservation efforts. Readings were from John Elof Boodin's Cosmic Evolution; Matthew 13:1-9; Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac, and Norman Macle()an's novel, A River Runs Through It. Those who knew of, or shared personally, Strachan's love of trout fishing will be pleased to know, as his sister Laura informed us in a moving tribute, that he was buried in his trout-fishing clothes.

Each of Strachan's five daughters, Inanna, Naomi, Aidan, Ceara, and Tegan shared touching personal remembrances, and his four sons-in-law offered perceptive words of thanksgiving for his life and work. Wes Jackson, President of the Land Institute, Salina, Kansas, on whose Board of Directors Strachan served for many years, briefly outlined the importance of Strachan's life work, before packets of seeds from the Land Institute's seed bank were distributed to all in attendance. Following the service Strachan was buried next to his parents in the Lake Forest Cemetery.

On July 19th a public memorial for Strachan was held in Fullerton Auditorium, at the Art Institute of Chicago. Brooke Hecht, Acting President, Center for Humans Nature, NY, the non-profit organization Strachan founded in 2002, presided and was followed by speakers who addressed the many aspects of Strachan's life. These were: Jerry Adelmann, Executive Director, Openlands, Chicago; George Ranney, President, Chicago Metropolis 2020; Henry Betts, past Medical Director/Persident/CEO, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago; Paul Heltne, Director, Center For Humans and Nature, Chicago Office; Mark Siegler, Director, MacLean Center of Clinical Medical Ethics, University of Chicago; and Wes Jackson, President, The Land Institute. Strachan's wife Vivian, inspired by her daughters' words on Thursday, offered a deeply felt and beautifully written letter of thanks and appreciation for her life with Strachan. Live quartet/quintet music began and ended the memorial, and a series of pictures of Strachan and family, accompanied by recorded excerpts of Giuseppe Verdi's Requiem, was presented as special testimony to a life and family of deep personal commitment and feeling.

A memorial service is being planned to take place in New York City, where Strachan and Vivian had lived since 1969, sometime in late September. A book of Strachan's essays is being prepared for publication, and the website Humans and Nature provides an excellent summary of Strachan's work and career.