Category Archives: Remembrances

John Tishman: A Dear Friend and Mentor

John Tishman is well recognized as a master builder and genius in real estate. But at heart, he was a teacher and mentor.

My tutelage began in his office at 666 Fifth Avenue just after my appointment as President of The New School. He taught me about New York, taking me to its neighborhoods, introducing me to its leaders like Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo. He educated me about the challenges of Manhattan real estate in the 1980s, counseling me to buy, not build, to take advantage of the market to expand The New School’s footprint in the Village. So we did: 26 East 14th Street, 55 West 13th Street, 72 Fifth Avenue at bargain prices—no rush to build. He knew we could construct a signature building on this site someday, a facility that would be a campus center with housing and classrooms and studios for all the scattered divisions of The New School. We gather today in the Tishman Auditorium, but we live and work together on the Tishman campus.

History will recognize John as a giant in The New School’s history, a trustee for 35 years, with a vision of its destiny worthy of Alvin Johnson, our founding president.

Most trustees came to The New School board through interests in one of its divisions, the graduate faculty, Parsons, Mannes, Eugene Lang College, Management and Urban Policy. But not John. He cared about the whole institution and grasped the potential of integrating its disparate parts into a university where art and design, urban and environmental policy, social sciences and more invigorated each other. The Tishman Environment and Design Center is emblematic of that vision. Indeed, it was John who led the movement to change our name from The New School for Social Research to The New School University.

And it was John who grasped the importance of technology, pushing for reforms in the Parsons curriculum to advance computer-assisted design, supporting the creation of The New School’s pioneering distance-learning programs, helping design ways to bring all our students together with advanced equipment.

In 1990, I was pleased to confer upon him The New School’s Distinguished Service Award, not for his work in university real estate, but for chairing the Board’s Educational Policy Committee. On that occasion, I said that John “brings passion and excitement to our work, always asking the big questions, always bringing a fresh and original perspective to issues before us. His far-reaching interests and talents have made him a central participant in virtually every important policy matter that this board has faced. John fuses a penetrating analytical power with creative flair, mental toughness with uncommon good judgment, an innate decency with a deeply rooted sense of fairness, bedrock integrity with steadfast loyalty to people and institutions in which he believes.”

John was a trusted mentor and a friend. He taught me about leading a large organization, respecting unions, defending free speech, campus and financial planning but also the art of taking calculated risks. I recall his steady leadership as Chair of the Board when we faced a challenging spring of faculty and student activism in 1997, and his pitch-perfect advice about restraint in the face of protests and sit-ins as well as his laser insight about when the moment came to engage with the dissidents. We emerged from that spring a stronger, more unified New School, reconnected to our founding values of respect for diversity and commitment to community, determined to protect freedom of expression and passionate about working together in the quest for a more just, humane and peaceful world.

More than a mentor, John was a close personal friend. Cynthia and I enjoyed our regular dinners in the country in Bedford and at our house in Fairfield. As I speak, I can visualize our last encounter, walking him up the front steps, his dog TJ greeting him, a smile on his face as I locked eyes with him before entering my car. I felt a sense of peace that reminded me of a reflection by Yale Chaplain William Sloane Coffin, which I read at my father’s funeral: “The one true freedom in life is to come to terms with death, and as early as possible, for death is an event that embraces all our lives. And the only way to have a good death is to lead a good life. Lead a good one, full of curiosity, generosity, and compassion, and there’s no need at the close of the day to rage against the dying of the light. We can go gentle into that good night.”

John lived a good life and now has gone gently into the good night.

Eric Hobsbawm Memorial

On October 25th, 2013, Jonathan gave remarks at a memorial event held for world-renowned historian, Eric Hobsbawm. The afternoon of tributes was staged in the Tishman Auditorium at the New School for Social Research. Other speakers included Ira Katznelson, Eric Foner, and Amartya Sen. Click here to view video of this event.

Eric Hobsbawm

October 25, 2013

I first encountered Eric Hobsbawm as an undergraduate at Yale when I read The Age of Revolution. It captured my imagination as no other work had and played a role in my decision to become a historian.

I first met Eric at my inauguration as President of the New School in fall 1982.  I wanted the occasion to celebrate the rich mosaic of the New School and asked each division to recommend a person for an honorary degree who represented its values, traditions, and aspirations.  The Graduate Faculty selected Eric Hobsbawm.

As I conferred the degree on November 16, 1982, the year he became an Emeritus Professor at Birkbeck College of the University of London, I read the following citation:

Historian, teacher, England’s chronicler of our collective dreams and achievements.  You inspire scholars everywhere with your uncompromising attention to truth and fidelity to the human condition.  Your monumental work reflects a mastery of the social sciences. You elucidate the shape of modern capitalism and the meaning of class and culture.  Your knowledge spans Western Europe’s centers and peripheries, as well as the dynamisms of peasantries throughout the world.  You combine deep understanding of the aspirations and limitation of social movements with acute perception of the reasons and consequences of protest.  We celebrate these extraordinary contributions by conferring upon you the degree of Doctor of Human Letters, honoris causa.

Some months later Dean Ira Katznelson proposed we appoint Eric as a university professor.

The Graduate Faculty was having hard times having lost its authority to grant PhD’s in Political Science, Sociology and Philosophy.  Its very future was in question. We had begun to recruit a cohort of new faculty, including Ary and Vera Zolberg, Charles and Louise Tilly, appointments which signaled our commitment to rebuild.  And when Eric agreed to come, that was a powerful reaffirmation of the Graduate Faculty’s ties to Europe and a tradition of placing the social sciences in historical perspective.

Eric played a major role in founding the Committee on Historical Studies which gave shape to the intellectual character of the next chapter of the University in Exile.

Eric became a full member of our community interested in the whole university.  When the New School was considering the creation of a Jazz and Contemporary Music program, I turned to Eric for advice as I did on other challenges the university faced.

In all matters, he always gave me his best judgment and honest opinion, directly, sometimes tartly.  I listened to his private and public critiques with great regard because I knew they were always motivated by care for this university.  I appreciated his desire to make it better, admired his intellectual integrity, and trusted his sense of fairness.  I am honored to have had the opportunity to make common cause with Eric Hobsbawm as he searched for a more just, humane, and peaceful world.

Remembering Ari Zolberg

On September 19, 2013, Jonathan  and others gathered at The New School to pay tribute to the life and career of Ari Zolberg. These are Jonathan’s remarks.

September 19, 2013

Aristide Zolberg


The last conversation I had with Ary was about the draft of his memoir, which was an affirmation of the Living Spirit.  Ary’s personal history resonated with the values and intellectual heritage of the University in Exile.

As I read the moving and inspiring story of his journey from statelessness to his thirty year commitment to the New School for Social Research, I understood more fully what he has meant to us.

Ira Katznelson and I faced a daunting challenge when we arrived at the New School in 1982.  The State had suspended the PhD programs in several departments, and the very existence of the Graduate Faculty was at risk.

We knew dramatic action was needed to signal the New School’s ability and commitment to rebuild.  The recruitment of Ary Zolberg from Chicago was a hire heard around the world:  The New School could attract stellar scholars and teachers like Ary and Vera Zolberg.  Confidence grew, morale lifted, financial support flowed from trustees.   And others followed Ary and Vera, Charles and Louise Tilly, Richard Bernstein, Agnes Heller, Eric Hobsbawm and more.

Our first appointment made a statement about the future:   We were not building a conventional social science faculty, but rather were drawing on the Graduate Faculty’s European roots which honored history and philosophy, transcended disciplinary boundaries, and sought deeper understanding.  Ary put it well in his article “Notes from an Intruder:”

“I am persuaded that our most valuable contributions consist of elucidating “patterns;” that is, dynamics of certain situations under certain historical circumstances.  My overall objective is to promote the understanding of socio-political configurations as unique, but not accidental.”

Ary came to embody the history and future of the Graduate Faculty.  In 1984, we journeyed to Berlin to mark the 50th Anniversary of the University in Exile.  The City of Berlin made an endowment gift to establish a University in Exile Professorship.   As I accepted the gift, I said:

“A university is a community of thinking, study, discourse and collaboration which rises above disciplines, methods, languages and nationalities.  The University in Exile reminds us that we are all part of that greater community, of one university.  It can be removed from one locale to exile in another, but it can never be exiled from our hearts and minds.”

There was no question Ary Zolberg should be the first incumbent of the new University in Exile Professorship.  No one reflected those values better than he.

But he was also emblematic of the future of the New School, determined to make social science scholarship useful to understanding and addressing contemporary problems.  He took on big issues, tough ethical problems, analyzing them deeply, but with an eye to practical solutions.  Ary’s Center for Migration, Ethnicity and Citizenship was a model for the new Graduate Faculty.  It placed immigration in global perspective, focused on both movement and incorporation into new societies, and looked at the positive outcomes of migration.

In this as in many topics, Ary Zolberg was my mentor.  Lessons learned from Ary made me a better President of the MacArthur Foundation, where I started a program on migration and mobility to address questions raised at Ary’s Center.  And his deep understanding of West Africa guided my work in Nigeria.  His own pioneering initiative to strengthen African universities like Makerere in Uganda was a model for MacArthur’s commitment to the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa.

So I owe a double debt to Ary Zolberg, who enriched my work at both the New School and MacArthur.  But we were more than professional colleagues.  We were friends.  I enjoyed our travels through Europe, his warm and wonderful humor, his kindness and respect for people of diverse backgrounds, his compassion and caring, and his belief that working together we could build a more just and humane world at peace.

I close with a reflection from William Sloane Coffin.  “The only way to have a good death is to lead a good life.  Lead a good one full of curiosity, generosity and compassion, and there is no need at the close of the day to rage against the dying of the light.  We can go gently into that good night.”

Ary lived a good life and has gone gently into that good night.  Rest well, our loquacious Penguin.

Dwight Fanton Memorial

Dwight Fanton

March 16, 2013

This morning we laid Dwight to rest in Easton’s Center Street Cemetery where he joined his parents, Willard and Ethel, and his grandparents, Iverson and Emma. Indeed he is surrounded by Fantons who settled in Weston in the 1680s. A few years ago he and I did  an oral history , traveling from his early home in New Rochelle, to Yale, through Bridgeport and Trumbull where we lived after the war and then all around Weston, Easton and Fairfield.

My most vibrant memories of my father go back to the late 40s and early 50s – our modest house at 11 Edgewood Avenue in Trumbull, our cocker spaniel, Rusty, the backyard vegetable garden, sailing at the Black Rock Yacht Club, catching crabs off my uncle’s boat in Chesapeake Bay, going with my father to Yankee games, Saturday afternoons at the Loews Poli Theater in Bridgeport, doing my Sunday school lessons with him, attending my first political rally. He liked Ike and so did I.

How fortunate I was to have a father so deeply engaged in every part of my life, always there for me.

And how fortunate we all are that Dwight was our friend, our mentor, our anchor in good times and bad for almost 98 years. Early on I knew there was something special about him. A warmth, an empathy, a love deeply felt if not always expressed.

I saw his ability to mediate difficult labor disputes in post-war Bridgeport because both sides trusted him, respected his fairness, his ability to bridge differences without compromising core principles.

He loved Bridgeport, working a lifetime at Pullman and Comley, chairing the Red Cross and United Way, helping build the University of Bridgeport, representing good companies like Hubbell and hospitals like Bridgeport and St. Vincent’s. Building community and giving back were core values I learned from him.

I watched him as a prosecutor and judge in the Trumbull Town Court, admiring his intelligence, perceptive insight into people’s character and motivations, and good judgment in resolving disputes.

As I speak, I can see lively conversations with Bill Pearl, with whom he worked on the prosecution team at the Dachau Tribunals pursuing justice for senior Nazi military officers.  It pleased me some years later to connect him by phone to the Prosecutor of the new International Criminal Court who acknowledged the critical role of Nuremberg and Dachau in laying the ground work for the International Criminal Court.

Justice was a central theme in Dwight’s life as he pursued a more just and humane world at peace. He inspired my own work in human rights which strengthened the bond between us as I pursued his vision of a democratic Europe free of authoritarian rule.

I am grateful for all I have learned from him – optimism beats despair, humor brings perspective, hard work is essential, a competitive spirit is liberating, patient courage of your convictions will prevail, helping others is the greatest reward, humility is a source of strength, and there is nothing more important than family and friends.

He was blessed with a family who loved and respected him. And with colleagues and friends overflowing this church who filled his life with joy and challenges which kept him razor sharp until the very end. I especially appreciate his warm welcome when Cynthia joined our family, two lawyers who instantly connected.

And Roma, your devotion to Dwight is one of the most moving love stories of all time. My last conversation with him alone was about you, his respect for your intelligence, his admiration of your character, his appreciation for your love and loyalty.

All of us who love Dwight are in your debt.

Let me close with a reflection from Yale Chaplain William Sloane Coffin:

“The one true freedom in life is to come to terms with death, and as early as possible, for death is an event that embraces all our lives.  And the only way to have a good death is to lead a good life.  Lead a good one, full of curiosity, generosity, and compassion, and there’s no need at the close of the day to rage against the dying of the light.  We can go gentle into that good night.”

Dwight lived a good life and now has gone gently into the good night.

A Tribute To George Langdon

On June 16, 2012, Jonathan Fanton memorialized the life and career of George Langdon. See his tribute to the former Colgate University President below.

Jonathan F. Fanton Remarks — Tribute to George Langdon, Jr.
June 16, 2012

I knew George Langdon for 45 years. He was my best friend, my mentor, a source of values and vision. We met at Yale when he was Deputy Provost and I Chief of Staff to President Kingman Brewster, a man we both admired deeply. I can recall convivial evenings by the fireplace at 459 Prospect Street, touch football with Campbell and George down the road at my house, lively conversations with Patty and then Agnes. In those days George and I played squash or tennis every week in New Haven and here in Little Compton. I was a regular visitor from the late 60’s on, meeting many of you and coming to know George’s father and mother. Our cocktail hours on the porch on Round Pond Road are memorable still.

This is surely the place George loved most in life, the constant in good and challenging times, the community where he had fun and was at his best, made his most enduring friendships. You will remember George loved to fish, from the rocks off Round Pond Road but more often from his beloved Boston Whaler. George taught me how to cast for Blues and also the best way to find them. He would time our departure from the harbor just behind Barnaby Keeny. After a decent interval we would follow him at a safe distance and when he found the fish we were there. And we did catch fish, lots of them.

George loved this part of the world. He wrote an important book on the history of New Plymouth Colony. It starts with a quote from Nathaniel Morton, Secretary and Magistrate of the Colony, who had written the first history of the Colony: “The consideration of the weight of Duty that lieth upon us to Commemorize to future Generations the memorable passages of God’s Providence to us and our Predecessors in the beginning of this Plantation hath wrought in me a restlessness of spirit…”

George shared that “restlessness of spirit” which he channeled into building and strengthening institutions. As Special Assistant to the President of Vassar, he was Vassar’s lead agent in exploring a merger with Yale. While the merger did not happen, Yale did acquire George, who became the best prepared Deputy Provost in Yale’s history. He was the go-to person for both the faculty and the administration, the man who could get things done. He took on the hard issues, spoke truth to power, but faithfully supported the President and Provost.

We know George as a man of tradition, a student of early American history, an exemplar of old fashioned values like fairness, integrity, loyalty, and love of family. But he was also a modernizer, a builder, a man unafraid of the future.

When he came to Colgate as its 12th President, he found a noble regional college but he left a university with national standing – with stronger faculty, better students and more self confidence. He made Colgate a more interesting place intellectually, and generations of junior faculty are in his debt for the special sabbatical program he created. A new library, a beautiful common dining facility, a science library, a field house, better and more varied housing options are lasting marks of George the builder.

And he was a leader in founding the Colonial — now Patriot – football league which promotes a healthy balance of athletics and academics.

After a successful 10 year run at Colgate, he became President of the American Museum of Natural History. There he set in motion the renovation of the Hall of Dinosaurs, the Museum’s premier attraction, the construction of a new Natural History library, and the creation of the Hall of Human Biology and Evolution, where research yields new insights about our place in nature.

George left every institution stronger than he found it. New buildings, innovative programs, financial integrity are common themes. But George also strengthened the bonds of community. He cared, he was loyal and inclusive, he had an ironic humor that made working with him fun.

And yet for all his accomplishments in the administration of Vassar and Yale and as President of Colgate, the American Museum and the United Nations Association, George was at heart a teacher.

He was a natural teacher and we have all benefited from his nurturing colleagueship. He always asked good questions, challenging but in a nice way. His respect for every individual encouraged people to do their best work, his capacity to listen – and hear – contributed to collective good judgment on complex issues. His decency elicited trust from people who did not always trust each other, making him a natural mediator. And finally, his flexibility on the margins preserved core principles, helping us adapt to a changing world while drawing strength from our faiths and traditions.

George was blessed with a wonderful partner in Agnes who expanded his world view, deepened his sensitivity to different cultures and extended his good works.
Her loving devotion during his long illness gave him extra years of good life and eased the slow but steady decline.

Over his lifetime George drew strength and joy from his family, distinguished parents, good wives, wonderful children in sons George and Campbell and stepdaughter Mary Charlotte, a devoted sister Mary Ann. No doubt they contributed to George’s successful career, peace of mind and a life well lived.