Sunday, November 10, 2013

YWAA Pays Tribute to Nightingale

Yale alumni and friends gathered to pay tribute to Bill Nightingale '53 and his years of service to Yale.  Top, Merrell Clark '57, Nancy and Bill Nightingale, and AYA Executive Director Mark Dollhopf '77 at the dinner, Nov. 8, in Harrison. (Mattison photos)
This was Bill Nightingale's '53 night.  In fact, it would turn out to be a Bill Nightingale kind of night.  It had punditry, puns, and presents.  It had toasts, tunes and tributes. It featured reflections and remembrances. 

And it had Bill having the first word and a word or two in the middle--in between a dinner entree and dessert.  But not quite the last word.  His admirers, colleagues and fellow Yale alumni seized the podium and had the most words in paying tribute to his 60-plus years of service to Yale.

The special night was the William L. Nightingale Standing Ovation Dinner in Harrison, Nov. 8 at the Renaissance Westchester Hotel.  A primary goal was to raise funds for a new Nightingale Debate Fund to support Nightingale's cherished Westchester debate program.  YWAA board secretary Nightingale, by all accounts, conceived of the the program, willed it into existence and molded it into the annual contest pitting Yale's debate team vs. squads from Harvard and Brown.  High-school teams participate, too, as college debaters coach the high-school students. The new fund ensures the debate program will continue as a Westchester tradition for years to come and permits organizers to honor debate standouts with awards and scholarships.

YWAA Chair Merrell Clark '57 '70 MAR, organized the dinner. He was assisted by co-Chairs (and YWAA board members) Susan Kaminsky '86 and Scott Sherman '72, who have helped Nightingale organize the debates in recent years. Clark announced that the group will meet its fund-raising goal, thanks to generous contributions from Westchester alumni.

The special night was also a festive occasion to honor Nightingale for all he has done for Yale since his days as an undergraduate in Yale's Silliman College, a Yale he can recount with delightful stories and uncanny detail. Since his bright college years and with eagerness to give back to Yale and with a firmness to thrust Yale to even greater heights, Nightingale has assumed almost every alumni leadership role within his grasp.

At the dinner, Mark Dollhopf '77, AYA Executive Director (top, left), said Nightingale was a role model for leadership for young alumni.
Name it, and he has participated, guided, or given--from serving as a Class of '53 officer and an AYA Board-of-Governors member to leading reunions, admissions interviews, and fund-raising activities. From attending Yale-Harvard football games to hiring recent Yale graduates as interns and full-time employees. From applauding Yale a capella groups from his front-row perch to phoning every single administrator in the AYA office in New Haven until he got the response he needed.

Clark proclaimed this would not be an evening of regurgitating lines from Nightingale's lengthy resume'.  This was an evening of tributes, toasts, and telling stories about what makes Nightingale tick (and chuckle, roar and rave) and what special traits he has for marshaling armies of Yale alumni to join his bandwagon of getting Yale things done. Clark, as dinner emcee, set the rules and promised the night would unfurl as a Bill kind of night--filled with fun, humor, and fondness for Bill's critique of what Yale needs to do in every way to stay ahead of Harvard.

No prepared speeches, no index cards, and no laboriously rehearsed statements, Clark ordered.  Just speak from the heart, make us laugh, and tell us a tale that shows us how Bill keeps Yale on its toes everyday.

Eve Rice '73, YWAA board member, read a message from Yale president Peter Salovey '86 Ph.d.:  "It is especially fitting that we share a last name," Salovey wrote. "Salovey means Nightingale in Russian! And the nightingale, of course, has a sweet, usually nocturnal, song...I appreciate the knowledge that together we can 'sing' for the greater good of our shared alma mater!"

"Whenever Bill calls," YWAA vice president B.K. Munguia '75 said, "I try to say yes.  He's so much fun. He only asks for what he gives--100-fold."  She added, "The best decision he made was to marry Nancy (Bill's wife of 59 years, who has joined and assisted him in hundreds of Yale projects)."

Susan Kaminsky '86, who worked with Nightingale on the YWAA fund-raising dinner last year and with the debate program, described his "warmth and humor." Whenever they chat in person or on the phone, she said, aware of her work involving animal shelter and care at the Westchester SPCA, "Bill never fails to mentions animals to me. He asks about them in every conversation."

Past YWAA president Bruce Jennings '71 reminded the audience of Bill's "propensity to make puns." He laughed, "The less said about that, the better." Jennings acknowledged how Nightingale is a "persistent critic and commentator at AYA functions" and how he "held Yale and AYA's feet to the fire."  Jennings remarked how Nightingale "illuminates" and maintains warm relationships with all of whom he is in contact.

"Bill is great at running events," described Scott Sherman '72, YWAA board member. "I'm a lawyer.  I can't run events.  It's an honor to watch him get people to do things." Referring to Nightingale's 53 years as a leader in alumni interviews for area Yale applicants, Sherman described him as "my ASC  'handler'," the one who calls the shots from behind the scenes in arranging for dozens and dozens of interviews.

Tim Mattison '73 with his wife Eve Rice '73 (top, left) explained how Nightingale nudged him to become president of YWAA.

YWAA chair Clark remembered when Nightingale called to suggest the idea of starting the debate program.  "I thought he was nuts," Clark laughed. But Bill pressed on and nurtured that "crazy idea" into the thriving program it is today.  Over time, Clark said, "I was very impressed by the students.  There was always excitement in the room in the way I've never seen."  Fifteen years later, he said, "Bill's crazy idea" lives on.

Tim Mattison '73, YWAA president, said, "Let me tell you about Bill's evening phone call to draft me to be president." He explained the clever ploy.  Nightingale had initially talked to Mattison's wife, Eve Rice '73.  After she declined the role because of other duties, Nightingale asked to speak to Tim and persuaded him (or instructed him?) to step up.  Mattison was eventually elected president, knowing  his wife was really the first choice and aware that he couldn't turn down Nightingale's plea. 

"If we want to inspire young alumni," Mark Dollhopf '77, AYA Executive Director, said, "then hold out the leadership examples of Bill Nightingale."  Dollhopf explained "success metrics" (participation numbers) don't make an alumni group successful. Alumni should reconnect, become engaged and have impact. "But reconnect for what?" he asked.  "How is the community affected (by the engagement of Yale alumni)? Bill Nightingale, you're a role model for that."

A Bill kind of night always winds up with music and song, especially joyous, melodious show tunes. His colleague at their advertising firm (Cason Nightingale), singer Angela Cason '83, and  singer/pianist David Pogue '85 performed selections from Jerome Kern, including a rendition of Kern's "Bill."  For a culminating, hanky-waving "Bright College Years," Dollhopf and Regina Possavino '01 joined them to lead Yale's alma mater.

For any Bill Nightingale kind of night, despite Clark's rules, Bill must have the last word. Or at least the last batch of words or the last laugh. When few were looking, Nightingale slipped toward the podium to tell Yale stories and to share his fondness for the Yale seal, the enduring symbol with the inscription "Lux et Veritas."

Bill remembered trips to the library back in sophomore year in New Haven where there seemed to be "less lux, and more veritas." The room lighting was always dull and dim--not conducive to studying history or literature. At a place that celebrates so grandly "light and truth," Bill said, "I had to bring my own lamps" to the reading room.


Bill Nightingale '73 (top, left) is joined by debate and dinner co-Chairs Scott Sherman '72 and Susan Kaminsky '86. (Mattison photos)
Guests at the Nightingale dinner included Angela Casson '83 and David Pogue (top, left), who sang and played favorite show tunes as a tribute to Nightingale. (Mattison photos)

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