Jeffrey Leonard Pressman

Jeffrey Leonard Pressman

Died March 1, 1977

Jeff’s comet in the scholarly world flared brightly. Elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1963, Jeff was an intensive political science major, a member of Manuscript and president of Pi Sigma Alpha. He came to Yale from Riverside High School in Buffalo, NY. and resided in Morse. Jeff graduated with our class, spent a year at Oxford as a Henry Fellow and received his Ph.D. in political science from University of California, Berkeley in 1972. He was an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth for two years (1971-73), then joined the Political Science Department at MIT, where he was awarded tenure in November 1976. Shortly thereafter Jeff fell into an increasingly deep endogenous depression; despite psychiatric treatment and medication, he committed suicide on March 1, 1977 at the age of 33.

Jeff’s widow, Kate Stith-Cabranes, now Lafayette S. Foster Professor at Yale Law School, remembers: “ Jeff only left Dartmouth because I wanted to go to law school.”

Jeff left a rich written legacy. He was the author with Aaron Wildavsky in 1973 of Implementation, a study of why public works sponsored by the Economic Development Administration (Department of Commerce) in Oakland, CA, produced so few jobs and alleviated so little minority poverty.

In addition, his books included: House v. Senate: Conflict in the Appropriations Process (Yale Press, 1966 – this was his senior thesis at Yale College); The Politics of Representation: the Democratic Convention of 1972 (St. Martin’s Press, Federal Programs and City Politics (U.C.Press, 1975).

Kate wants us to know: “No two people cared for Jeff in the same way or out of the same experiences, but I found in the eulogies, student essays in the MIT newspapers, and heartfelt letters of condolence a common source of affection. As one friend wrote: ‘I, like so many others, prized him not only for his intellect and scholarship but especially for the gentle humanity that encompassed all of that – his ever-present humor, his generosity, his sensitivity to other individuals, his beautifully human scale.’ Those who knew Jeff will also understand our neighbor who said, ‘I shall always think of Jeff with his laughter, and the fun in the conversations we had.’ Finally, witness this letter from one of Jeff’s former students at Dartmouth: ‘I got the great news today that I’ve been accepted in the scholarship program at law school. I owe you an enormous debt of gratitude for two years of inspiration at Dartmouth both in and outside of the classroom, and for trudging through the snow in Cambridge a few months ago to draft a reference letter for me.’ Jeff received this letter four days before he died. Even in the horribly inexplicable torment of the final weeks of his life, he appreciated the humor in the last line: ‘You can stake your claim to a share of the prize, the nonfinancial part, that is!’ Although Jeff’s life was incomplete – for he had so much more to enjoy and to give – the completed part of his life was full.”

Robert Dickler remembers:
Jeff was also a member of Morse College. His intellect was simply awesome. Over the course of 3 years, the few times we dined together in the Morse Dining Hall were enormously stimulating learning experiences, at least for me. He was always witty, friendly, and open. He was never arrogant, despite his obvious brilliance and superior mind. His understanding of politics and economics was exemplary in coherence and clarity. He was gracious and kind, especially in one instance when he generously complemented me for proclaiming: “I’d rather be heading in the right direction than to get to the wrong place.” With that aphorism, which might have appealed to Eric Hoffer, we had a great laugh together that I will never forget. The subtitle of my Essay – Getting along without getting lost – is inspired by that memorable Moment with him.

James Mullins remembers:
A wonderful human being.

C. Roger Davis remembers:
Other classmates (such as John Morton and Dick Hoey) could doubtless share more meaningful memories of Jeff Pressman, but besides anecdotes of his amazing photographic memory, I might note the happy time of the “ First Annual MORSE COLLEGE TURTLE DERBY / ECHO RIDGE TURKEY FARM / May 11, 1963.”
In examining the “magnificent field [. . .] in this great race,” the program observed, “Over this grueling course both speed and stamina will be needed, and racing experts are divided [. . .] as to whether the Derby will go to the swift or to the lasting.”

In order of post position, #2 was LADY ELLEN, “Owned by Jeff Pressman. Trainers: Jack Morton, Howard Morrison, Roger Davis, Dave Cook, Dale Griffee.”

This race also included, e.g., #11 T’WORD US, “Owned by Jim Murphy, Jeff Chapman, Peter Parks, and Bernie Farmer”; #13 AFRODITY, “Owned by Mike Jacobson, Henry Weintraub, and Chris Murck”; and #18 SEX-FIFTHAVENUE, “Owned by Flasher R. Fleming, Snortin’ X. Norton, Screw q. Lewis, and Pencil I. Stentzel.” There were 19 contestants in all.

Jeff could have a loud voice at times, but I remember his clear thinking, his senior thesis House vs. Senate published by Yale, and his kindness and compassion. He was a good friend. There were those in our class who felt he would be the first Jewish president.

Stephen Ullman remembers:
Dick Buck was a fun guy from the far west who lived in filthy Farnam and with us died tragically between our freshman and sophomore years. Peter Char was a charming individual who did much to benefit his home state of Hawaii. I was much impressed with Orde’s sheer intellectual brilliance. Tom Donaldson was a salt of the earth guy who added much fun to Farnam. Rodger Knaus battled physical limitations with memorable courage. Jeffrey Pressman was an extraordinary political scientist. Years after his passing, I encountered citations to his ground breaking research

Howard Morrison remembers:
Jeff was a suite mate in Freshman year who moved with me and a couple of other suite mates to Morse College. It was Jeff who introduced me to Joe Lieberman and got me involved in the Yale Young Democrats.

Michael Hofmayer remembers:
I met Jeff at one of the Hillel sponsored Passovers and got to know him on campus. Our paths crossed again in Oakland when he was conducting his classic analysis of federal economic development efforts and I was a legal services attorney. Jeff was a fine friend. Rarely have I met anyone who could so infuse a complex intellectual endeavor with a light sense of humor. I still think of him often.