Rodman L. Drake

Rodman L. Drake

Died June 24, 2014

Rod Drake died in New York City on June 24, 2014 of complications from pancreatic cancer. A week later, more than 20 Yale classmates were among more than 400 mourners at a memorial service to celebrate his life. To anyone who knew Rod, the size of the gathering came as no surprise. As his son Philip said, “When it came to friends, Dad never lost a single one. He was loyal, he was gracious. He liked people. He liked helping them. He was friendly to the world.”

Rod entered Yale after matriculating at Hotchkiss (where he acquired the nickname Donut). He majored in Latin American studies and played on the varsity golf team for three years. A member of Timothy Dwight College, Rod roomed with eight classmates in what was then called the TD Zoo. The group soon became known as The Blind Nine.

After graduating from Yale, Rod served for two years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Intelligence Division. In1969 he received an M.B.A. from the Harvard Business School and embarked on a long and distinguished business career. At the age of 37 he became the youngest C.E.O. and managing director of Cresap McCormick & Paget, a leading international management consulting firm which he later merged into Towers Perrin. With more than 35 years in consulting, private equity, financial services, infrastructure development, and bio-pharmaceuticals, Rod continued his career as an experienced chairman, C.E.O. and corporate director with a number of companies and funds.

“He embraced the spirit of capitalism,” said his son Stephan. “He loved and championed America – its energy, its style of getting things done. He showed me the beauty of good people and good teams, and beautifully-realized solutions.”

One of Rod’s major corporate involvements was his service on the board of the bio-pharmaceutical company Celgene from 2006 until his death. At Rod’s memorial, Celgene’s C.E.O. Bob Hugin remembered Rod as “a man of impeccable integrity and loyalty — an optimist and a builder. He was a Yalie in the best sense of the word,” said Princeton-educated Hugin, “but he was also a tiger – a fighter who faced adversity head-on, and a strategic thinker who offered sage advice.”

Rod and his first wife Lenir had two sons, Stephan (1976) and Philip (1978). He was extremely proud of his boys, especially of their business success with DPS Skis, a manufacturer of high-tech ski equipment.

In 1998 Rod married Jacqueline Weld, who was the love of his life. “Jackie felt loved and adored by Rod, and similarly returned that love and adoration,” said Rod’s brother-in-law Daniel Brodsky. “The two were seemingly inseparable. Rod kept up with Jackie’s social calendar, and they shared a passion for collecting art and antiques, and their homes in New York and Palm Beach reflected that.”

Eulogists at Rod’s service also touched on Rod’s zest for life, spirit of adventure, sense of humor, and the fun, mischievous side of his personality. His son Stephan recalled, “In his last years he was known to sport bold pastel watches and even bold, pink rhinestone-embedded glasses to accompany his traditional business suit. It was dress symbolic of what he became – a man of truly dynamic range, personality and talent. His suit represented his Apollonian prowess – power, wisdom, knowledge, intellect. In contrast, the accessories functioned as windows into his Dionysian impulses. It was the Apollonian part of my father I respected. It was the Dionysian side that I deeply loved.”

Weeks after Rod’s service, Jackie Drake said of their relationship, “Rod and I were lucky to have found each other on a raft in Colorado. We were always on a journey, grateful for each and every wonderful day.”

Bainbridge Cowell remembers: I knew Rod Drake as a fellow student in Yale’s, then new, Latin American studies program. Although I had learned Spanish from my Mexican-born grandmother, he outdid me with a perfect bilingual accent – which I strove to imitate. He had acquired his fluency during high school in Santiago, Chile, where his father served as U.S. military attache. Rod’s first-hand experience, language skills, and area studies at Yale prepared him well for a successful career in multinational business, in Latin America and elsewhere. I lost touch with him after Yale, but still appreciate what he brought to classes in our major.

Dennis Holahan remembers: I met Rod in freshman year on the Old Campus at Yale in the fall of 1961. Nine of us, including Rod, ended up rooming together for the next three years in Timothy Dwight College until Mother Yale, in her infinite wisdom, disgorged us onto an unsuspecting populace in 1965. For some reason, this group of nine became known as The Blind Nine. It is not clear, but some have suggested that this group name had something to do with the amount of alcohol consumed on any given weekend. We, on the other hand, felt that we were merely doing our duty for God, for Country, and for Yale.
Clint Kendrick, one of the Nine, takes credit for pulling Rod into our orbit. Clint was from Denver, and Rod was from Colorado Springs. Rod was in Clint’s entryway in Vanderbilt Hall freshman year, and one evening Clint, on his way to something called the Colorado Yale Club Monthly Meeting at Mory’s (which was a euphemism for barbarians getting drunk), grabbed Rod and said “Aren’t you Rod Drake from Colorado Springs?” Rod said yes, and thereby sealed his fate for the next 53 years. Off they went to Mory’s and became fast friends, and remained so, as fellow board members, neighbors, golfers, and leaders of the community ever after.

Now you have to understand the situation at Yale in 1961. There was no co-education. Meaningful social contact was at least two hours away by car or train. So it was very important who your roommates were, because you were fated to spend an inordinate amount of time with them, through thick and thin, so to speak. Rod was the perfect roommate and a very wonderful friend. This was due to several factors: (1.) he was the only son and oldest child of a West Point army colonel, on the one hand, and a beautiful internationally acclaimed concert pianist on the other – very much the yin and the yang of things, if you will; (2.) he had been raised all over the world and spoke many languages; (3) he was extremely bright, extremely patient and unfailingly kind to others; (4.) he was very funny; and not the least (5.) he was a great golfer. Now this was a rara avis.

So a few preliminaries about Rod. Perhaps because of a vestigial deposit of childhood mass about the waist, we nicknamed him Donut early on. This name stuck. It was interesting years later, in board rooms, if you called in on a speaker phone and referred to him as Donut – there would be a confused silence until the group figured out who was being addressed.

Rod’s Musicality: you might think that with a concert pianist as a mother, he would be wonderfully musical. No. As Sid Bass recalls: “I have one story about Donut we all know, perhaps the intro to a song. Remember when you guys who could sing tried to teach him Three Blind Mice? He is the only person who could sing worse than I.”

Sid was right. In fact, the night we tried to teach Donut how to sing Three Blind Mice stands out as one of the most hilarious events of my entire undergraduate education. There is no tune ever invented by anyone in all of western civilization that could be carried by Rod. He was tone deaf. But the thing was, he would try. I can remember the look on his face – the concentration, the thought, the focus, then the mouth would open, and out came a guttural sound like a burrowing animal trying to escape the plow. There were no detectable musical notes of any known scale. And this process could be repeated, with the same effect. In the depths of winter gloom in New Haven, we would ask Rod to sing Three Blind Mice. It worked every time. All was not lost.

There was Rod’s Buddhist side: There were times in the heat of late night discussions at Timothy Dwight, sober or otherwise, when Donut would get a far off look in his eyes. He would then make a pronouncement. This would usually be in the middle of an argument, or, shall we say, a lack of meeting of minds. The most famous utterance was: “The truth is a sore spot to those who pretend.” This was followed by stunned silence. What did he say? What does that mean? Who’s pretending? What sore spot? Whose truth? Because we rarely understood what he was talking about at these moments, he earned another nickname, The Enigma.
But he was also at the same time just a boy.

Alan Corey remembers: “One spring vacation Donut was practicing with the Yale golf team in SC and I suggested that he come over to Aiken and stay at my grandmothers before we drove my parents’ car to New York on the way back to school. At a party Donut and the Reverend’s daughter (Mellie Hickey) hit it off pretty well and stepped out into the garden for a bit of fresh air. When they returned my grandmother noticed that his blue blazer now had patches of a yellowy green substance and appeared quite rumpled, as if it had been on the ground. My grandmother commented, “Donut, I notice the pollen is especially bad tonight,” Rod just smiled that wonderful quiet smile – A man for all seasons for all the right reasons.” Thanks for that Alan.
But on a road trip, Donut could also be dangerous.

Jonathan Ingham remembers: “I have this image of Donut – he is wrestling a gum ball machine to the ground at a gas station near Vassar in the middle of the night after the cemetery black mass soirée. He freed it from its moorings, and we took it back to the Zoo. This was no mean feat. The gum ball machine had been chained to a stanchion.” Thanks JI.
He could also be the rescuer.

Mike Dominick remembers: “Rod never lost control in any frightening or crisis situation. Plus he was a linguist. When we were 20 years old and were driving 6,000 miles from Colorado to Chile during summer vacation we were confronted by a seemingly hostile drunken crowd at a Peruvian Indian fiesta on the banks of Lake Titicaca. Rod said, “Doms, you drive I’ll calm them down.” He got out of our truck, jumped in front of the crowd, and began waving his arms and yelling really loud in an unknown language. The folks seemed stunned. They fell back. He jumped into the truck and he laughed as we drove past. ‘Pig Latin,’ he said. ‘Works all the time.’” Thanks Doms.

Seth Hoyt remembers another trip with Rod – an entire summer in Brazil:
Seth: “Drake and I had summer jobs in Brazil in 1964. Donut made that happen with the help of Ace Israel, Tommy and Andy’s dad. We worked for General Electric – Donut in the head office in Rio, me out at the factory. GE rented an apartment for us a block from Copacabana Beach. We even got paid each week, and found plenty of ways to spend our cruzeiros. Rod was the Alpha male, to be sure. He spoke exquisite Portuguese and looked and acted Brazilian. I looked like a college kid from Ohio. “Rod made me go to three native voodoo ceremonies I can remember. Rod bought pieces of art. Rod chatted up a carioca Rio native family at a Beer Festival and we ended up being invited to their home for dinner. Rod even helped me meet a girl in Rio.”
“Donut knew a Cuban rum distiller who owned an island off Brazil. We were invited there for a weekend. Donut talked a Brazilian Air Force pilot into giving us a lift up to Bahia.”

“To say that Drake was my leader and mentor is an understatement. In his quiet, confident, respectful way Rod opened up the world for me in a way I’ll never forget. Donut was a mentor and inspiration at the tender age of 19 – and I didn’t even know it at the time. I realize now in a subtle way he was shaping me – all of us – into better people. It took me decades to figure out what hit me, and I’m sorry I never thanked our dear friend properly.”

“It’s also too bad that Philip and Stephan weren’t around at that time – they would have had a ball hanging out with their Dad.” Thanks Seth.

And I, Holahan, aka DJD, remember his cryptic wisdom. My best memory: When I was going through my second divorce, I was complaining to Rod about the vicissitudes of that divorce, and how the ex did not want me to play polo anymore, if you can imagine, and my annoyance about that, and Rod said: “Well DJD, it doesn’t sound like you upheld your side of the marital contract either.” I was stunned, and ever since that comment, I have been looking for my part in that situation, and all situations, instead of trying to blame somebody else. This was Rod at his best: a gentle way to ask us all to take responsibility for our actions and move forward in a more positive manner. This is why his presence was so prized as a board member, as well as a friend.
Barry Preston sums it up: “Rod was a loyal and lifelong friend, always willing to cheerfully join in our shenanigans; a ready quick smile. I always admired him because he was the one serious student among us, and he nevertheless managed to join in almost all of our expeditions and good times. He was a fellow member of the military service who loved his country. He was a brilliant businessman and business consultant who happily shared his expertise with amateurs like me. And like the Delphic oracle – a man of few words but words worth listening to.” Thanks Barry.

The Enigma, the Buddha, our Donut.

Sometimes someone outside the group sees it more clearly than we can. Julia Miller Brezina Dunlop, my Vassar girlfriend at the time, put it this way: “I just read the long Bloomberg Business Week list of all Rod’s accomplishments. The head spins as one reads down the column. I prefer to remember that nice, nice boy in Timothy Dwight who was sitting across the room from us when we all were watching the television the day after Kennedy was shot, and then, years later, in the large sunken living room of my 17 room house in Mexico City where one should have been so happy but I was not. I remember his kindness to me. My heart goes out to all of the Nine who are now eight alive but forever will be Nine.” Thanks for that Brezina.

I am afraid we all took his kindness, his gentleness, his nobility of spirit, his wisdom for granted while he was here. That was in part because he wore those qualities like a loose garment, never trumpeting his own virtues. Only now, after losing him, do we realize what we really had. And so Rod, our Donut, our sweet Enigma, our wise Buddha – we miss you. We wonder what you might say to us today, what sage advice from the other side would you give, if you could. We can only guess. Perhaps it might be: enjoy life while you are here, live, love and work hard. And if all else fails, just sing Three Blind Mice

And so we say to you, Rod, “Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”

Michael Dominick remembers: What a good hearted man. What a great career. Wonderful two boys. Calm and thoughtful in times of crisis. An unlikely adventurer. A great friend. One of the Blind Nine. The first to go. I miss him.

Seth Hoyt remembers: Donut Drake was in the Blind Nine, a suitemate for three years in Timothy Dwight. We both majored in Latin American studies, and many of the courses I took were a result of Rod’s urging and influence. Hoyt and Drake had dream summer jobs in Rio de Janeiro, working for General Electric, Brasil. We did a lot of growing up together that summer. Rod was perhaps the smartest guy I ever knew, though it took me until long after graduation to figure that one out. Drake became a very big deal in business, but never lost his “common” touch: fun-loving, self-deprecating, up for adventure. How I wish I had taken time to tell Donut in person what I’m writing in his honor here. I’ve come to know and admire his sons Philip and Stephan, and am welcomed by “the boys” as surrogate uncle. What a joy that’s been.

Dodd Fischer remembers: We played golf together. He had a tight, compact swing, the right demeanor, a nifty putting stroke, and a wry smile – he was always well composed, well tempered, and thinking ahead. It doesn’t surprise me at all that he made a big mark in the world.

Sid Bass remembers: He was steady and smart at Yale, and he only got better.

Robert Leich remembers: Rod, or Donut as his friends knew him, was a one-of-a-kind character and a wonderful guy. We had several fun interactions in our college years, but then drifted apart following graduation until 10-15 years ago when we reconnected at a class dinner. His sudden illness came as a great shock to all of us, and I feel blessed that I was able to attend his beautiful memorial service in New York City.

David Roscoe remembers: Rod’s north star was “do the right thing.” As a result, while he experienced the many conflicts and trials in life that all of us face, he was able to attack them with confidence and determination, and with no inner turmoil. Rod was fiercely loyal to family and friends. My last golf game with him was in the autumn before his death, a foursome with two other Yale classmates. I can recall the pure joy and appreciation of the moment that he expressed as he hustled down the fairway, and how he stressed that we all keep making the time to be with old friends. We should all remember Rod’s message.