Roger L. Goettsche, Jr.

Roger L. Goettsche, Jr.

Died January 1, 2013

Roger came to Yale from swimming incubator New Trier High School in Winnetka, IL. He quickly made a name for himself in Yale’s aquatic world with numerals in freshman swimming and water polo and major Ys in varsity swimming in all three of his upper class years, while receiving both Bassett Memorial and Mather Awards. Roger majored in biology and was a member of Jonathan Edwards and Beta Theta Pi.

After graduating as one of the stars of the greatest collegiate swim team ever, Roger went to Europe and swam the Hellespont, walking down to the water’s edge by himself in his Yale swim suit and t-shirt. Anxious Turks tried to stop him but he somehow persuaded them to dispatch a naval officer and a small barge to keep him from being run over by maritime vessels as he swam to Asia Minor.

Next, Roger became a rock-and-roll drummer. While attending Columbia Medical School, he started hanging out at the Apollo Theater in Harlem and soon was taking drum lessons. “He loved to play the drums and never stopped,” his wife, Rosemary, says.

Roger met Rosemary on Memorial Day weekend of 1981 when she sold him a scrub brush at a boatyard near his home in Clinton, CT. He asked her out for dinner and on the way showed her the house where he lived. “It was spring and the lilacs were blooming and we were driving down the road and I saw this house and said to myself, ‘Oh, I hope that’s it,’ and it was,” Rosemary remembers.

By then, Roger was working out of his home as a psychiatrist. After Columbia, he’d done an internship at Harvard and a residency at Pacific Presbyterian in San Francisco. He chose Clinton as his base because it was midway between the New London submarine base, where he was fulfilling his military obligation as chief psychiatrist, and New Haven, where he was training and teaching at Yale.
Roger and Rosemary had three girls – Katherine, who followed him to Yale and Columbia Medical School, Emily, who swam at Wesleyan and is now getting a masters in public health at the Yale School of Public Health; and Martha, who owns a small business in Northampton, MA. “Roger was an avid sailor, and as the girls got bigger,” Rosemary says, “so did the boat.” In 2006, they took the girls out of school and spent a year sailing in the Caribbean.

Not long after that idyll, Roger was diagnosed with colon cancer. “He was heroic,” Rosemary says. “He was going to get better if it was the last thing he did.” And, in fact, he became cancer free, but an infection set in and he was too weak to fight it. Roger died at home in his living room in front of the fire place and Christmas tree on the first day of 2013.

At the time of writing, you could still call Roger’s home office and listen to his voice telling callers to have a great day. Rosemary kept the phone number and voice mail in service for the sake of his patients. “Every now and then they call to check in,” she says.

Timothy Kennedy remembers: Roger was a magical backstroker. His grace and strength seemed effortless and were mesmerizing. His ebullience was infectious and brought joy just being in his presence. After Yale we were in medical school together and his true passion was being a drummer in his band. He felt deeply and passionately about all the elements of his life, his family, his Psychiatry, his sailboat. He held back nothing. One of my favorite stories of his, which he re-told the summer before he died, was swimming across the Bosphorus in 1966 in his Yale swimming suit. The Turkish Navy was told to stop him but relented because of the possibility that it would be bad publicity to stop a Yale swimmer. They then escorted him across and back which he did easily. The escort retrospectively was a great thing because of all the large ships sailing through the straights.

William Quayle remembers: Great swimmer and friend. Loved doing premed work with him.

Frank Rice remembers: Many classmates are most likely to remember Roger as one of our class’ exceptional group of swimmers – a concentration of talent in one class not seen since….and perhaps never seen before. Roger’s contributions were an essential and significant part of ’65 swimmers’ national achievements, and as he moved on successfully with non-athletic pursuits he always took due pride in his New Trier HS and Yale swimming accomplishments.

Several swimmers who did not go to New Trier met Roger late in the summer of 1961, a month or so before we entered Yale, at the US National Swimming Championships in Los Angeles. The shy but warm and enthusiastic way he introduced himself is one of those few memories of a lifetime that never dim. It has always stayed in my head in slow motion, and I have relived it many times since he died on New Year’s Day 2013. I’ve never fully understood why this first meeting (and a similar reprise when he welcomed me to Yale, in similar fashion and as if he’d been at Yale for years, at my first meal in the Commons) had such an indelible impact. But I think it was because, until his last day, he was natural, genuine, innocent and loving in a striking, child-like way that contrasted dramatically with the “grown-up” persona most of us acquire.

Geography didn’t encourage our 50-year friendship. Immediately after Yale, he was at Columbia medical school while I was in the Navy, primarily in California. As I went back east to grad school, Roger moved to California for residency. And so it went for a decade or so until a permanent separation (he in Connecticut as a fully-trained Freudian psychoanalyst and I in California) ensued for twenty or so years. We always stayed in touch and saw one another sporadically throughout, but we fully reconnected after he became ill with cancer two or three years before he died. We had never disconnected – thanks in no small measure to his wife Rosemary – but we again became “swimming buddies” and “soul mates” and simply very good friends in these last years. In 2011 the Goettsches miraculously attended the wedding of one of our sons in Boston – Roger having had chemo or another serious treatment in NYC the day before. I went to the 2012 London Olympics and saw all the swimming events, and Roger was right there with me via text messages and email. Also in 2012, he and Rosemary and one of their three daughters traveled across the US to our daughter’s wedding, and, although still quite ill, it seemed he was on-the-mend.

I will spare the details, but he died of an infection contracted after the huge success in late 2012 of cutting-edge surgery for his cancer in which organs are totally removed from the body and “scraped” of cancer before being put back in. His family and friends celebrated the surgery success until the unrelated infection set-in and cruelly never left.

To end this I’d like to share a few words I wrote to Roger two days before he died and to Rosemary two days after he died:
TO ROGER: “I hope it doesn’t seem ‘odd’ for me to thank you for being one of my most special friends for all these years. We thank people for ordinary gestures but often forget or ignore their most special ones. And you, my dear friend, have so many special ones. I’ll always remember our first meeting because it was the first time I saw one of your unique traits: the raw, child-like enthusiasm and wonder you brought to your life and your friends. I will carry this indelible memory with me forever as my unique Roger gift. I thank you from deep in my heart, and I send you back my love.”

TO ROSEMARY: “Although his last infection seemed a “dirty trick,” his life overall was certainly the opposite – sincere, direct, open and guileless. We talked many times over the years about his profession. It required him to give meaning to people’s lives even though he knew profoundly that there are few, if any, simple truths. He knew white was usually grey but sometimes black. He understood better than most of us the pain, irrationalities, injustices, absurdities and horrors of living and dying, but he told me several times that these and other negatives almost always have their positive opposites in play, simultaneously and equally strongly. In fact, his life’s gift to me is a better understanding of this “ying/yang” duality of daily realities which causes me to temper both my ecstasy and my gloom.”