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Robert DeRight ’60

Raised in Wilmington, Delaware, Robert skipped two grades in elementary school and completed the seventh and eighth grade in one year. He attended an all-boys Catholic high school and graduated at the age of 14. 

“In high school I had no social life,” he remembered. “It was hard to play sports because I was much smaller than anyone else. I was considered ‘The Brain.’”

Considered too young to start college, he attended a prep school in Massachusetts. After the regimentation of prep school, he expressed the desire to attend a small liberal arts college, and his parents—whom he described as “good, solid, suburban Republicans”—were impressed with Reed after reading an article about the college in the Saturday Evening Post titled “School for Smart Young Things.”

He started at Reed when he was 17, the first time he’d ever attended a co-ed school. Bob remembered that an air of ’30s radicalism still hung over the campus, and even though televisions occupied a central place in American living rooms, there were almost none on campus. He recalled watching television at Reed only when the college played in the College Bowl.

He was fascinated by 19th-century history; for his thesis, he wrote about Count Alfred von Schlieffen, a German field marshal who developed a radical military strategy in the event of war with France: that Germany would invade Belgium, violating the neutrality of the Low Countries, and thereby outflank the French.

“In a modified fashion that is what happened in the First World War,” Robert said, “and it had a lot of consequences beyond the military. It may have changed the nature of warfare.”

After graduating from Reed, he started at Yale, but quit after a year because it reminded him of prep school. It was the year the Berlin Wall was built, and Bob’s draft number was up. Following the lead of Reed colleagues who had gone through the Army language program, he enlisted and went to a Mandarin Chinese language school.

“Reed and the Army were my true educational experiences,” he said. “The Army contributed a lot to my growing up. One of the things Reed did was give me a catholicity of interests. Reed taught me to be curious, and to explore, and not to limit myself.”

When he left the service he felt prepared to return to Yale Law School. “I’ve always thought of Yale as the Reed of law schools,” he said. “Yale liked Reed students, admitted them fairly freely, and gave them the benefit of many doubts.”

At Yale he sometimes took meals with former Reed classmates living in a New Haven community house. One of the people living there was a teacher named Marilyn Goler, whom he married in 1969.

For most of his career Bob was a commercial litigator. He explained that in New York that didn’t mean a lot of trial work. Rather, there were lots of depositions and motion practice, and a great deal of intellectual game playing, which he enjoyed. One of his most celebrated cases was the insurance litigation connected with the destruction of the World Trade Center. In addition to being an avid traveler, bridge player, reader of history, and lover of opera, theatre, and film, he will be remembered as brilliant, wry, loyal, and mischievous. 

Bob is survived by his wife, Marilyn, son Daniel (Elizabeth), daughter Kate (Paul), sisters Martha DeRight and Mary Lu Geiger, and granddaughters Tillie and Greta.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2016

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