Louis Lou J. Kaplan
February 24, 1916 – January 8, 2013
Louis Jack Kaplan ("Lou" to those who knew him) dedicated much of his professional life working on behalf of a world-renowned medical institution barely a block from where he grew up in poverty during the depth of the Great Depression.
His work not only dramatically strengthened the Yale Medical School and Yale-New Haven Hospital, but also brought world-class cancer care to the region, and improved the quality of health care services throughout the region. Yet, Lou always made sure never to take credit for his accomplishments, even if he took tremendous pride in their results. Sadly, Lou passed away on January 8 in Springfield, VA, after leaving the New Haven area in October with his wife of 65 years, Freda, to be closer to their daughter, Jan. It was the final stop in a life of nearly 97 years that began in Lawrence, MA in 1916.
Lou was the youngest of three brothers who, along with their younger sister, withstood a series of moves during his first ten years because of their father’s involvement in many of the labor strikes of the times. Hymie Kaplan was not only forced to move from city to city because of his union activity, but he also ran afoul of the law on occasion because of the gin mill he built in the family bathtub during the Prohibition years. “There were many times we couldn’t take a bath because of that thing,” Lou always said.
After traveling as far south as Atlantic City, the family landed on Oak Street in New Haven in 1926. Much like today, Oak Street was among the poorest street in New Haven. The three boys shared a bed while their father tried to make money as a pushcart salesman and later operated a vegetable stand on Legion Avenue.
Lou worked at the Farnum Neighborhood House as a youth counselor and graduated from Hillhouse High School in the midst of the Depression, and found a job working for the Railway Express Agency (REA). That experience led to him being assigned to the U.S. Army division responsible for managing the European railroad network during World War II. He was stationed in Paris shortly after the liberation of the city, and had fond memories of meeting international movie stars and funny stories of GIs selling locomotives to locals during his three years there.
Lou met his wife, Freda Lerman Mackler, not long after he returned to New Haven at the end of the war. They were married in a modest civil ceremony, and headed to New York City so he could get his Bachelor's and Master’s degrees at NYU. They shared a "coldwater flat" with a friend where they were endlessly attempting to outwit the cockroaches. That may have been the catalyst for his everlasting love of the vacuum cleaner. Post-WWII New York was cockroach-infested, but also was an exciting melting pot of progressive thinking, art, music and culture that produced a diverse group of life-long friendships.
Although his Master’s degree was in social work and public health, Lou's first job after NYU was working for one of the most exclusive clothier’s of the time, the Sills Company, a competitor of J. Press. The job was in Cambridge, MA, and it gave Lou an appreciation of well-tailored men's clothes that became part of his persona.
But, Lou's real goal was to put his personal skills and academic training to work helping others. He landed a job as director of field services for the Connecticut Association of Mental Health in 1956. This position gave him an opportunity to hone his skills working with people of all walks of life, as well as government agencies and other institutions. Lou also conducted a series of fundraising events with various celebrities, including Vivian Vance, Lucy Ball’s best friend on TV at the time, and Jackie Robinson, to raise public awareness of the mental health issue. Lou became dear friends, as well, with Rachel Robinson and continued his mental health work with Rachel after Jackie's death.
Lou became the Executive Director of the CT Mental Health Association, and soon after was recruited to become the Associate Director of the new Connecticut Mental Health Center. This new position brought him back to the Hill neighborhood only a few blocks from where he had grown up. He worked with neighborhood representatives, hospital executives, Yale Medical School administrators, New Haven officials and state and federal agencies to develop a building design and community-oriented mental health program that satisfied everyone’s interests and gained international recognition.
His success in making the Connecticut Mental Health Center a reality led to his appointment as Assistant to the Dean of the Yale Medical School in 1967. Not long after he arrived in his new position, the city of New Haven was engulfed in racial riots similar to those that swept other cities at the time. Lou worked long days and nights with community representatives and government officials to quell the violence and initiate new programs to address many of the local issues, which had sparked the unrest.
For the next 18 years, Lou assumed responsibilities for the Medical School’s community, government and alumni relations, adding the title of Associate Dean to his resume, and also served as a lecturer at the School of Public Health. It was as an instructor and student advisor that he met Cornell Scott. The two worked closely with one another and others in the community to create the Hill Health Center with the support of the Medical School, and state and federal funds. Lou served on the Center's board for many years and helped it become a model for community health care services worldwide.
Lou's quiet dedication to the Yale Medical School, Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Hill Neighborhood also helped bring about the Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center. The coalitions he forged in his work to obtain funding for the Cancer Center once again included the university, city, state and federal agencies. John Doyle, a member of Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker’s legislative staff at the time, recalls the fierce competition among the nation's medical schools for federal funding for cancer centers, “We wouldn’t have won the necessary federal funds to build the Cancer Center if it wasn’t for Lou’s skills and personal relationships.”
After an era in which neighborhoods could disappear as a result of "urban renewal" programs without community involvement, Lou worked to ensure that everyone from the local community surrounding the medical school and the greater Yale University was heard. As a result of his efforts, the University became more of a partner with the city of New Haven. Through his efforts, Lou helped to bridge the gap between Yale and its neighboring community, overcoming the political logjams and social conflicts that had plagued New Haven for generations.
Lou survived the Depression, WWII, the turbulence of the 1960s, and a series of bouts with cancer himself. But, he never lost his optimism, enthusiasm, sense of humor, or love of people of all kinds. His patience with, and understanding of, the political process and his willingness to put aside his own ego for the good of the community gave him an ability to get things done that others could not. Will Moreland interviewed Lou three years ago for a freshman writing assignment at Yale. After the interview, Will aptly called him “A natural sociologist” whose “position could best be described as the rope in a game of tug-of-war” between the university and the city’s neighborhoods. Former Yale president, Kingman Brewster, publicly commended Lou’s accomplishments during a Hill Health Center ceremony, describing him as the model of relations between Yale and the community.
Upon his retirement from the Yale Medical School, Lou received public proclamations from federal, state and local officials. He continued to serve for many years on the boards of the Hill Health Center, South Central Community College (now Gateway College), Urban League of New Haven, Hill Development Corporation and other organizations in the community. He dedicated his spare time to his wife, Freda, his children, Jeffrey and Jan, and their families in Wellesley, MA and Annandale, VA, respectively. He also spent time, following local, state and national politics, doing NY Times crossword puzzles, traveling with Freda, attending local theater, and cheering for his beloved NY Yankees, Giants and Knicks, as well as UConn women’s and men’s basketball teams. He and Freda were also season ticketholders for Yale football games at the Yale Bowl, and vacationed on Martha’s Vineyard for nearly 40 years where they played daily tennis and always found time to take a walk on the beach. Lou became known for his daily walks and was given the nickname of "the Mayor of Lambert's Cove" on Martha's Vineyard.
In addition to his wife Freda, daughter Jan and son, Jeffrey, Lou leaves his son-in-law Leonard Wolfenstein of Annandale, VA, daughter-in-law Alison of Wellesley, MA, sister Mildred Ratoosh of Berkeley, CA, sister-in-law Lil, and five grandsons, Jacob, Ethan, Grant, Ben and Noah. He was predeceased by his two brothers, Harry and Saul.
According to Lou: “The role of the individual is in different places – mine happened to be in changing the status quo.”
The family requests that donations be made in Lou’s name to the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center (www.hillhealthcenter.com).
Please share your condolences and memories on this website.Lou's family will be preparing a book of memories from these entries.
- Celebration of Lou's Life will be held this spring in New Haven
Louis Lou J. Kaplan
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March 23, 2013
May he rest in peace, he was a well talented man nearly 100years of age, wish I could have his knowledge. For sure a man that knows GOD the Almighty very well. Really appreciate his hard work and effort and contribution to the medical world.
February 22, 2013
What a remarkable man! He's work in New Haven endures and we are greatful for his caring spirit. He left the world better than he found it. His life was truly an inspiring one. Thank you, kind sir!
January 29, 2013
My mother, Lea Berliner (widow of Dean Robert Berliner) would like to get in touch with Freda Kaplan. Would it be possible to email her address and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org
I didn't actually know how else to do this. Thank you, Henry Berliner
January 25, 2013
We all knew this day would come. Lou himself knew it would come. Knowing Lou over this past quarter of a century I am certain he would not want us to mourn him too much. He would want us to remember the kind of a man he was--kind, intelligent,hard working, generous, thoughtful, and let us not forget, an ardent Democrat until the end waiting to watch the Rachel Madow program.
I always loved being with him. It was always something I looked forward to and I always learned something from him...always. He was a devoted husband to Freda and also a wonderful father-in-law to Alison and a devoted grandfather to all of his grandchildren.
How wonderful it must have been for you to introduce him to other people and proudly say "this is my dad. Lou Kaplan". That is a gift I can only imagine. I never has that with my father. I was always ashamed to admit he was my father. Mine was the polar opposite of yours.
Lou Kaplan was an absolute original edition in every way as far as I could see. A lot of us are going to miss him. His death will leave a big hole in the lives of a great many people.
He led a good life and a long one and he had a good death being with his wife, Jan, and having just talked to his son of whom he was so proud and loved so much.
I am very grateful that he was able to maintain his dignity until the end because all his life he was a very dignified man. No breathing tubes...no feeding tubes...no putting himself or his loved ones through the ordeal of all those awful extraordinary methods that just prolong life at any cost.
My deepest sympathy to all of you on the loss of this extraordinary man.
January 23, 2013
I will miss my telephone conversations with Lou, although in recent years they have grown less frequent, as we both continued with the inevitable-the aging process and time constraints. Lou and I became friends when if I first arrived in New Haven in 1959 to join the exciting administration of Mayor Richard C. "Dick" Lee. On our first meeting we immediately found common ground. We had the same moral and social values. And throughout our friendship those values never changed. Indeed, they were strengthened by our continuiing friendship and the cause we jointly embraced. Lou represented the "other side" of the New Haven Green, Yale University and its medical school where he had his office. I represented the City of New Haven with my office in City Hall. There always existed some tension in the "town gown" relationships. We both knew where our loyalties rested. But we both had a greater loyalty--the people of the city. And most particularly those among us who were lest fortunate.We were able to empathize because we both had similar life experiences at an early age. We grew up as members of the less fortunate. In our quite way we collaborated in nudging and convincing the powers of our respective institutions to make policy decisions that would be of benefit to both institutions and the people we most cared about.There developed between us an unstated trust. We would confer by telephone. Quite often Lou would stop by office for a "friendly chat." There was no set agenda. We were just "comparing notes." Two anecdotes will illustate our working relationship.
In the 60's there was a major effort by the federal government to initiate a "war on cancer." Vast amounts of money were made available to construct and support cancer centers strategically place throughout the nation. The allocation of these funds required the states in which the centers were to be located to participate financially. Yale Uniersity and in particular the medical very much wanted to be selected. One of my many reponsibilities as Director of Administration for the City of New Haven was to direct and partiicipate personally in lobbying before state departments, the governor's office and the legislature. On the occasion of one of our chats I asked Lou how the Medical Schools efforts to obtain financing for the cancer center was progressing. He responded very positively. I had learned differently. I innformed him the state had decided not to partiicipate in funding a cancer center anywhere in the state-including at Yale. Lou thanked for the information. We chatted about other things. Lou never asked where and how I had learned this. Two days later he called me to say that I was correct and they were working on the problem. The state did fund the cancer center to be located at the Yale Medical School. I never learned how Lou and his associates reversed the decision. I never asked. There was no need. Lou did what needed to be done. The University and the City gained including those people who would benefit from the cancer center. Subsequently, Lou approached me before the cancer project was completed asking me if I knew of anyone who had the ability to become the center's communications director. I responded by say the only local person I knew who could handle that position was Marion Morra. She was selected. I learned about the selection from a news release appearing in the local paper.We collaborated quietly. Today they would say "under the radar."
The 60's were also a time of crisis for American cities and our nation. The civil rights movement was flourishing and much in the news. Cities were experiencing riots initiated primarily by young blacks tired of the sting of racism and discrimination. Like many other city administrators across the nation I made a decided effort to understand the problems of this segment of New Haven's population.Lou was making similar efforts inasmuch as the medical school was located close by where many of the black militants lived.In one of our sharing chats, Lou informed that RJ (a young black militant with a strong following) considered me a "straight shooter." I did not ask Lou where or how he had obtained the information. It came from Lou and therefore it was valid. With
that knowledge I decided to reach out
to RJ. We developed a relationship to the point we were on a first name basis. Several months later RJ and his followers were successful and call for a meeting with some of New Haven's business leaders.The meeting was held at an old public elementary school during the summer months vacation period.Once the leaders were assembled in a classroom RJ had all the doors to the school locked with black militants guarding the doors. The thrust of the meeting (held in threatening tones) was to obtain money from the business community because they were making profits by selling to poor blacks and not returning any of those profits to the community. Learning of the situation I rushed to the school. RJ allowed me to enter. I was able to broker a solution to what would otherwise have been a volatile solution.
In addition to our trusted working relationship we enjoyed a social relationship which included Freda and my first wife Connie. The same relationship continue with my current wife Beau.
Lou was a gentleman's gentleman. But he also was a gentle man. He was passionate about he believed. A unabashed strong liberal who never forgot his humble roots. Lou was civil, unassuming and effective. I shall forever treasure our relationship.
My best to Freda, Jeff and Jan.
January 16, 2013
After his retirement it was my distinction to succeed Lou as Yale Medical School's liaison to the community(officially Associate Dean for Government & Community Affairs). It was a tough act to follow, in part because Lou's fingerprints were everywhere, though not always seen. This was especially true in the immediate vicinity - the Hill Neighborhood - but until now I had not realized how deep his roots were in the Hill community. In many respects this exemplifies the man - he always managed to know everything about you but revealed little of himself unless you pushed and pushed hard. He was the last of an era.
My condolences to Freda and his family.
Myron Genel, MD, Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics, YSM
January 15, 2013
Our heartfelt condolences to Freda and the family. Althea and I considered Lou and Freda two of our greatest friends. He truly was a caring, loving and faithful friend. Words cannot express how much we will miss him. As I told Jeff, however, he had a great run through his admirable life. We will mis him.
Nick & Althea Norcott (New Haven, CT.)
January 14, 2013
Uncle Lou's quiet and soft-spoken manner always impressed me, and yet I know that his professional accomplishments could only have been achieved by a firm and forceful persona. It continues to amaze me how he—and his brother, Harry—were such dogged fighters for justice and progress in the public sphere while being such gentle and affable characters at home, in the company of family and friends. Uncle Lou embodied both nurturance and struggle, and he managed that blend quite comfortably. Such a person is rare, and therefore I consider it a rare privilege to have known him.
I want to offer my condolences and sympathy to my Aunt Freda in this time of sorrow, and to my cousins Jeff and Jan and their families. I share your sadness, and look forward to the opportunity when we can all gather together and raise our glasses in celebration of Lou's life.
January 14, 2013
Lou maintained a standard of decency, civility, and ability rarely seen and rarely appreciated in the hardscrabble of institutional and community affairs. Like his father before him in Lawrence and Lowell, Massachusetts, Lou always held people, especially just plain people, in the highest regard and worked faithfully on their behalf. There are insufficient words to do him the honor he deserves.
Ed Gruson (Sherman, CT)
January 13, 2013
Condolences to Freda, Jeff and Jan - I have very fond memories of your dad's kindness to me as a child, and his soft and unusual voice. RIP uncle Lou.