July 28, 1920-May 12, 2011
Alan David Sophrin, 90, died on May 12, 2011 at the Central Vermont Medical Center. His daughter Gail was with him. Born on July 28, 1920, in Akron, Ohio, Dave grew up in Cuyahoga Falls. His father, Michael, was Jewish. His mother, Mary, was Irish Catholic. Dave attended college at Case Western Reserve and at Kent State. A law student at Ohio State in December, 1941, “Stringbean” Sophrin joined the Army Air Force, gaining just enough weight to pass the enlistment physical on his second try. In a Stearman open cockpit biplane, he learned to fly.
On November 15, 1943, Dave married Virginia Margaret Looker at the Alliance Army Airfield in Nebraska. On June 6, 1944, Dave’s troop carrier squadron crossed the English Channel in the first minutes of D-Day, dropping paratroops into Normandy. Later Dave carried paratroops and towed gliders into the south of France; into Holland; to Bastogne; and on March 24, 1945, into Germany.
After the war Dave practiced law in Cuyahoga Falls. On the Republican ticket, he was elected City Solicitor. Dave held three elective offices. He preferred political philosophy to politics, though, and writing to practicing law. He favored the constitutional separation of church and state. He opposed Joseph McCarthy. Ultimately he took up the defense of Dr. Hyman Lumer, a labor activist accused of violating the Taft-Hartley Act. Dave lost the high-profile case.
In 1960 Dave left the law and moved his family to Vermont. In Burlington he worked as a vocational rehabilitation counselor. He wrote two books for young people: Quiet Rebel (John Day, 1967), and The Newcomer (John Day, 1968). He wrote on smaller scales, too. When a reviewer in Burlington complained that the Champlain Shakespeare Festival‘s Richard III was so long it had “made me seat-weary,” ticket sales dwindled. Dave wrote a letter to the editor. He praised the fine production. He regretted that it had “made the reviewer’s seat weary.” Ticket sales resumed.
In 1968 Dave and Virginia moved to Brandon. They worked for many years at the Training School. Dave continued to write, and to do things his way. When an administrator forbid school residents to visit Texas Falls without a lifeguard, Dave renewed his Red Cross lifeguard certification. He was 53. At the Community College of Vermont’s Middlebury campus, Dave moonlighted as Instructor in Effective Speaking. His texts – audio recordings where possible -- included Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream.” His students adored him.
Virginia died in 1985. During the last months of her life Dave cared for her at home. In 1986 he bought ten acres of wilderness in Ames Park on Seymour Lake in Morgan. Living at first in a tent with his dog Helga, Dave built an unprepossessing cottage commanding one of the finest views on the lake. Knowing only the rudiments of house-building, he read books on the subject as he worked. He became a part of the community of neighbors on Ames Road and in Winape Hills on Echo Lake in Charleston. He met Constance Colligan, a local artist. On November 25, 1989, Dave and Connie married.
Dave resumed writing his newspaper column, “From This Angle.” With titles like “Takeover” (Dave’s plan to buy General Motors on credit); “Newt Speaks Frankly” (“ . . . a political leader who has the courage to come right out and say he speaks frankly”) and “Terrorism Readiness Advice” (“Blue Alert: Drink one double martini . . .”), the column’s pointed satire won both fans and detractors. When the column was discontinued, a reader recounted to Dave her conversation with the editor of the Bennington Banner: “I told her that as far as I was concerned your range was from brilliant to very brilliant, and I did not think I would renew my subscription.” Dave composed his columns in pencil on a yellow legal pad. In defense of the pencil and in defense of thinking, Dave contributed an essay to Minutes of the Lead Pencil Club (Pushcart Press, 1996). Fellow essayists included Russell Baker and Henry Thoreau.
Dave served as a director of the Seymour Lake Association. He worked on the newsletter. He chaired the Personal Watercraft Committee, fighting to limit the use of jet skis. Well into his eighties, he loved to swim. To maintain his once flawless front crawl, he swam at Stanstead College in the winter. For his 85th birthday, he wanted a kayak.
Selectively quoting Lord Byron, Dave wrote in his high school yearbook, “Let us have mirth and laughter.” The excellent staff at Rowan Court in Barre, where he moved in October, 2008, will attest that Dave never relinquished his sense of humor. Nor his habit of reading. Nor his sense of fairness: By agreement with his friend Richard, a medic in the Pacific in WWII and a fellow resident at Rowan Court, Dave took credit only for winning the war in Europe. In the Pacific, Richard won.
In Charleston Dave leaves his wife, Constance, and her son, Steve. In New York he leaves Constance’s daughters Christine and Margaret, and her son Robert. Dave leaves his daughters Gail, of Barre, and Helene, of Ithaca NY, and Helene’s stepdaughter Susanna Porte, of Cambridge MA. A gathering to celebrate Dave’s life will be held at Seymour Lake in July. Contributions in his memory may be made to the Southern Poverty Law Center, online or at 400 Washington Ave., Montgomery, AL 36104.