I don’t think I ever saw him sweat. If memory serves, he hardly ever purposely indulged in physical exertion of any kind. Yet, in an ironic twist of fate, it was a solitary walk and a 67-year-old blood vessel inside his white-haired head that brought his life to a tragic end this week.
Dennis Schneider was the smartest person I’ve ever known. To meet him, you’d never know it since he tended to keep his searing intellect carefully under wraps. When he scored 787 out of 800 on the LSAT (law school exam), it confirmed what we always knew, Dennis was one smart cookie.
We met 50 years ago at SUNY Cortland in upstate New York. Like many students at Cortland, he was from the New York City area, raised on Staten Island. One of five boys, he had a solidly Catholic school education. But, like other parochial school graduates I knew, he had a wide-ranging grasp of things I only vaguely understood.
We first got to know each other in freshman English. One day, Professor Myer, the department chair, a man who clearly felt teaching students barely able to write like me beneath him, singled out Dennis’s essay as the best he’d ever read. He then read Dennis’s paper to the class. I got a D on the assignment and a C- in the class, no doubt affirming Professor Myer’s belief in the futility of teaching freshman English.
At first, Dennis was an outsider to our tight-knit circle of college friends. That all changed one Friday night; when the call came to bail him out of jail for public urination. After that, we embraced him as one of our own. Dennis was our “Ringo.” He was never flashy and not one to show off his wide-ranging knowledge, yet like Ringo Starr, he played his part at just the right moment, often contributing something astonishing. We nicknamed him “Duke” after Duke Snider, the baseball great who played for his beloved Mets for one season.
Like all of us, Dennis had his quirks. His front pants pocket always held an overstuffed wallet, a habit no doubt cultivated in the mean streets of suburban Staten Island but serving no purpose in Cortland other than to induce merciless ridicule for us, his friends. As I recall, he didn’t cook, but to his credit, he introduced us to the delights of cream cheese and jelly on an English muffin, his go-to meal. A committed tea drinker, he declared, “Tetley the only black tea worthy of drinking.” As a result, my entire family now drinks Tetley tea.
After law school, Dennis married Eileen, his high school sweetheart. They had two children together, Kerry and Dennis. He went on to have a distinguished career in legal publishing, managing to weather many changes in the business. He finally fell victim to corporate mergers and downsizing, retiring in 2013. Retirement presented its own challenges, and along with the tragic death of his two brothers, Dennis’s “golden years” were far from easy. Still, he never lost his razor-sharp wit and incisive intellect. Our mutual friend put it well after learning of his death, “nobody could cut me off at the knees like Duke, I loved him for it.”
I raise a cup of Tetley to you, my friend, RIP Duke.