Larry Durante’s Legacy
BY PETER E. DANS’61
ONE RECURRING THEME AS EACH CLASS GRADUATES IS HOW classmates came together, whether through the Bard Hall Players, singing groups, dorm experiences, or the Anatomy Lab. The memories live on as graduates go their separate ways, to be rekindled at alumni gatherings or by long-distance friendships. Sometimes, however, events occur that forge unbreakable bonds, not just among classmates, but with P&S itself. That happened to the Class of 1961 with the death of Larry Durante at age 28 in 1963.
Larry was a gregarious fellow whose athletic prowess earned him scholarships at Phillips Exeter and Princeton and a tryout with the New York Yankees. His marvelous tenor voice led to an invitation to spend two weeks at Tanglewood’s music camp. Lou Sherwood fondly recalls Larry singing in the first-year show, while he accompanied him with his “broken down clarinet.” For others, memories are of his singing in the shower or visits by his father bearing six-foot subs and other delicacies to share.
The most storied episode was when Grif Bates decided to enter the sub-novice division in the Golden Gloves. After Christmas vacation, Larry, who had learned boxing from his father, who had in turn been taught by Gene Tunney, agreed to be Grif’s manager and trainer. He coached Grif each evening in Bard Hall, with classmates acting as sparring partners. Grif remembers Larry’s patience and good nature as he taught him defensive moves. The night of the fight, Larry and a few other classmates accompanied Grif to Sunnyside Gardens Arena in Queens, which John Ryan still remembers as being “tumultuous and filled with the overpowering smell of sweat and liniment.” Larry was in Grif’s corner as he scored a knockdown in the first round and won the second round on points. In the third round, Grif’s lack of training and stamina began to show; he could hardly lift his arms. As he started getting pummeled, the referee mercifully declared a TKO and stopped the fight. The next day, Grif showed up at anatomy lab with a swollen and bruised face. The bruises went away but the friendship deepened because Larry helped him realize a life-long ambition.
After graduation and a surgical internship at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Larry was about to begin a residency at P&S in urology when he became ill with lymphoma. In those days, little could be done and he was admitted to Harkness Pavilion as the disease began to take its toll. As a medical resident, I had the privilege of visiting him and seeing the courage with which he faced the inevitable. No “why me?” just a wan smile and an eagerness to hear what I was doing. I still treasure a heartfelt letter his father and sister sent me in 1964 in response to a letter I wrote on behalf of the class about the scholarship established in Larry’s name. They wrote, “Abide the liberty we take with an old Biblical quotation ‘He is not dead who is loved’ to which we would add or remembered by his friends and colleagues.”
Thanks to the efforts of many, including Durante Committee chairmen John Talbott and Art Meyerson and generous contributions from classmates and Larry’s family, the Durante Scholarship is thriving. The annual number of applications has ranged from 12 to 31. The 18 committee members evaluate the applications, recommendations, and transcripts, ranking students by scholarship, community service, compassion, need, and evidence of Larry’s spirit. The finalists are interviewed at P&S.
The first award of $900 was given to Jeffrey Kaplan in 1976-77. Since then, 48 Durante scholars have been named, evenly split between men and women. For each of the past two years, we have been able to disburse a total of $50,000 to up to five talented and deserving third- and fourth-year students. In short, the scholarship has fulfilled Mr. Durante’s 1964 prophecy that the scholarship would enable Larry to continue to serve the sick and to dwell in the halls of P&S.
Dr. Dans is now chairman of the Lawrence J. Durante Scholarship Fund Committee.