Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 5
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
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Milton Babbitt

Laurel S. La Placa

T. Burnet Fisher

Richard C. Winship

Carol L. Robinson

John G. Peck Jr.

Bernard A. Jenson

James D. Walcott Jr.

William A. Schreyer

Adeline Provenzano

Ruth J. Cross-Mitchel

Milton Babbitt

Milton Babbitt

Composer, theorist, and Princeton University music professor Milton Babbitt, 94, who joined the faculty in 1938 at the age of 22 and was a driving force behind the growth of Princeton’s Department of Music, died January 29 at the University Medical Center at Princeton.

Quoted in a Princeton University press release, composer and William Shubael Conant Professor of Music Paul Lansky, a former student of Babbitt’s, described him as “one of the founding fathers of music as an academic discipline” but “first and foremost, he was a brilliant composer whose music speaks for itself.” In an email message, he added, “To enjoy Babbitt’s music means to revel in its dazzling and rich textures from moment to moment while not worrying about being able to thread together a coherent and logical story.”

Composer Peter Westergaard, his Princeton colleague for many years, told Town Topics that “Babbitt gave us the wherewithal to think clearly and systematically about what really makes music tick. By ‘us’ I mean not just his many face-to-face students over a half-century of teaching, but the students of those students, and their students, and all those others who got involved in the burgeoning discourse they initiated. By ‘music’ I mean not only that already written music we knew and loved … be it Mozart’s or Schoenberg’s … but also all kinds of as-yet-to-be-written music that might tick in some new and surprising ways.”

Besides being a driving force behind the growth of Princeton’s Department of Music, Babbitt was on the faculty of the Juilliard School in New York City from 1971 to 2008. The compositions and scholarly work produced by his students covered genres ranging from the avant-garde to the Broadway stage. One of his private students was Stephen Sondheim. When groundbreaking jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan was an undergraduate at Princeton, he studied with both Babbitt and Lansky.

Best known for his cerebral, structurally complex compositions, Babbitt could also inspire equally complex if not always cerebral critical responses, one of the more extreme examples being Gregory Sandow’s 1982 Village Voice article, which calls the composer and his music “products of the 1950s, as much symptoms of the eruption of tumultuous subterranean forces into above-ground life as monster movies, rock and roll, the beat generation, and abstract expressionism.”

Works like All Set (1957), written for a jazz ensemble, and Philomel (1964), which combines synthesizer with soprano voice and a libretto by poet John Hollander, have been performed and studied worldwide. Interpretations of both works can be heard on YouTube. In addition to those two compositions “as pieces that people usually recommend,” Lansky mentioned Vision and Prayer (1961), which was based on a Dylan Thomas poem, and String Quartet No. 2 (1952).

A pioneer in the field of electronic music, Babbitt helped to establish and co-direct the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in New York City, which housed the RCA Mark II Electronic Music Synthesizer, the first American machine designed for the production of electronic music. Among many honors and awards he received for his contributions to American music and scholarship were a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 1986 and a special Pulitzer Prize citation in 1982 for “his life’s work as a distinguished and seminal American composer.”

Born in Philadelpia in 1916, Milton Babbitt was raised in Jackson, Mississippi, where, as he revealed in a 2002 interview, he grew up with author Eudora Welty, whose father was the president of the insurance company where Babbitt’s father was the actuary and vice president. His first musical influence came from a violin teacher with whom he went to study at the age of four, although, he admitted in the same interview, he wasn’t “really all that excited” about the practicing: “Frankly, I didn’t like practicing. I faked it most of the time, and my mother and father didn’t know the difference.”

He is survived by his daughter, Betty Ann Duggan, and two grandchildren, Julie and Adam. A campus memorial service is being planned for later this spring.

Laurel S. La Placa

Laurel Smith La Placa, of Princeton, died January 27 at University Medical Center at Princeton.

Born in Bridgewater, Bucks County, Pa., on February 22, 1923, she resided most of her life in Princeton. She and her husband owned and operated Nassau Interiors of Princeton for over 60 years.

An interior decorator and artist, she was also an enthusiastic homemaker who enjoyed cooking, baking, sewing, gardening, renovating her homes, and entertaining her family and friends. After retirement, she and her husband enjoyed spending time on their farm in Gordonsville, Va.

The daughter of the late Englebert Geisler Smith and Bertha Robinson Smith of Bucks County, Pa.; and sister of the late Englebert Geisler Smith Jr.; she is survived by her husband of 61 years, Leonard J. La Placa; three daughters, Laurie L. Holladay, Claudia L. George, and Trinna L. BenMoussa; her brother, Walter H. Smith; and four grandchildren.

The Funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on February 3 at Westerly Road Church, 37 Westerly Road, Princeton. Burial will follow in the Princeton Cemetery. Friends may call on February 2 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Mather-Hodge Funeral Home, 40 Vandeventer Avenue, Princeton.

Memorial Contributions may be made to Westerly Road Church Children’s Ministry, 37 Westerly Road, Princeton, N.J. 08540. Condolences may be shared at

T. Burnet Fisher

T. Burnet Fisher, P.E., 86, of Princeton, died January 25 at University Medical Center at Princeton.

Born in San Francisco, Calif., he resided in Princeton most of his life. He was a graduate of Princeton Country Day School, St. Paul’s Prep School, Concord, N.H., and Princeton University Class of 1946.

He was a United States Navy World War II veteran. He retired in 1984 with over 30 years of service as a professional engineer with Rohm & Haas Chemical Company, Philadelphia.

He was an active member of the Princeton Republican Club, officer of the Mercer Investors Association, proud co-founder of Princeton University Class of 1946 Memorial Fund, and a member of various other local organizations. Most of all, he was a proud and loving “Dah” to his grandchildren and great grandchildren.

The son of the late Evan Thomas Sr. and Elizabeth Burnett Fisher, he was predeceased by his brother, Evan Thomas Jr.; and his wife, Mona A. Fisher. He is survived by his brother, Peter B. Fisher; his son, Gordon B. Fisher; three daughters, Betsy Dalby, Cathy Manly, and Mollie Anderson; 10 grandchildren; and seven great grandchildren.

A memorial service was held on January 28 at Trinity All Saints Episcopal Church, Princeton. Burial was private.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Princeton University Class of 1946 Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 2011, Princeton, N.J. 08543; or the Small Dog Rescue, Inc., 943 Canal Road, Princeton, N.J. 08540.

Richard C. Winship

Richard C. “Dick” Winship, 90, of Princeton, died January 31 at University Medical Center at Princeton.

Born in Whitehall, N.Y., he served in World War II in the 9th Air Force in England and France. He then attended Rider University and received his B.A. degree in Accounting.

He is survived by his wife, Katherine; his son, Richard D.; and one granddaughter.

There will be no calling hours and burial will be private.

Arrangements are under the direction of The Mather-Hodge Funeral Home, Princeton.

Carol L. Robinson

Carol L. Robinson

Carol L. Robinson, 67, of Princeton, died January 17 at the Cranbury Rehabilitation Center in Monroe Township.

Born in Plainfield, N.J., she graduated from Plainfield High School and was a member of the Plainfield City Choir. She was a graduate of the University of Vermont and received master’s degrees in both Library Science and Children’s Literature from Simmons College in Boston.

For 32 years she was employed in the Princeton School System as a Children’s Librarian. She also worked on weekends for many years in the Princeton Borough/Township Main Library. The main focus of her work was in Children’s Literature.

In her leisure time she enjoyed traveling, skiing, and cooking. Her deep affection for her two Corgi’s, Dylan and Rosie, was most evident to the neighbors on Hinds Plaza.

She is survived by her husband, James G. Robinson; and two sisters, Margo Petersen and Jan Neill.

The funeral service was held on January 22 in the Kimble Funeral Home, 1 Hamilton Avenue, Princeton, followed by burial at Princeton Cemetery.

Visiting hours took place January 21 and January 22 at the funeral home.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Princeton Small Animal Rescue League, 900 Herrontown Road, Princeton, N.J. 08542.

To extend condolences or share memories in the guest book, please visit TheKimble

John G. Peck Jr.

John Grove Peck Jr., 80, of Kingston, died January 27 at University Medical Center at Princeton.

Born in Lynchburg, Va., he resided in Kingston most of his life. He was the organist for Lutheran Church of the Messiah for 44 years. He was a Music Librarian for 23 years with Westminster Choir College in Princeton, where he received an Emeritus Degree. He was also past president of the American Guild of Organists.

He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Martha F.M. Peck; his brother, Robert Peck; and his sister, Elinor Giles.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, February 5 at the Lutheran Church of the Messiah, 407 Nassau Street, Princeton.

Memorial Contributions may be made to the American Parkinson Disease Association, J. Louis Blumberg Chapter, 332 Gerard Avenue, Elkins Park, Pa. 19027; or Lutheran Church of the Messiah, 407 Nassau Street, Princeton; or Christ Congregation, 50 Walnut Lane, Princeton, N.J. 08540.

Arrangements are under the direction of The Mather-Hodge Funeral Home.

Bernard A. Jenson

Bernard A. Jenson, known to friends and family as Ben, died January 29 at Princeton Medical Center.

Born and raised in New Brunswick, N.J., he was a veteran of WWII and was assigned by the Army to the Supreme Allied Command, serving at headquarters in England, Belgium, and France.

After the war, he entered the State Teachers College at Trenton, majoring in English and History. In his sophomore year he became editor of the college newspaper, a position he held until graduation. The following year he earned an M.A. in Teaching of English from Columbia University. During that year he was elected to head the college division of The Columbia Scholastic Press Association and later, invited by Columbia University to remain in that position which he did for a number of years.

When he returned to New Jersey, he was senior English teacher at Flemington High School until he joined the faculty at the State University College of New York at Buffalo in 1955. He was then stricken with colon cancer, underwent major surgery, and was given a prognosis of one year. In 1956 he underwent a second surgery and although he was not expected to survive due to infection, he did not succumb and the cancer did not spread further or reoccur. In 1957, he and his family left Buffalo for their home in Hunterdon County. He slowly took on some substitute teaching in TSC extension programs and Princeton Junior High.

In 1962 he enrolled in the new Annenberg School of Communication at University of Pennsylvania where he earned an M.A. in Communication.

He and his family continued to enjoy life in Hunterdon County where he directed several variety shows for local groups and joined Center Stage, a repertory group housed at The Mill in Clinton where he won their Millie award for acting.

The family spent five years in New York while his wife pursued further study at Columbia. He joined the New York State Department of Education as their liaison between public television stations and New York state colleges. As an Executive Producer of Television Services, he produced the college course Communication and Society as well as Privacy and the Right to Know which won the Ohio State Award for outstanding films in radio and television.

In 1970, he retired from full-time occupation due to chronic multiple health problems. He remained active in his home and built a vast collection of books on literature, history, theatre, and sociology. He was also able to produce a series of short films targeted for special education students, which were distributed by Universal Studios. After his family moved to Princeton in 1976, he added community affairs to his list of interests. He was often seen and heard at meetings of the Princeton Borough Council. He was a familiar figure in town, sporting a blue beret and stopping to talk with friends and neighbors.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Dr. Pauline Jenson; his son, Mark; one granddaughter; and his brother, Joseph.

Visiting is on February 4 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Kimble Funeral Home, 1 Hamilton Avenue, Princeton, followed by burial in Princeton Cemetery.

To extend condolences or share memories in the guest book, please visit

James D. Walcott Jr.

James Dexter Walcott Jr., 48, of Lawrence Township, died suddenly of heart failure.

Born in Trenton, he was an area resident his entire life. He was a graduate of Princeton Day School, Class of 1981, and attended Davidson College and graduated from Boston University. He was a member of the First Presbyterian Church of Cranbury. Some of his fondest times were spent at Camp Timanous in Raymond, Maine.

Predeceased by his father, J. Dexter Walcott Sr.; and his late grandparents, Elinor S. and E. Stanley Barclay, and Zala E. and D. Hailey Walcott; he is survived by his mother, Susan Walcott; and one sister, Ann Walcott Douglas.

Funeral services were held on January 29 at the First Presbyterian Church of Cranbury, with the Reverend Dr. Louis Mitchell officiating. Burial was held privately at Brainerd Cemetery in Cranbury.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Al Furniss Scholarship Fund, 25 Marlborough Road, St. Mark’s School, Southborough, Mass. 01772.

Arrangements are under the direction of the Barlow & Zimmer Funeral Home, 202 Stockton Street, Hightstown.

William A. Schreyer

William A. Schreyer, 83, died January 22 at his home in Princeton.

He was born in Williamsport, Pa., where his father managed the local office of a stock brokerage acquired by Merrill Lynch. Long before the age of instantaneous electronic data transmission, he worked part time marking a storefront chalkboard with securities prices wired from New York.

After graduating from Penn State University in 1948, he joined Merrill Lynch as a junior executive trainee, and was sent to Buffalo, N.Y. as an account executive. There, he met Joan Legg, whom he married in 1953.

He served for two years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force stationed in Germany, where he developed his interest in international financial markets.

In 1963 he entered management as head of the company’s Trenton office and held a succession of positions in the company’s retail branch office system, culminating in 1972 as regional director in the New York metropolitan area. During his career, he advocated that the company develop beyond its brokerage base and create a separate capital markets division. In 1981, he was put in charge of that division, and two decades later, it accounted for 50 percent of the company’s net revenues and 70 percent of pretax profits.

He became president of the parent company in 1982 and rose to CEO and chairman of the board in 1985. A period of substantial international investment followed.

During the stock market crash of 1987, he gained wide recognition for his decisive leadership, when he counseled investors not to panic, via nationally televised commercials, signing-off with the signature line: “At Merrill Lynch, we’re still bullish on America.”

He was known as a visionary leader, a generous mentor, and an irrepressible optimist. An active philanthropist, he gave $55 million to his alma mater, Penn State, to establish the Schreyer Honors College.

He served on the Penn State Board of Trustees from 1986 to 1998, including two terms as president (1993-1996). He also chaired the university’s first capital campaign, which ran from 1984 to 1990, raising over $350 million.

He was a trustee and international councilor of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan public policy institute based in Washington, D.C. He also served as a trustee of the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation, and was a consulter for the Vatican’s Patrimony of the Apostolic See.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his daughter, DrueAnne Schreyer; and two grandchildren.

A private service for family members will be held in Princeton, and a memorial service will be planned for the spring.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Schreyer Honors College at Penn State, in University Park, Pa.; the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.; the Princeton HealthCare System, Princeton, N.J.; or Daytop Village, in New York, N.Y.

Adeline Provenzano

Adeline Provenzano, 90, of Princeton, died January 23 at the Princeton Care Center.

Born in Princeton, she was a longtime resident of Rossmoor in Monroe Township. She was a self employed business owner of The Dandeline Shop, a women’s specialty apparel shop in Cranbury, for more than 20 years.

She will be remembered for her beautiful smile and generous nature.

Daughter of the late Siggismundo and Pasqualina Ranieri of Princeton, she was predeceased by her husband, Angelo Provenzano; and her sister, Philomena. She is survived by her sisters, Angelina and Pat; her four children, JoAnn Geiser, Richard Provenzano, John Provenzano, and Pepper Provenzano; 9 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Visiting hours were held on January 28 at the Kimble Funeral Home. A Mass of Christian Burial followed at St. Paul’s Catholic Church.

Interment was at Princeton Cemetery, Greenview Avenue, Princeton.

Ruth J. Cross-Mitchell

Ruth Joy Cross-Mitchell, known as “Peggy,” 81, died January 16.

Born in Princeton, she attended Princeton Regional Public Schools. She was employed for many years by the late Mayor of Princeton Township, The Honorable Josephine Hall. She retired after many years of service with the Colby Mirzayanov family.

Predeceased by her parents, Julius and Marjorie Cross; her sister, Alice Cross-Swan; her daughter, Joyce McGowan-Towler; and her son, Conway McGowan; she is survived by a sister, Martha Cross-Wells; two sons, George McGowan and Jerome McGowan; a daughter, Gale Colby-Mirzayanov; four grandchildren; and nine great grandchildren.

The funeral service was held on January 29 at Lighthouse Outreach Center, Trenton. Calling hours were before the service and Interment was in Princeton Cemetery.

Arrangements are by the Hughes Funeral Home.

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