NO. 17409 • 29 September 1927 – 29 November 1996
Died in Red Bank, NJ
Interred St. Catherine’s Cemetery, Spring Lake, NJ
Richard Maynard Strohm was born in Brooklyn, NY, the son of Harold C. Strohm and Mildred Beebe Strohm, and younger brother of Eleanor Strohm Leavitt. Dick spent his childhood in Montclair, NJ, attending the public schools and spent summers from age six to eighteen at the Luther Gulick Camps in New Hampshire, first as a camper and later, from age 15, as a counselor. He learned to sail on Cape Cod Nimblets, and sailing always remained a joyful activity in his life. As a camper, Dick also enjoyed riding, riflery, and playing the piano—notably a breakneck speed version of “Honeysuckle Rose,” which, later in life, became one of his signature pieces.
For his senior year of high school, Richard attended Phillips Exeter Academy, graduated in 1945, and attended Princeton University for one year before beginning his education at West Point. Dick came to the Academy well-prepared academically, socially, mentally and athletically—though not weight-wise! As the story has it, Dick had to wear soaking wet towels during his admissions physical to make minimum weight for entrance. He was put on the special “nutrition” table to bulk up but in fact lost weight during his plebe year, to the chagrin of his supervisor.
From his classmates’ numerous letters, a lovely portrait emerges: “a real gentleman— a gentle man, but with a core of steel,” “always there when needed,” “quiet, insightful, honorable,” “perfectly at home in any circumstances,” “a person of character and depth,” and “one of the best-liked classmates.” A recurring theme in these letters is how Dick’s wry sense of humor helped get his classmates through the rough spots during those demanding years.
He was a “bright hive who didn’t show it.” In truth, Dick prejudiced his own grades by spending time aiding struggling classmates. He not only “helped many of us keep our heads above water” but probably “to make it through, period!” Activities during his years at the Academy included the French, Radio, Skeet, and Ski Clubs and the “C” Squad swimming team.
After graduation, Dick spent three years in the 1st Engineer Combat Battalion of the 1st Infantry Division in Germany. During those years, he was highly regarded by his commanders, peers, and the men he led. While in Germany, he proposed marriage by letter to Margaret (Peg) White of Jersey City, NJ. Peg’s brother Bud (Martin J. White) was a classmate of Dick’s at the Academy and the means by which Peg and Dick first met. When Peg made the transatlantic trip to Europe for her “Grand Tour,” she surprised her friends and family when she informed them that she would not be returning to the states but, instead, would be marrying Dick and remaining in Germany. The couple was married on 29 Dec 1951, attended by a small group of family members and close Army friends, such as Jack and Jean Carr. Dick and Peg’s first daughter, Mary Catherine, was born in November 1952 in Wurtzburg, and the family subsequently lived in an apartment in nearby Kitzingen.
Dick was next stationed at Ft. Belvoir, VA. There Peg gave birth to their second daughter, Susan Elizabeth, in 1954. That same year, Dick resigned his commission and entered Harvard Business School, where he earned an MBA in 1956. There, too, a classmate recalls his “quiet good humor and solidly logical intellect.”
After Harvard, Dick began his business career at National Lead but stayed only briefly, joining Airco in July 1957, where he became VP of distribution and assistant to the group VP. He taught Dale Carnegie courses for a number of years and was very involved in Junior Achievement during his tenure at Airco. His third daughter, Julia Clare, was born in 1960.
In 1962, Dick and Peg bought a beautiful, five-acre home in Rumson, NJ, immediately next door to brother-in-law Bud White and his family. In the years that followed, Dick played tennis regularly, infuriating his opponents with his combination of good, solid tennis and “junk” shots. Always characterized by tremendous intellectual curiosity, Dick taught his children to enjoy reading and learning—there was never an evening when the dictionary or World Book Encyclopedia was not pulled down to look something up. Though not a great bridge player, he acquitted himself well at the game and generously would serve as a fourth when needed. An inveterate—some would say, ruthless— punster, Dick often submitted quips to The Wall Street Journal and would occasionally get to see his comedic travesties in print. Dick was infamous for pulling out his ukulele at parties, singing enthusiastically, if not artfully, songs such as “I Love to See My Poor Old Mother Work,” “When Father Laid the Carpet on the Stairs,” and “Clancy’s Wooden Wedding.” Dick was a marvelous letter writer—not prolific but always witty, funny and full of wonderful aperçus.
Dick retired from Airco in 1982 as the business manager of Airco Energy. In 1984, he began working for Industrial Preparedness at Ft. Monmouth, NJ, specializing in night-vision technology contracts. In July 1985, his wife Peg died of breast cancer. Dick was an unfailingly loving and cheerful caretaker for Peg during her 2 1/2-year illness, a true inspiration to their daughters, other family, and friends. There could have been no better friend or spouse.
In October 1986, Dick married a colleague and friend from his days at Airco, Mary Friel from Westfield, NJ. The couple lived a happy, active life together in Little Silver, NJ, when, in 1991, Dick was diagnosed with neck cancer. Exploratory surgery indicated that the cancer was inoperable, though radiation treatment did afford Dick five more years before his death on 29 Nov 1996 in Red Bank, NJ.
Like so many of his West Point classmates, Dick was a model of personal integrity, intelligence, and diligence. He helped many people throughout his life, always quietly and without fanfare. His wonderful humor, and ability to laugh uproariously at his own jokes, made life a delight for those who had the good luck to know him.
—Julia C. Strohm, daughter