Dan Rossiter (1925-2021)
Dan Rossiter, a Woodbury Hill resident since 2006, died on June 24 at New Milford Hospital. He was 95. Dan was known for his intellect, his quiet sense of irony and humor, his beautiful writing and other artistic gifts, and his devotion to his life partner, Robbie Oxnard, who survives him. Dan led a full life of adventure and accomplishment. He will be missed by his family and his many friends.
Herman Daniel Rossiter was born in New York City on September 28, 1925. The youngest of four boys, he grew up in a fatherless household in a German-American neighborhood of Manhattan, the East 70s. One of his favorite pursuits as a child was spending time in the New York Public Library reading widely. He also had fond memories of swimming with his friends in the East River. Dan loved New York and for the rest of his life nothing pleased him more than a subway ride or a stroll through Central Park with his camera at the ready.
In 1943 Dan graduated from Cardinal Hayes High School, a Catholic school for boys located in the Bronx, at the top of his class. That fall he enrolled at Cornell University on a scholarship as part of the Army Specialized Training Program. At the end of his first semester he was called to active duty and sent to Fort Benning, Georgia for Army basic training. After further training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, he shipped out to the European Theater in late 1944 – aboard the Queen Mary, a converted troop ship -- as part of the 87th Infantry Division, the “Golden Acorn.” Dan was wounded in Luxembourg in the Battle of the Bulge in early 1945 while on a dangerous nighttime scouting mission. He earned a Purple Heart and carried embedded shrapnel in his body the rest of his life. His best friend in the Army was killed beside him on that mission. Dan later wrote and published a tribute titled “Remembering My Friend, Malvin Vigneault.” Dan often spoke movingly about the Vigneault family and how, after the war, they treated him as a beloved honorary son when he visited them on holidays and special occasions.
Dan had returned to the States with the 87th by the late summer of 1945 when the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, effectively ending the war. His division had been preparing for an anticipated invasion of the Japanese home islands. Dan was honorably discharged from the Service in 1946.
Following the war and a period of travel around the country, and a stint as a night clerk at the Hotel Plaza in New York, Dan returned to Cornell. He initially studied engineering but then switched his major to English, graduating in 1950. At Cornell he further developed his interest in writing and as a young man he became a serious writer of fiction. This led to an itinerant bohemian life throughout the 1950s in two far-flung locations. For much of the year he would live in Dublin, Ireland, writing, and then in the summers he would travel to Alaska to earn enough money to sustain him the rest of the year. Then at the end of the summer he would return to Ireland. And so forth. In Alaska he worked in canning factories and on the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, a series of radar stations in the Arctic established during the Cold War. It was during this period that Dan first embarked on his “wanderings” – extensive and lifelong global travel and seafaring. At one point in the 1950s, he worked as a cook on a sailing vessel in the Mediterranean.
By the early 1960s, now with a wife and three young children, Dan decided he needed a more stable career. Responding to an article in the Irish Times describing a master’s program at Trinity College Dublin in the brand-new field of computer science, Dan returned to school and studied information theory. Upon graduation from Trinity in 1963, he returned to the U.S. and took a job as a computer programmer at Leeds and Northrup, an engineering firm based in Philadelphia. In 1968, Dan and four other Leeds and Northrup programmers left the company to form Macro Corp., an engineering consulting firm specializing in the electric utilities industry. Among his other duties, Dan was treasurer of the company and he wrote and edited the company’s consulting reports. By the time the five partners sold the company in 1996, Macro was doing $10 million in annual business, had 70 employees and had consulting contracts around the world.
Besides his success in business, Dan was a true Renaissance Man. In addition to his writing, Dan avidly pursued his wide-ranging interests in the arts, including photography, tile-making, ceramics, cinematography, and sculpture. He had several shows of his photographs at the Woodbury Public Library. He loved museums and attending lectures. He was extremely literate and could quote passages from Shakespeare and the other classics. Once, when departing the breakfast table and asked where he was going, he offhandedly replied, “to cast upon myself the light of an inward gaze” – a line from Boethius. Dan loved limericks and was a gifted storyteller. He had a beautiful theatrical voice and was known to do dramatic readings of narrative poems. He also was a serious mountain climber in his day, having once reached the Mt. Everest Base Camp, and then nearly summiting Argentina’s Mt. Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas.
Among his other pursuits, Dan loved puzzles; jigsaw pieces were known to cover the dining room table. He enjoyed an occasional martini. He habitually ate potatoes and bacon with his breakfast. He loved Toblerone chocolate. He lifted weights every day and was proud of the fact he could still fit into his Army uniform even in his 90s.
Dan and Robbie met in the late 1970s through a dating service called Single Booklovers. A treasured memory was one of their first dates, at an “encounter group” meeting of psychotherapists held at Princeton University (Robbie was a psychotherapist). As Dan recounted for years after, the session quickly devolved into a leaderless scrum of random shouts and pointless harangues punctuated when one participant seized the microphone and declared: “all right-brained people meet down front! We’re going to dance!”
Dan and Robbie kept separate apartments in Manhattan but shared a weekend home, first in New Milford and then at Woodbury Hill. They loved to cook together and to socialize with friends. They regularly read the Sunday New York Times side by side, passing sections back and forth with lively commentary.
In addition to Robbie, Dan is survived by his son, Rob Rossiter, of Watkins Glen, New York; his former wife, Betsy, also of Watkins Glen, and his grandchildren Katrina Rossiter and Scott Rossiter. Dan was predeceased by his daughter Christina and his son Darien. Robbie’s children – Allen Sperry, Claudia Sperry, Ben Sperry, Susan Kent and Kate Sperry – loved Dan and will miss him.
Memorial contributions may be sent to: Friends of Woodbury Public Library, 269 Main Street South, Woodbury, Connecticut, 06798. The memorial service will be private.
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