Raleigh D’Adamo ’49 - A facinating man

(Class Notes Summer 2015) In addition to being a Hackley alum and Hackley parent, Raleigh D’Adamo ’49 is one of the hilltop’s more fascinating and noteworthy figures. From his knowledge of Swahili to his lasting imprint on the New York City Subway system to his printing press class at Yale University, and the frequent Hackley at Yale dinners he hosts, Raleigh is truly one of a kind.

This winter, Raleigh invited us to his home and sat down with us in his basement workshop filled with antique typewriters, fully functional stoplights, and various prints from around the world to discuss his Hackley beginnings and how his time on the hilltop affected him throughout his life.

Hackley: What is your first memory of Hackley?

Raleigh D’Adamo: Wow. Jeez, I don’t know—maybe the structure of the buildings.

The quad was rather imposing, just as a physical plant. I had been at Dobbs Ferry High School, which was certainly a nice structure, but nothing like Hackley’s campus as it was then—which is maybe a quarter or a third of what it is now. And on the more personal side,
I found Hackley very welcoming. I think that that was a characteristic of it at that time, and I think it continues to this very day...it just pervades the school. That’s the philosophy of the school, and that started with Mrs. Hackley.

That’s its major thing. And I’m not saying that other schools don’t have it—I don’t know, maybe some of them do. But to the extent that Hackley does? I just don’t know. But Hackley has it in spades. It’s very welcoming, it’s very nurturing, it’s very caring...That’s Hackley to me.

H: Did you board at Hackley? How was your experience living there?

RD: Yes. And my room, I loved it. I don’t know how they found it, whether it was by chance or if it was empty that summer, but it was over the main entrance—the “Enter Here to Be and Find a Friend”—and mine was on the left.

What I liked, and what I remember most about being a boarder was—and I’m not sure if this continues today—that there was a master or a faculty member at each table. There was always a faculty member at the table so that you got to know them, and they got to know you.

And, of course, there were faculty members living in the dorms... My recollection is that they never interfered, but they were there to help if anybody needed. They would socialize at the very end of the day. It was just nice to have that relationship with faculty.

H: What prompted the Hackley-Yale dinner parties that you host?

RD: Well, a couple of weeks ago, I came across a term in the Yale Alumni magazine that refers to what I try to do. Instead of the usual term—which is what most schools do—which is fundraising, we do friendraising. And I said, “That’s it. That’s what we’re doing.” At these dinners, I never mention anything about money. What I’m trying to do in a small way, is just to keep Hackley in the minds of the graduates, so that four, five, six years later, when they graduate from Yale and begin to earn some money, that they can feel like then they’d like to contribute back to Yale and Hackley in a financial way. So this is just to create goodwill on Hackley’s part in my small way.

And just a couple of weeks ago, I received an email asking me, “Are we going to get together this year?” So [the kids] look forward to it, and when they get together, they really have fun among themselves. And it’s really great for me to see that. Sometimes they will run into each other on campus, but many times they don’t.

And this gives them a chance to get together with their classmates, even if it’s just once or twice a year...And I call it HAY!—Hackley at Yale. That’s what I put in the subject line of my emails. It’s just a small thing I try to do to keep up goodwill at Hackley.

H: At these dinners, do you notice any characteristic that remains constant through generations of Hackley students?

RD: There’s not one of them that I wouldn’t have as a guest in my house. I think they’re all terrific kids, and it’s just a real pleasure to get to know them. They all excel, they’re all great people. They’re friendly as all heck. You don’t get any sense of competition, and I didn’t feel that at Hackley either. Each does his own best, and if he’s competing, he’s competing against himself.

H: What first prompted you to enter the “Design a New Subway Map” contest?

RD: It was a chance article that I saw in the Daily News for the design of a new subway map, and I have a lifelong interest in transportation. My interest goes back eons. I was also interested in cartography, and I was a hobby printer—so I thought, “Let me give it a whirl.” And nobody knows that system like I do.

The specifications for the contest were really meant for professional cartographers. You had to have full-color plates lined up, and it was supposed to cover from Midtown Manhattan to Downtown Brooklyn—it was the section of the city that was most complicated that you had to do. It had to be completed artwork, ready for production. Well, I couldn’t do that...So I entered the contest with a hand-drawn map and a nineteen-page report explaining the idea.

And of all the entries, three were selected, and each of the ones that were selected received $3,000. Then, they were going to choose one of those for first prize, and that person was going to get an additional $3,000. But instead, after a week or two, the three of us got calls to meet down at the Transit Authority, and we were each asked a question separately but we all said the same thing. We were asked if they declared a three-way tie, would there be any objections? We all said, No. I got $4,000. I got my wife a new kitchen. And I changed careers. I went from being a lawyer to going into transportation.

H: When you think back on your time at Hackley, is there anything in particular that still resonates with you?

RD: Hackley has a very nice campus. It did then, it’s got a beautiful one now—but it’s more the spirit of Hackley. I’m so glad to see that continue.

I still think about Professor Logato, the Latin teacher, and “Pop” Lindsay who taught math. And I’ve kept up with classmates too, after all these years. We just lost Charlie Bates [’49]— he and I were very close. Then there’s Phil Havens [’49] and Berk Johnson [’49]. The four of us were very close. To this day, we went to all the alumni meetings and see one another at the “50 Plus” dinners. That’s how I got reconnected with Hackley—when it was my 50th anniversary, which would be ’99. And I liked what I saw. I hadn’t been there since [my son] graduated in ’84. 

And in ’99 Walter [Johnson] and I were talking about the new plans for the buildings, and he walked me around the campus and was wondering what the traffic pattern should be, because I was in transportation. And I suggested to him that we create a ring road around the outside and keep traffic away from the hilltop—and that’s what they did...so at least I contributed a little bit in terms of my transportation background.