Another bit of mystery surfaced at a dinner for New Haven-area alumni leaders late last summer following the White Jacket Ceremony. AYAM President Francis R. Coughlin Jr., M.D. ’52, spoke of two coincidences that he grouped under the heading “six degrees of separation”—the notion that each of us is linked to any other human on Earth by a maximum of six personal connections. The chance encounter his daughter-in-law had with Louis R.M. Del Guercio, M.D. ’53, for example, was a simple three degrees of separation: her mother had lived as a girl in the house now inhabited by Del Guercio, who was a year behind Coughlin at Yale and a colleague in the decades since.
Coughlin spoke of another coincidence. Standing at the head of the table in an upstairs room at Mory’s, he produced a thick, bound volume that he said his father had assembled in the 1950s. It consisted of the medical school Bulletin from the four years Coughlin was a student in New Haven. “His own education ended at age 16, and he was immensely proud to have a son at Yale,” said Coughlin, a retired thoracic surgeon and an attorney, who discovered the book recently while rummaging though an attic.
Leafing through the pages, he came across an item that delighted him: on page 133 of the 1948-49 Bulletin, he read the course description for a gastroenterology seminar and the name of its instructor, Samuel D. Kushlan, M.D. ’35. “I had heard of Sam Kushlan as a student, and “he was known as the best clinical teacher at the medical school,” Coughlin said. “And here he is more than 50 years later. And here I am.”
As it happened, Kushlan was in the room, as was Del Guercio, the AYAM’s newest executive committee member. By another coincidence, sitting a few feet from both men was Robert W. Lyons, M.D. ’64, chief of infectious diseases at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford. As a Georgetown undergraduate in the late 1950s, Lyons was vice president of the drama society and a classmate of playwright John Guare. Like Lyons, Guare would come north to New Haven to attend one of Yale’s professional schools, in his case the School of Drama. Later still, he would write a play with a more-than-relevant title: Six Degrees of Separation.