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Yale 62

Barry Mitchell Smoler

March 25, 1940 – April 6, 2024

Born in Chicago to Jerry and Shirley Baker Smoler on March 25, 1940, Barry Smoler was schooled in Highland Park, Illinois. He had one brother, Andrew, who was nine years younger. He matriculated first at Brown University but found the student culture not as academically oriented as he liked. Deciding he wished to pursue an honors major in Chinese Studies, Barry transferred to Yale in the Fall of 1960. He was placed in Branford, where he roomed with David Finkle. Ted Volckhausen became Barry’s closest friend at Yale and remained a close friend for about 57 more years, until Ted’s passing in 2021.

Barry was inspired by President Kennedy’s call for public service, so he moved to Washington DC soon after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1965. He spent the majority of his career working as a lawyer for various government agencies. He began his career in 1965 in the Air Force General Counsel’s Office and joined a private practice firm for the next 12 years, where he specialized in working with the (now defunct) Civil Aeronautics Board. In 1975, Barry moved to the Federal Energy Office days before it was raised to cabinet level as the Department of Energy. After a year or two, he transferred to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) where he held several positions specializing first in Natural Gas regulatory matters and later in Hydroelectric regulation and licensing. He retired from the FERC in 2000 and spent a couple of years “of counsel” at a firm specializing in energy law.

Barry had many interests. He started self-taught cabinetmaking early on, and the furniture he made furnished his entire house. After he ran out of rooms to furnish, he turned to wood carving, making quite a lot of smallish statues in the style of cigar-store advertising figures – mostly Chinese characters, Navajo Indians and political notables. He collected Alaskan and Inuit stone carvings and other items, and comic Navajo and Hopi wood carvings. After retirement, he spent a great deal of his time studying with The Great Courses and attending classes offered through the Osher Life Long Learning Institute (OLLI) and Oasis.

In 1977, he took the time to marry Ann Durkin, whom he met in 1975 over a bridge table at her neighbor’s apartment. Ann relates: “We married in a very 1970s style, bi-denominational ceremony in a non-denominational chapel (neutral territory) in Washington, D.C.; a Jesuit priest and a Jewish cantor presided.” She adds: “We never did have any children so we spent our time and money traveling.” Ann survives him, and contributed significantly to this obituary.


— John D. Hatch III