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Yale 62

Samuel Henry Knoll

Born: April 4, 1940
Died: December 26, 2020

Samuel Henry Knoll died peacefully, attended by his wife Sharon, at their home in Burlington, N.C., on the day after Christmas. In recent years, Sam had suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, which severely limited his mobility, but he retained his sharp mind and good humor to the end. His fellow Whiffenpoofs (among whom he was called “Semi”) testify that at the most recent of their reunions, in Cape May, N.J., in the fall of 2019, Sam handled his disability with unflappable grace. What’s more, his smooth baritone was as winning as ever, particularly in his signature solo in “Saloon,” that old barbershop ode to the joys of being a barfly: “I’ve been looking through the dictionary/ for a word that’s always running through my mind . . .”

As a cum laude major in chemical engineering at Yale, Sam had a grasp of scientific vocabulary beyond many of us. But he was a Midwesterner, schooled in modesty, and he wore his brilliance lightly. He was born in Cincinnati, the son of Alvin and Martha Knoll. His high school, Walnut Hills, was one of the nation’s finest. At Yale, he found time to take his nose out of the dictionary for well-lubricated fellowship at Phi Gamma Delta and to pursue his musical interests in the Glee Club, the Augmented Seven, and the Whiffs. None of these activities prevented him from being elected to the engineering honor society, Tau Beta Pi, and receiving the New York Yale Club High Scholar Award and Prize for Excellence in Chemical Engineering. He received an MBA, magna cum laude, from Stanford. He married a hometown girl, Carol Hines, who survives him. They raised three children, Sam II, Charles and Katherine, who also survive him. He went on to a successful business career during which he was CFO of Canberra Industries and later owner and president of Home Health Products. Community-spirited, he was Senior Warden at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in New Haven, and an active board member of the Virginia Beach Public Library.

Sam spent his summers near or on the water. He and his family had a beautiful place on the Leelenau Peninsula of Michigan, and as a member of the Omena-Traverse Yacht Club, he expertly navigated the tricky waters of Lake Michigan. During other summers, on Martha’s Vineyard, he excelled at clam digging and epic water-gun fights with his grandchildren, Hunter, Jack, Griffin, Harry and Samantha. His second wife, Sharon Ladd, a fine skipper, was equally at home on the water. Always the good citizen, Sam was president of the Omena Village Preservation Association and active in SCORE, the nation’s largest association of volunteer business mentors. But he was perhaps proudest of his membership in Knot’s Beer Club, a venerable watering hole in Omena, on whose ceiling his name is forever inscribed.

Notwithstanding his love of a good time (as a Whiff he was a member of the “hard core,” noted for their reluctance to call it a night), Sam exuded a quiet, reliable steadiness. Several years after Yale, he joined a few Whiffs and their wives and girlfriends on a sailing holiday from Essex, Connecticut to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The voyage was perilous, beset with high seas, loss of radar and hangovers. As they approached the Isles of Shoals, their visibility was obliterated by fog. The wind was howling; the boat heaving. Sam took the helm and with expert reckoning somehow steered them to safe harbor.


– Charles Michener