BRANFORD, Conn. – Richard “Dick” Brotherton Schreiber, 84, died Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, at Connecticut Hospice, surrounded by family. Born Nov. 25, 1929, he was the son of Maida Wade Rooney Schreiber and Martin Schreiber.
Richard attended Yale University as a member of the Class of 1954, and would later become an enthusiastic advocate for, and contributor to, Yale’s events and programs. At about age 30, he embarked on a lifelong career in public service as a staffer at the Connecticut Department of Labor. This was followed by a position, soon to become chief, in the research department at the Connecticut Mental Health Center. There, he met a fetching nurse, Pamela Johnson Petersen. The two soon discovered how well they suited each other. Each had three children and a mind to meld families. They adored each other’s sense of humor and contributed to each other’s sense of well-being as they pursued endeavors and career paths. A central fact of Richard’s life, through the 44 years of his marriage with Pamela, was his devotion to his wife, whom he unfailingly called “dear,” even in the third person. This devotion was noted and admired by colleagues and friends as Richard followed a career that took him to the position of director of research and planning with the Connecticut State Police, and finally with the Connecticut Commission on the Deaf and Hearing Impaired, where he served as deputy director for 20 years before retiring in 1994. The latter position was particularly rewarding for Richard, personally and professionally. An aficionado of languages – possessing various degrees of proficiency with French, Hebrew, Russian, and more – Richard enjoyed learning American Sign Language, and concocted quite a few of his own signs, much to the amusement of the commission’s constituents. He was also a tireless advocate for the commission at the legislative and public relations levels. Beyond his work life, Richard had a number of interests. He enjoyed sports as a youngster, and liked to play golf with his father. With the birth of his first child, he became interested in photography. Many were the times when he pulled out his camera – his first a 1950s vintage mounted with the old-fashioned flashbulb and reflector – and arranged poses or commemorated activities. He loved big family occasions – the formal dinners and bridge parties hosted by his father and stepmother, and the hubbub of holidays shared with Pamela and their six children around a long wooden table. He liked to sail in their knockabout, somehow fitting all the children into the cockpit and sharing around tiller and sheeting duties. After meeting Pamela, he quickly became enchanted by her home stomping grounds in Maine, enjoying her lively family there as well as the rougher coastal and rural environment. Richard was fond of books and documents, anything that hinted at the richness of culture, history, and language. As a young man, he sought out second-hand book sales, and wouldn’t often leave without at least a few boxes full of dusty tomes. Over the decades, his collections grew to enormous proportions at times (periodically culled by his patient wife). He felt right at home surrounded by physical artifacts that connected him with humanity’s complex, sometimes messy, endeavors. By far, his favorite pastime was playing the piano. Self-taught, he loved the intricacies of jazz, which came naturally to him. He could learn and improvise on any tune from a chord chart. His skill, always undoubted and recognized at informal occasions, in later years finally brought him into deserved contact with professional musicians. Together, they formed The Standard Time Travelers and became the stuff of local legend. In gregarious mode, Richard was inimitable. He was a supreme storyteller – melding facts, whoppers, and facial expressions to create spot-on hilarity. His signature clothing code was a subject of fond amusement for his family, as it never failed to include ascot, suspenders, beret, shirt pocket loaded with pens, and chest-high trousers or shorts, the latter mixed with knee-high socks and penny or tasseled loafers. In his youth an ardent cigar smoker who loved exotic labels, the scent of cedar boxes, and the sight of men hand-rolling tobacco, he later kicked the habit but continued to sport cigars as a prop that would become an inseparable part of his unique costume. If there was any one characteristic that most defined Richard, it was his belief in a person’s ability forge his own path, to re-invent himself if needed, and to evolve his personality. He believed in the efficacy of social convention, but he was also one to question convention as he searched for originality and authenticity. He instilled these values in his children and practiced them himself, ultimately joining his maverick ideas to the more reflective reserve that comes with age. This was best seen in his relationships with his grandchildren. All of his children and grandchildren agree that there could be no better Grandpa (or Tzayde) than Richard. A visit with Grandpa meant peeking into his many pockets to see what toys or special coins might lie within. He enjoyed their movies, indulged their tastes for newfangled technologies, stuffed them with restaurant meals, made witty toasts at their various birthdays and graduations, and visited their schools and activities. Richard had a way with folks. Friends and colleagues enjoyed his company, his intelligent news-of-the-day analyses, ready humor, concern for their well-being, and the little things he did for them, such as the plaque he commissioned for a friend upon her retirement. Deploying self-deprecating eccentricity, he completely charmed waitresses, clerks, and the random strangers of everyday life. His family celebrates his life by loving more fiercely. Richard was active on the Connecticut State Mental Health Board and was treasurer of the Regional Mental Health Board. He was on the boards of Branford Community Television and The Colony Foundation. He was a member of Berzelius, a secret society of Yale; the Yale Clubs of New Haven and New York; The Mory’s Association; and The Elizabethan Club of Yale University. He was a fellow of Branford College.
Besides his wife, Richard leaves his children, Stephen Schreiber, Laurie Schreiber, Kalpana (Jeanne Schreiber) Devi, Jay Petersen, Chris Petersen, and Erik Petersen; and 11 much-loved grandchildren, Naia Kete, Imani Devi Brown, Ezra Schreiber-MacQuaid, Jay Levi Petersen, Erik Asa Petersen, Cyrus Petersen, Pascal Petersen, Ashirah Kadijah Devi-Dalomba, Yahsiel Devi-Dalomba, Kaia Webb Petersen, and Nicolas Webb Petersen. He also leaves his beloved cousins, Jim Munves and wife, Barbara, and Peter Munves; and his stepsister, Teresa Parker. He was predeceased by his stepsister, Pat Stotter.
There will be no public service. A memorial service for friends and family will be held in the spring, time and place to be determined. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to James Blackstone Memorial Library, 758 Main St., Branford, CT 06405; or Fellowship Place, 441 Elm St., New Haven, CT 06511.