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At Phillips reunion, 90 years of reflection

Alumnus is first to hit milestone

C. Yardley Chittick, 107, accompanied Donald Abbott during Phillips Academy's alumni parade in Andover yesterday. C. Yardley Chittick, 107, accompanied Donald Abbott during Phillips Academy's alumni parade in Andover yesterday. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Tania deLuzuriaga
Globe Staff / June 15, 2008

ANDOVER - Much has changed at Phillips Academy since C. Yardley Chittick graduated. Students now use computers, cellphones, and ballpoint pens. Girls are admitted. The football and hockey teams wear pads.

The sole remaining graduate of the class of 1918, Chittick yesterday was the first alumnus in the school's 230-year history to attend his 90th high school reunion.

Crowds cheered as the 107-year-old former patent attorney led the alumni parade through campus, and in a later ceremony inside Cochoran Chapel, Chittick was given a standing ovation as he was presented with a proclamation from the board of trustees.

"I didn't plan this," Chittick said yesterday as he waited to have his picture taken with other members of the "Old Guard," alumni who graduated at least 70 years ago.

"I'm just lucky," he said.

Since Chittick's birth on Oct. 22, 1900, there have been two world wars, 19 men have been elected president of the United States, and the Red Sox have won the World Series seven times.

"When he heard the Red Sox had won the 2004 World Series, he was the only person I know who said, "What? Again?" joked Michael Ebner, director of alumni affairs at Phillips Academy.

A native of Newark, Chittick was sent to Andover by an uncle after he failed a high school French class.

"One of the best things that happened to me was that my mother's brother became wealthy," he said. "Because he was wealthy, I got my education."

At Andover, Chittick excelled at running and played right wing on the hockey team back when the games were played on Rabbit Pond. It was also there that he met his nemesis, the future actor Humphrey Bogart, who lived across the hall - the pair came to blows after Chittick refused to shine Bogart's shoes. But they also took part in some youthful hijinks together, sneaking out of their dormitory with a group of boys one night and walking to North Wilmington to watch a fire, not returning until 3 a.m.

"The trustees of Phillips Academy do hereby cancel all punishments long overdue for that escapade," said Barbara Landis Chase, the head of school.

After Andover, Chittick went to MIT, where he majored in mechanical engineering, was a low-hurdle track champion, and a proud member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity. (The oldest living brother in the fraternity, he donated his membership pin to the Beta Theta Pi archives last year.)

After graduating in 1922, Thomas Edison offered him a job, but he turned it down, thinking it would be more fun to work for a company that manufactured golf clubs. When the Depression hit, he went to law school, passing the bar in 1934. He practiced until he was 85.

A great-grandfather of six, Chittick said yesterday that he does not really have any secrets to longevity. He sailed for much of his life, exercised regularly, and played golf well past his 100th birthday, the Concord Monitor noted in 2005.

He never smoked and drank in moderation - a screwdriver every night with dinner was reportedly his libation of choice.

Now residing in an assisted-living facility in Concord, N.H., Chittick makes his breakfast and lunch each day and dresses for formal tea each afternoon. He still plays the mandolin, and is known to break into the song "Take me back to Tech" when speaking in front of large groups, said his son, 80-year-old Charles Y. Chittick Jr., who was among the four generations of family present for the event yesterday.

"He's really with it," his son said. "He enjoys the notoriety of all this."

Tania deLuzuriaga can be reached at deluzuriaga@globe.com.

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