Two Decades after Sam Todd's Disappearance, Yale Divinity School Remembers Him
Two decades after being called back from Christmas recess to help search for missing classmate Sam Todd, Yale Divinity School alumni will gather in Marquand Chapel on October 11 for a service in his honor: Mourning a Loss, Celebrating a Life.
Todd was entering his last term at YDS when he disappeared in New York City in the early morning hours of January 1, 1984 after a night of celebration with his younger brother, Adam, and friends from Vassar College, where Sam Todd had earned his undergraduate degree in 1981. Countless hours of street-by-street searches in New York by YDS students, faculty and friends; placement on the New York City Police Department's Missing Persons list; thousands of fliers posted throughout New York City; multiple articles in the New York Times and other major media—all failed to turn up any trace of the 24-year-old student who was known for his love of jazz and his commitment to peace and justice issues.
Scheduled to preside at the service is Letty M. Russell, professor emerita of theology, who was teaching at YDS when Todd was a student. A luncheon will be held prior to the 1:30 p.m. service, which is being held in conjunction with Convocation and Reunions 2005. Alumni are being invited to share memories of Todd or recollections of the search in New York City that will be put into a Yale Divinity School memory book of Sam Todd.
Speaking in Marquand Chapel shortly after the disappearance, Professor William Muehl described the response of the YDS community at the time this way: “When word of their friend's absence reached the student body at Sterling Quadrangle, response was both immediate and dramatic. First by twos and threes in private cars and then by the score in chartered buses, young men and women descended on Manhattan and its immediate environs in search of their fellow student….For all our differences and conflicts there is at the heart of this community a kind of love which springs into sacrificial action when the right call is sounded.”
In Sam Todd's honor, YDS is establishing a scholarship fund aimed at providing financial aid to students from Africa or Asia who show an interest in ministries committed to social justice, empowerment of people and peace. Initial support for the fund comes from the Todd family and through the generosity of a friend of Sam Todd's parents—George Todd '51 B.D., a Presbyterian minister and former director for Urban Mission at the World Council of Churches, and Kathleen Todd.
Todd's deep social concerns were reflected in the kinds of activities he chose to pursue in New Haven: volunteering at a soup kitchen, employment at a Connecticut food bank, active participation in the Center for Human Rights and Economic Justice at YDS and working as an organizer in peace demonstrations. During the fall of 1983 he helped organize a conference called Civitas addressing issues of faith in the city.
As a Vassar student, he spent a summer traveling to Kenya and Zimbabwe. In Kenya he visited church-sponsored self-development projects in squatter communities and met trade union leaders. He met church leaders participating in national development and pressuring the government to work for more equal distribution of wealth. During his visit to Zimbabwe, Todd taught teenagers who had dropped out of school to take up arms in the liberation struggle, helping them catch up with their education.
In his application to Yale Divinity School, Todd had written, “At the Divinity School I would like to further explore our Judeo-Christian heritage which professes the movement in history toward the kingdom of God. I am attracted to the church because it is not bound by the demonic principalities of state institutions or private businesses. I believe it is the task of the church to join with the people and challenge those systems which repress the ability and potential of people to work toward a more just society.”
Two months before his disappearance, Sam Todd had passed the first round of Presbyterian ordination qualifying exams.