Brokedown Palace

Last weekend we celebrated the lives of Dave Talbott and Ann Bartlett Talbott.

It reminded many of us of Bob Callahan’s memorial service in Princeton Chapel in February 2015: a moving service in a beautiful space for an Ivy League squash coach who died too young. This time it was Battel Chapel on Yale’s campus. Like with Bob’s, there were hundreds of former players and friends in the pews. People came from across the country; a half dozen old buddies flew down from Canada. It was at once a reunion of Yale Squash, of the old hardball tour from forty-odd years ago, of the squash community at large. At the reception afterwards at Trumbull College, stories flowed for hours—just exactly who did what.

At Battel, it was bittersweet to remember their love story: born a day apart in California in June 1952, they died two days apart in Connecticut in September 2023. They were married for forty-six years.

A half dozen family members and friends eulogized Ann and Dave, often tearfully and always powerfully. Many spoke with a smile about Dave’s storytelling instincts, how he would spin long, circular tales, comparing him to James Joyce and Neal Cassidy. Dave talked for hours in his office at Payne Whitney, including the old office below court one. People spoke about six national championships, eight Ivy League titles, hijinks in Vermont, dancing at music festivals, getting pulled over on roadtrips, his surfer mien (tie-dyed flags appeared in the audience), recruiting visits, tight matches. Julie Greenwood, the executive director of Squash Haven, talked about how Dave helped start and sustain the after-school program. Blake Gilpin played the banjo. There were sunflowers seeds handed out in their honor.

Mark Talbott, Dave’s younger brother, outlined Dave’s CV: Dave’s very short stint at university in Arizona—when they said Dave couldn’t keep a German shepherd in the dorm, he dropped out. Dave’s many years in Detroit before coming to Yale in 1983.

Ming Tsai, his brother-in-law, talked about what it was like to play for Dave, then join the family, then have his own son play for Dave. He said Dave’s motto was: “Play hard—good things will happen.”

The most poignant moment at the service was not words but images: a great slideshow of photographs from Ann and Dave’s lives. A song accompanied the slideshow. It was that old standby, “Brokedown Palace” by the Grateful Dead: Fare you well, Dave and Ann. All the birds that were singing have flown except you alone….Fare you well, fare you well, I love you more than words can tell.