Graduation day is here, and Henry Ramer is fretting about his next steps once he receives his master’s degree in global affairs from Rutgers University-Newark.
Such concerns are typical for college students. What makes Ramer unusual is that he is receiving his master’s degree from the Graduate School’s Division of Global Affairs May 18 at age 73, having retired in 2012 from a successful career as a real estate and zoning attorney in Wayne.
“I’m approaching a precipice, I’m going to get my degree and I don’t have any obvious program of study in front of me,” said Ramer, who intends to explore options pursuing a Ph.D. or teaching at the university level.
“I can’t really imagine that I would stop going to school or taking courses,” Ramer said. “It’s just too much a part of who I am.”
Ramer received his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University-New Brunswick in 1962 and earned his law degree from Columbia Law School in 1966. Two years with the Peace Corps followed in Brazil, where he found the time to pick up a certificate of specialization from the University of Sao Paulo.
During his career as an attorney in Wayne with Williams, Caliri Miller & Otley, PC, Ramer took up gardening which led to attending classes at Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station Cooperative Extension. He bought a Nikon camera and signed up for courses in photography. To retain his law license, additional classes were required to stay current in his field.
Ramer, who speaks four languages, worked on an Israeli kibbutz and has visited more 50 countries, felt drawn to the global affairs program at Rutgers-Newark following retirement. He opted for Rutgers over Columbia and New York University because of the convenience and in-state tuition savings.
“The other students were, I think, surprised or puzzled to see me there,” he said. “I think many of them were doing this as a way to enhance their careers and I think they had trouble getting their heads around the idea that somebody would do this just out of the interest of it.”
Studying events from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s may have felt like history to his fellow students, but for Ramer they recalled times he had experienced. A professor who had difficulty recalling names when relating anecdotes would turn to Ramer in class for a helping hand.
“He would sort of look at me and I would give him the name,” Ramer said.While attending Rutgers as an undergraduate, Ramer worked at The Daily Targum where he became editor-in-chief in 1962. As a journalist, Ramer broke the story that Rutgers would no longer require ROTC training for male students and helped lead an editorial campaign urging campus fraternities, which were then racially segregated, to welcome African-American members.
It was also at The Targum, under the tutelage of then-editor Robert Weiner (1961), that Ramer gained his introduction to global affairs. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was visiting the United Nations, a visit made famous when he took off a shoe and banged a desk to get attention.
“Robert Weiner takes it upon himself on the front page of The Targum to write an open letter to Nikita Khrushchev inviting him to address the campus,” Ramer recalled. New Brunswick at the time was home to a large population of Hungarian émigrés who had fled their homeland after the Soviet Union’s bloody repression of a popular uprising in 1956.
“When they saw that was being invited to Rutgers they went absolutely berserk,” Ramer recalled. “Mason Gross, who was the president of Rutgers at the time, was under the gun. Assemblymen were calling him and saying ‘no more money, no more funding’.”
Ramer was working in the newsroom when the phone rang and he heard a “very cold” voice on the other end. “The voice says, ‘This is President Gross. Let me talk to Bob Weiner.’ I put the phone down, I run quick into Weiner’s office and say, ‘Bob! Bob! The president is on the phone, he wants to talk to you!’” Ramer recalled.
Ramer, “being sneaky,” had kept his phone off the hook and picked up the receiver long enough to hear the president of Rutgers direct a choice expletive to Weiner regarding his invitation to Khrushchev. The visit did not take place and Weiner went on to a successful career at ABC News.
Ramer, for his part, took up his career in law; met his wife Carol, who graduated from Douglass College in 1970; and became the father of two daughters, Sarah, a physician, and Paula, an attorney.
While Ramer’s professional future is uncertain, he has plenty to keep him busy. As a volunteer with American Jewish World Service he lobbies on Capitol Hill for international women’s rights and LGBT issues and is traveling to the Dominican Republic in a few weeks to meet with local grantee agencies and review their programs. Next month he and Carol are taking a cruise to the United Kingdom, which includes Ireland and Iceland. He enjoys babysitting his grandchildren, Eli, age 4, and Alexandra, 7 months, at least one day a week with Carol. He exercises regularly, swimming at the Y, biking and jogging, though he’s given up marathons. (He’s run four.)
His daughter, Sarah, is now completing her residency in internal medicine and pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark.
"The older I get, the more I find myself telling people about my dad and all his interests and hobbies and experiences, not to mention how funny and gentle and generous he is. It's like I'm a proud parent, only it's the other way around,” she said.
Click here to meet more outstanding members of the Class of 2015