By Ruth Steinhardt
When Peter Morin arrived at George Washington University as a freshman in the late 1970s, enrolled in a “Politics and Values” residential program at Thurston Hall, he met all but one of his suitemates. . The late arrival finally showed up, disappeared into the last available room, and didn’t come out for “a day and a half,” recalls Morin, BA ’81.
The sequel mate’s name was Leon Rosenman, and the first impression Morin jokingly recounts was completely unusual for the person who would be Morin’s best friend for over four decades. (It turned out that Rosenman had worked a multi-day shift at McDonald’s shortly before arriving at GW, Morin said.)
Other first impressions were more accurate, like the friend who first recalls seeing Rosenman perched on a classmate’s shoulders, wearing — for unknown reasons — a headlamp. As a college student, Rosenman led Halloween expeditions to the Watergate Hotel, ventured to Washington, D.C., for underground punk gigs, and hosted 2 a.m. tea parties. His friends describe him as a quiet, witty, kind and energetic social star, around whom groups gravitate without seeming to realize it.
“He was a force of nature,” Morin said. “It was like a magnetic thing. He pulled us all together and we were just in his orbit.
Rosenman and his circle of GW friends have remained close in the decades since graduating in 1981, even hosting regular video calls on Fridays during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rosenman maintained a database of the birthdays of his friends and loved ones, contacting them every year and — subtly, without judgment, by apparent accident — getting others to do the same. This focus on connection went beyond birthdays, especially for mutual friends going through tough times.
“He was a caretaker, and he had this high level of awareness when other people were hurting – and he was really good at making strategic emotional connections, like, ‘OK, you’re the best person to help so-and-so with this,’ said Rose Hayden, BA ’81. Like Morin and Rosenman, Hayden spent her junior year of college at Thurston and still cherishes the friendships she made there. “He was such an important part of the tapestry of our lives .”
So when Rosenman passed away suddenly last October, Morin, Hayden, and several other GW friends found themselves looking for ways to channel their grief and honor someone irreplaceable. They found an opportunity that brought them full circle: the renovation of Thurston Hall, which should be ready to move in by August 2022. Why not name a space for Rosenman in the building where so many of them l met and met for the first time – somewhere such lasting friendships could potentially begin and grow?
Kevin Crilly, BA ’81, who has a fundraising background, took on the work of organizing the awareness process among Rosenman’s GW friends. Crilly’s first memory of Rosenman was also at Thurston: as a freshman, Crilly worked boring shifts at the front desk of the residence hall, opening mail, answering the phone, and answering student questions. On Friday afternoons, he recalled, a noisy group of students from the Politics and Values program were “ramming the doors on the first floor,” heading for happy hour (legal at the time for 18-year-olds). One of these students noticed Crilly and started chatting with him at the office, gradually dragging Crilly into the social whirlwind. The student was, of course, Leon Rosenman.
“That’s the kind of guy he was,” Crilly said.
Hayden said the naming opportunities created by Thurston’s renovation felt like “the perfect storm” to pay homage to both Rosenman and where their band originally connected.
“We had this big thing, and we had it because we all lived in this crazy dorm,” she said.
Considering Rosenman’s influence on so many lives, his friends seem almost unsurprised by the meteoric way the fundraising campaign has taken off. A relatively small group of about 40 alumni have now raised more than $175,000, enough not only to name Thurston’s 7th-floor courtyard terrace in Rosenman’s honor, but also to start thinking about other ways to make his legacy last at GW.
They are now expanding the fund’s awareness beyond the initial small group of friends, with goals including a Thurston Programming Fund to support students transitioning to college and one or more scholarship programs. Somehow, the group hopes to materially impact the lives of GW students, just as Rosenman impacted theirs.
“There are a lot more than 30 people that Leon Rosenman has touched, people who feel the emptiness that I feel,” Morin said. “Leon – not just his loss, but his friendship – made us realize the importance of human connection. We just want it to continue. We’re not done. That’s just the first thing; let’s move on. next.
The GW community is invited to join the effort to give back to the memory of Leon Rosenman.