Alan Young-Bryant (submitted photo)
Alan Young-Bryant (submitted photo)
Saturday December 22, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Fifteen years ago, two friends decided to combine two things they liked a lot: Ice cream and making money.

The young entrepreneurs decided what better way to do it than set up an ice cream stand in front of the Hotel Pharmacy on Elliot Street?

"We got all our permits and went to Ben and Jerry's in Waterbury to inquire about being able to sell their products," said Ben Heller, now 32, about Ben and Al's Ice Cream.

He and Alan Young-Bryant worked a deal to sell novelty ice creams out of an ice cream cooler, but it didn't work out as well as they had hoped.

"Alan and I ate most of the profits," said Heller. "We made about $100 over the summer, but it was fun."

Alan, 32, died on Dec. 5 in Ithaca, N.Y., in an accidental fall from a path along Cascadilla Gorge.

He and his partner, Alexis Briley, were in Ithaca, on the campus of Cornell University, to celebrate the successful completion of Briley's doctoral dissertation. Alan had received a doctorate from Cornell in 2011. His doctoral dissertation, a study of Victorian poetry, was titled "Perverse Form and Victorian Lyric."

"Our return to Ithaca felt like a homecoming," wrote Briley, in a prepared statement given to the Reformer. "But it also felt like our time in grad school was finally drawing to an end, and we were looking forward to the next phase of our lives together. There were still so many questions, but all the worries and cares of the past few months and years seemed to lift. For the first time in a long time we felt a sense of renewed confidence that we would figure it out. And we would be together."

And so it was that a time of celebration turned into a period of mourning for Briley, and Alan's family and friends.

"It was at a time when they were ready to get on with their lives," said Peter van Wageningen, his step-father. "They were ebullient about everything."

"He was passionate about life," said his mother, Judy van Wageningen. "He was a seeker, a researcher, a poet, a writer and an athlete. He found solace and restoration in being out in the natural world."

"It's such a shocking, awful loss," said Ben Heller, who called Alan "The best friend I ever had."

Heller and Alan both grew up in the Oak Grove neighborhood, went to school in Brattleboro and graduated from Northfield Mount Hermon in Gill, Mass., in 1998.

Though Alan and Briley had been living in California, Heller said he kept in touch with his old friend by telephone and often saw him during the holidays.

"He was such a bright kid," said Heller, who is a licensed clinical social worker in West Hartford, Conn. "He had always gravitated to the humanities and excelled in that area."

James Ingram met Alan in junior high school and they played Little League baseball together.

"He's received a lot of accolades for his work as an academic, but I can remember getting into various high-jinks with him," said Ingram. "It was sort of strange seeing him being this serious academic just knowing his youthful exuberance back in the day."

Ingram and Alan had grown apart when Alan went to Northfield Mount Hermon, but when he and Briley moved to Los Angeles, where Ingram works as a sound engineer, they began to reconnect.

"He seemed to be a little more serious," said Ingram, who is 33. "He had matured. But you could still see it in his eyes -- he enjoyed a good laugh."

When Alan showed up in L.A., said Ingram, it was as if he brought a little bit of Brattleboro with him.

"He was a real Vermont kid. He had a sense of honesty and a good grounding."

Alan was also good for a heated discussion about just about anything, said Ingram.

"He enjoyed a thoughtful debate but without getting all up in arms about it. He understood the world is filled with shades of gray."

Tom Gilbert coached his son, Ben, and Alan in baseball.

"He was a skilled, strong, quick player," said Gilbert. "But basketball was his forte."

Tom Gilbert hadn't talked to Alan in almost 20 years, and when his son told him that his old friend had received a doctorate in Victorian poetry, he was surprised at first. But when he thought about it for a few minutes, the surprise vanished.

"To get a doctorate in a field like that means you are dedicated. He was that type of young man."

"We did everything together," said Ben Gilbert, including Little League and AAU basketball. "He had a nice blend of athleticism and smarts."

While Gilbert, who runs a direct-marketing investment firm in Stowe, wasn't surprised his friend received a doctorate, the subject of his dissertation was a shock.

"You don't see that very often," he said, adding when he mentioned it to Alan, "It gave us both a little chuckle."

Doug Kroc and Judy van Wageningen, Alan's mother, taught social studies at Brattleboro Area Middle School.

"I had Alan as a student," said Kroc. "But I got to know him when he was 8 or 10 years old because he would come into Judy's classroom during inservice or during setup times."

Though Kroc lost touch with Alan when he went to Northfield Mount Hermon, he remembered him as "a very well-balanced kid" who could have a real conversation with an adult.

"In some ways, he was an unremarkable kid," said Kroc. "He paid attention and did his work, but he was really interested in playing basketball and checking out the girls."

Judy and her husband, Peter van Wageningen, kept Kroc up to date on Alan's career.

"I was never surprised to hear he was being successful. "He was a quality student."

Diane Abel, who taught Alan in middle school, said her former student had a very inquisitive mind.

"And he had a super smile that just lit up his face," she said. "He left us much too soon."

Alan was also passionate about cooking, but more so because it brought lively dinner conversation, said his mother.

"He was passionate about community. He loved sharing around the table."

Peter van Wageningen said when Alan and his sister, Noelle, were growing up, every dinner was an occasion, lit with candles and filled with music, food and words.

Alan was an avid cross-country skier, a runner, a squash player and a sailor.

"He was everything we would have wanted in a son," said Judy.

A memorial service for Alan is scheduled for Jan. 13, at 2 p.m., at the Chapel of Northfield Mount Hermon. The family has established a memorial fund in his honor. Contributions should be marked "In Memory of Alan Young-Bryant" and sent to Cornell University for the benefit of the English Department, 130 E. Seneca St., Suite 400, Ithaca, N.Y., 14850. There are also plans to establish a memorial fund in his honor at Northfield Mount Hermon and Brattleboro Area Middle School.

Reflections on Alan's life can be posted at facebook.com/inmemoryof alan.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette. reformer.