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Shelter Island Reporter obituary: David Rogers

David Rogers, a professor of sociology and a devoted summer resident of Shelter Island, where he moonlighted as a jazz piano player for nearly 40 years, died on February 27 at his home in Manhattan. He was 88.

The cause of death was prostate cancer, his family said.

David Rogers

Along with his wife, Theresa, and their sons, Ed, Alex and Paul, David first visited Shelter Island in 1974 at the recommendation of friends. Taken by the Island’s charms, including its old gingerbread homes, welcoming golf courses and small-town New England feel, he returned every summer for the rest of his life. After renting for two seasons, the family bought a house in the Heights and later moved to a home they built in Hilo Shores.

A native of Newton, Massachusetts, David was the son of Herman and Helen Rogers, the third of four boys. He earned his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard University.

He was drawn to the field for its focus on social and institutional behavior in the public and private sectors. Over the course of his career, he studied and wrote about class structure, the culture of corporations and conflicts between community activism and city bureaucracies. On a personal note, David set out to explore why Americans such as his father, a small businessman who struggled during the Great Depression, often attributed career hardships to their own failures rather than to the prevailing social, economic and political forces of the time.

David moved from Boston to New York City in the fall of 1959 to become an assistant professor of sociology at Columbia University. There he caught the eye of a graduate student in sociology named Theresa Falaguerra. They began dating the following semester and became engaged six weeks later, marrying on September 2, 1960, at Columbia’s Faculty House.

David later joined the faculty of New York University, where as a tenured professor he would teach, conduct research and write books for more than four decades. He served as chair of the Department of Management at NYU’s Stern School of Business from 1991 to 1997.

In the mid-1960s, he undertook what would become the defining work of his career: a landmark examination of the failures of the centrally run New York City schools. His ensuing book, “110 Livingston Street,” was published in 1968, its title referring to the address of the Board of Education headquarters. The book helped fuel the powerful movement that led to decentralization and community control of the city’s public schools.

David went on to write numerous other books, including “Can Business Management Save the Cities?” (1978); “110 Livingston Street Revisited” (1983), co-authored by Norman H. Chung; “The Future of American Banking” (1993); “The Big Four British Banks” (1999); and “Mayoral Control of the New York City Schools” (2009). Most recently, he contributed a chapter on management versus bureaucracy to “Summer in the City: John Lindsay, New York and the American Dream” (2014), edited by Joseph P. Viteritti.

David’s passion for improving life in New York City extended to volunteer work he did on behalf of youth hockey programs, culminating in an award for Father of the Year by the Greater New York City Ice Hockey League in 1974.

But as all who knew him would attest, David was defined by far more than his work. A devoted husband, father, grandfather and friend, he savored weekends and summer vacations on Shelter Island. He had an abiding love of golf, which he developed as a caddie in his youth at clubs in the Boston suburbs and that he passed on to his three sons.

The Rogerses joined Gardiner’s Bay Country Club in the late 1970s and played as a family foursome whenever they could, including the hearty tradition of a Thanksgiving Day round.

David’s second lifelong passion was jazz piano, and it was on Shelter Island that he began his side career as a musician. He played his first gig at the Pridwin Hotel on Memorial Day weekend in 1981. As a preview, the Reporter ran a profile of him (“Sociologist Swings Back Into Jazz”) in which he described his musical roots in the swing era and the life balance that music gave him. He did much of his scholarly writing at home, he told his interviewer, and found himself increasingly moving between his IBM Selectric typewriter and his baby grand piano.

“During the past year or so, I have managed to practice up to two hours a day,” he said. “It doesn’t get in the way of sociology. Actually, it’s a release from the tensions of writing.”

With a repertoire that spanned the old show tunes and jazz standards and more recently included Bach’s “Art of the Fugue,” David went on to play at various venues on the Island and the South Fork — enjoying each gig as much as the audience. In the late 1980s, he provided dinner entertainment on Fridays and Saturdays at the Shelter Island Yacht Club.

He also performed many times over the years at Gardiner’s Bay and had a steady gig in the mid- to late- 2000s at the Dering Harbor Inn.

David is survived by his wife; his sons; his daughters-in-law, Melissa Long and Pam Rogers; and seven grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m on March 17 at Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York City. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his honor to Work Inc., 25 Beach Street, Dorchester, MA 02122.