A Colorful Story by Ali Üstay
I met Andre at a dorm room over half a century ago. It was 1960 when we set our feet in Robert College as two 19-year-old freshmen. We were both placed to reside in Hamlin Hall. Soon after deciding who is sleeping in which bed, our dormitory became our home full of laughter and mischief while Andre and I, became friends for life.
Andre was one of the best students in our class. He was also a passionate classical music lover, a history lover and a voyager. When he told me his dream of buying a motorcycle someday and traveling the country with it, I told him that under no circumstances, he would take this trip without me. Then, we put our heads together and started to plan our first road trip. Andre bought a “motobecane,” a small motorcycle, and we headed off to Bodrum from Istanbul in the summer of 1961. We rode during the day enjoying gorgeous sightseeing and made stops at the most beautiful towns of Turkey such as Kuşadası, Milas and Didim. In the evenings, we slept on the beach in our sleeping bags spreading garlic all over ourselves to avoid snakes and pests. Once we were even woken up by curious gendarmes in the middle of the night. But we made it to Bodrum. When it was time to go back home, we filled our only helmet with cherries and headed back to Istanbul as we collected the engine parts falling from our bike.
Years passed, we graduated from college and Andre moved to the United States for his masters degree. Since Andre was a true bookworm, it wasn’t surprising for any of us that in addition to his MS in Computer Science from Princeton University, he received MBA and PhD degrees from New York University. As he started a family and a company in the United States, I did the same thousands of miles away in Istanbul. Regardless of which continent we resided in, we always stayed in touch and met for our traditional “raki-balik” dinners whenever Andre was back in town.
Few years ago, around the same time of our 40th anniversary of our road trip, Andre and I were having dinner accompanied by two of our friends- Mete and Ilhan. As we remembered the old days with a smile on our faces, we found ourselves embarked on a new adventure- another road trip. Even though we were 60 years old, we were young at heart. We packed our stuff, found ourselves two Harley Davidsons and set off from Istanbul to Bodrum. It was another unforgettable journey. Once again, we enjoyed delicious country food, gorgeous scenery and friendship. After greeting the emperors in the ancient cities and singing “Carmina Burana” along the way, we completed our trip.
Andre and I shared many passions in life- traveling, discovering new cultures, trying authentic food, riding motorcycles, playing backgammon… We were also both passionate about our home country and philanthropy. Can you think of a guy whose favorite song of all times was a Mediterranean anthem “Yasli gittim sen geldim”? That was Andre. He considered Turkey his home even though he lived in the United States most of his life. He strongly believed in giving back to Turkey. He was a true champion of investing in education. I was mesmerized when he donated $100,000 through TPF to TOVAK, a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve educational system that I supported to the fullest extent since its establishment. He was very happy that he found a vehicle such as TPF in the U.S. to help him with his philanthropic gift to Turkey.
We lost Andre after a long battle with a chronic illness in 2013 at the age of 72. There are no words to describe how I felt when I learned about his illness. Even though I miss him deeply, I know that he is at peace. His last wish was to come to Turkey as a Turkish citizen, something he wasn’t able to do after giving up his citizenship in the late 70s. Thanks to our friend Haldun Tashman, another Robert College alumni, Tahir and the support of the Turkish Consulate in Los Angeles, Andre got his wish. He came to Turkey as a citizen and passed away few months later after his trip. l feel very fortunate that I was placed at Hamlin Hall 56 years ago where I’ve met the most kind, intelligent and fun person I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.