In Memoriam: Henry G. Bethe, 71

Banker and World-Class Bridge Player

Henry G. Bethe of Cayuga Heights, NY, a former Chase banker and renowned bridge player, passed away on Sunday, June 7 2015, at the age of 71. The cause of death was cardiac arrest as a result of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Bethe worked for many years in London and New York City as an investment banker for Chase Manhattan, retiring as a vice president in charge of strategic financial planning. He moved to Ithaca, NY to help care for his parents (his father was Nobel Prize-winning physicist Hans Bethe) and focus on his lifelong passion for bridge.

Bethe was a prominent player in the bridge community, having won North American Bridge Championship events in 1968, 1987 and 1991, as well as numerous high-finishes over five decades of high-level competition. He obtained the status of American Contract Bridge League Grand Life Master in 2006. In the last few years of his life, as his diminishing health limited his travel, he continued to be a tireless contributor to several competition committees of the United States Bridge Federation, providing thoughtful internet commentary and writing numerous articles on bridge.

Chief among his many contributions to the game of bridge, Bethe developed a new way to calculate scoring for round-robin bridge matches, which was adopted both by the United States Bridge Federation and the World Bridge Federation. Henry was an avid reader, gourmet cook, and lifelong stamp collector. He is survived by his mother, Rose, sister, Monica, and son, Paul, as well as numerous family members from all over the world.

Memorial contributions may be made to the United States Bridge Federation Junior Program. A memorial service will be held in the coming weeks.

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Anyone wishing to share a remembrance should send it to

From Tony Terracciano: Having smart people around you keeps you alert. But when Bob Lichten and Henry Bethe came to meetings, you became both alert and humble. Henry had a mind that could soar into conceptual areas few could visit.Yet,he was patient with those of us who were ordinary. A nice man and a great teacher. May he rest in peace.

From Jack MacPhail: Tony said it best. I was fortunate enough to be in some of those meetings, and remember Henry and I attempting to pursuade Tony on some investment. He (Tony) spotted a conceptual error in our presentation but just then, the phone rang, distracting Tony, and Henry and I looked at each other, hoping Tony T would come back to the conversation sans our conceptual error. Sure enough, he did and Henry and I dodged another one. Having spent time in Ithaca, I had first hand knowledge of where Henry got his mind-scary, just scary and at the same time, what a sweet man. One of the good ones.

From Phillip Sorace: I had the honor and pleasure of working with Henry as a small apostrophe on a few of his projects. I can only underscore Jack’s and Tony’s comments about his impressive intellect. But, what struck me most about him was his patience and kindness. Once, having read that Richard Feynman had instructed him as a child on how to imagine the concept of infinity, I jumped Henry in the hallway on 35 and pressed him for a full account of his relationship with his “godfather”. He patiently answered my questions and kindly tolerated my awe of his personal relationship with one of my heroes. He was a very good man.

From Srikanth Sankaran: I worked with Henry on one project that lasted about five days in the mid-1980s. I was basically a glorified computer programmer working in Treasury and his group needed help in pricing a bond that they were proposing to a client. Siting around a conference room on a rainy Tuesday AM, sipping awful coffee (no Starbucks in those days), Henry and his team were trying to structure a unique bond that would both be economical for the issuer and also for a group of buyers that Chase was working with. I still retain my notes from those meetings. Henry and his team discussed -- this is in 1984 -- concepts that we would now recognize as payment-in-kind bonds and credit default swaps. Alas, they decided that these concepts were too esoteric to get past product committees at the issuer, the buyers and at Chase. They decided on a straightforward bond and, unfortunately for me, no longer needed by assistance.

From Mich Araten: I worked with Henry on a number of projects. Talking with him one realized what an extraordinarily nice person he was. He seemed unflappable and explained his approaches in a clear and patient tone.  I recall one project in 1989 where we were working to design a special security (R-stock) that new investors could reap benefits if the bank's troubled real estate portfolio did well and thus insulate existing shareholders.  To design the parameters he claimed that he could do this analytically, while I claimed I could flush out the parameters using computer simulation. It was a friendly race. I was glad to tell him (one day later) that our results matched.

From George Rapport: I remember being in a conference room in 1986 with Henry Bethe and several others when the news of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster was announced. Henry, without hesitation, said that the cause was the malfunction of the seals on the rocket body – he was absolutely correct. It took NASA several days, I think, to confirm their finding of the cause, which showed that Henry was right.  Henry was a remarkable person.  

From Peter Larr: It was a privilege and a particular pleasure to not only work with Henry on an issue or opportunity, but simply to be in his presence. Others have used adjectives such as "good" and "sweet". I had so many opportunities to see those traits while being mesmerized by his other dimensional mind.
From Yoram Kinberg: I had the privilege of hiring Henry in 1975 to join our ‘quantitative’/analytical unit within the International Department. I used to give potential candidates a ‘game’ to test their quantitative skills, which Henry figured out instantly. Henry had one of the best analytical minds I have come across, yet showed patience and modesty in dealing with less  gifted  people. In addition,Henry had the unique ability to explain complicated issues in a simple, easy to understand way.

From Charles Newman: As part of Yoram's unit at the time that we interviewed and then hired Henry, I can only say that while everyone in the unit was very smart, Henry was in a class by himself. Also, his hiring was a perfect example of not going by standard human resource screening policy. Henry, at the time that Yoram hired him, was a professional bridge player. He did not have the academic or business experience credentials to pass HR muster. Fortunately, Yoram had the foresight to look at the person rather than the credentials. What a great addition to the Chase team.

From Jacklyn Johnston: "Henry was a great and creative hire for the bank, and perhaps more importantly, what a wonderful opportunity to experience his brilliant mind, astonishing creativity and beautiful heart. Some people you remember so clearly....  Sending him love."

From Toni Geyelin: Henry was indeed a very special person with enormous heart and a lovely and highly developed sense of the absurd. As I recall, while he did play brilliant bridge, he had also worked at Bell Labs prior to joining Chase and was among a very small group of highly intellectual and conceptual thinkers at Bell Labs who were, at the time, an extremely selective cadre of wizards.
     Working with Henry was a challenge, a delight and fun. I had the pleasure when we were both working with Marsh Carter in the International Financial Controls unit. What a wonderful man – so generous of spirit, funny, kind and positively brilliant beyond belief. 

From Raj Singh: I got to meet Henry as a member of Bob Lichten's tax committee. Henry, in his inimitable brilliant manner, explained to me the concept of the Bank's tax cushion and the financial products that used tax cushion – a fairly arcane subject in the early 1980s. Since most of the loan products were withholding tax loans to Latin America, the International group under Frank Stankard was responsible for this. Together with Herb Cohen and with Henry's guidance, we were able to manage tax cushion profitably until the loan defaults hit us. A brilliant analytical mind, Henry was an amazing mentor and will be greatly missed.

From Mike Esposito: Without question Henry Bethe was one of the most brilliant minds I had occasion to work with during my career at Chase Manhattan. I spent a lot of time working with Henry and Bob Lichten on capital and tax planning and other financial projects that were deemed important to the Bank. Beyond his brilliance, Henry was a delightful and thoughtful person to work with. In a nutshell, he was a gentleman. Over the years, I had several discussions  with him that I will always cherish, about his Nobel Prize-winning physicist father, Hans Bethe, and his father’s work on the Manhattan Project. In recent years, I had occasion to talk with Henry several times about how he was doing up in Cayuga Heights, New York, and he was always in good spirits, as we talked about old times at Chase. I will miss him.

From Robert Mohamed: During the formative years of CML leading to the creation of CIB, Henry was the big senior guy in the corner office who guided and inspired me during the early years of my Chase career. He possessed an incredible mind and often guided me when I needed it most. I recall many meetings in his office with other more senior people and he would always ask me as the most junior Associate member, “Robert, what do you think?” I screwed up monumentally once by sending an offer telex to the Kingdom of Belgium and the name of the client was shown as The Kingdom of Spain. I learned a harsh lesson but Henry pulled me aside and said, “just don’t do it again.” I never did!!!