One of the more unusual gifts brown has received from an alumnus was a sixty-three-foot-long yacht with mahogany planks, a titanium mast, and 1,750 square feet of sail. When it was built in the late 1960s by famed yacht designer Olin J. Stephens, it was said to be the biggest and fastest vessel of its kind ever constructed. At one point the King of Greece took the Valiant for a sail and returned to describe the experience as being “just like taking dope.”
The donor, Robert McCullough, was a businessman and sailing enthusiast who had been at the helm of the Valiant in the 1970 America’s Cup time trials in Newport, Rhode Island. McCullough had put on an impressive performance, but was ultimately defeated by the reigning champions on the Intrepid. He never made it to the Cup race itself, and the boat was no longer of use. “When we decided to give her away,” McCullough told a reporter, “many [of the yacht’s owners] wanted to give her to their alma maters. As the strongest member was a Brown man … well, that’s how Brown got the Valiant.” McCullough died in August in Greenwich, Connecticut, after a brief illness. He was 86.
McCullough started sailing when he was six. “Looking back, I think there was always a sailboat of some sort tied to my family’s dock,” he told the BAM in July 1970. During his senior year at Brown, McCullough entered the Army. In 1972, when McCullough was nominated to be a final candidate for alumni trustee, he wrote to Brown, “I am deeply honored by the Alumni Council’s nomination of me.…
However, I must point out that … when World War II was over I had to go to work to support my family and therefore did not actually graduate from Brown. In view of this the Council might wish to reconsider the nomination.” The council did not, and so McCullough served as an alumni trustee from 1979 to 1984. At the end of his tenure he was awarded an honorary bachelor of philosophy degree.
For his day job, McCullough worked as a senior officer at Collins and Aikman, a manufacturing company, and later as chairman of the board of Chesapeake Petroleum in Maryland. But his real passion was sailing. Shortly after the Valiant’s defeat, McCullough became manager of the syndicate behind the Courageous. In 1974 the white-hulled Courageous won the America’s Cup, trouncing its Australian competitor. It was such a drubbing that the Providence Journal reported, “Some Australian newsmen aboard the press boat Hel-Cat stopped watching, and a few took naps.” McCullough, who was not one of the sailors, jumped on the yacht afterwards. He and his teammates doused each other with the champagne stowed away on the ship.
A month after this victory, Brown put the Valiant up for sale. Although it had cost several million to build, its value at the time was around $100,000.
McCullough is survived by his wife, Margaret Hammons McCullough, and four children.