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Who is Dan Lufkin? Founding Connecticut Magazine was just one chapter in his incredible life story | Features

Who is Dan Lufkin? Founding Connecticut Magazine was just one chapter in his incredible life story | Features


Dan Lufkin is an important figure not just in Connecticut, the magazine he help found in 1971, but in Connecticut the state; a passionate environmentalist, he was the creator as well as the first head of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. And that was after an upstart career in finance where nearly single-handedly rewrote the rules for how Wall Street does business.

Fifty years ago, three men prominent in state Republican politics joined forces to buy an obscure circular with a smattering of subscribers and turn it into the magazine you are now reading. Today only one of those founders remains — Dan Lufkin, who this month celebrates his 90th birthday, even as his former magazine turns 50. 

Lufkin’s résumé reads like a brightly colored puzzle whose pieces don’t fit. Magazine owner. U.S. Marine. Rancher and dairy farmer. Co-founder of Earth Day. The first head of Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection. Republican political kingmaker. Scourge of corporate polluters. Horseman enshrined in the National Cutting Horse Hall of Fame. 

And before any of that, financial titan — a brash and aggressive investment banker who co-founded a brokerage firm that amassed him a fortune, even as it forever changed the way the game is played on Wall Street. 

Life is long, but still. To wear so many different hats, you’d need a personal milliner to fashion them. What one person could do all that? I wondered. Who the hell was, who the hell is, Dan Lufkin?

On the wharf in Nantucket he is easy enough to spot, the only conceivable nonagenarian in the crowd of people waiting for my ferry. Greeting me with a firm handshake, Lufkin leads the way to his silver Jeep Wrangler, pausing to admire the tight job of parallel parking he’d done. The Lufkin family lives in Washington, Connecticut, during the year, and spends summers on Nantucket. He drives us across the island to the house in Wauwinet that he shares with his wife, Adrienne, and children, Patch and Aster Lee, who are 11 and 15.

If being a ninety-something dad with young kids is daunting, Lufkin (who also has four daughters, all in their 50s, from his first marriage) doesn’t show it. Trim and fit, he still rides horses — “not competitively anymore,” he concedes — and practices lacrosse with his son. Adrienne is decades younger, a trained chef who worked as the family’s cook in the years when Lufkin’s third wife, Cynthia, was ill with cancer. Cynthia Lufkin died in 2013; two years later, Lufkin married Adrienne. 


Dan and Adrienne Lufkin at the National Audubon Society Gala 2019 at The Plaza Hotel in New York City. 

He’s the kind of person who enjoys talking about his life but keeps introspection to a minimum; asked whether his two years as a Marine officer formed him as a person, he shrugs off the question — “I have no idea” — with a hint of impatience. A long-ago magazine profile described him as someone who “masks his uncertainties and complexities behind clouds of action.” 

The Wauwinet house, despite lavish ocean views and artisanal design touches, is anything but grandiose for a man as wealthy as Lufkin. Well behind him are the days of lifestyle ostentation, like the Central Park West apartment, in a former chapel of the original Sloan Kettering hospital, that he and Cynthia bought and renovated for a reported $11 million in the early 2000s, with antique stone floors, gold-leaf walls, and a 38-foot living room ceiling. At the dining-room table in Wauwinet, we chat over yummy grilled cheese sandwiches made by Adrienne as the family’s two huge Leonbergers beg, Lufkin remonstrating with an impressive authority — “That will do, Cazzie!” — that the dogs serenely ignore. 

In conversation he exudes jovial self-deprecation, and nowhere more than on the subject of his role in founding Connecticut Magazine. He recalls how in 1970 his friend Fred Biebel — later chair of the state’s Republican Party — and Dan Brennan, a lawyer and lobbyist also active in GOP politics, informed him that a small but influential newsletter, the Connecticut Circle, was for sale at a bargain-basement price. (Today Lufkin recalls paying $1,000; a 1986 Connecticut Magazine retrospective article states the price as $500.) “I said I didn’t know a damn thing about publishing, but you couldn’t go wrong for a thousand dollars, right?” He chortles. “Dumbest comment I ever made!” 

In a long career of turning everything into gold, just about the only thing Lufkin didn’t make money on was magazine publishing. He couldn’t peg the exact amount he lost on Connecticut Magazine in his decade as owner. Was it $3 million or $4 million? Indeed there was much that Lufkin doesn’t remember about his stint as magazine maven. Like the names of his editors, or such controversies as the 1974 article on a lesbian party in New Haven, or the 1980 flap over a piece on Senate candidate James Buckley that Lufkin commissioned from George Will, causing two staff members to quit in protest. He recalls himself as the ultimate hands-off owner. “I didn’t get involved in any way except paying bills,” he insists. “And making sure they weren’t publishing nude photographs!” 

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Early in Connecticut Magazine‘s run, Lufkin wrote a monthly column in his new role as the first head of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

However hazy the founding era of the magazine might be to Lufkin, others recall it clearly. Dorothea Brennan’s father, Dan, set the project in motion. Connecticut Circle had a subscriber list of legislators and other state leaders, Brennan recalls, and when it looked about to fold, “my father and Fred Biebel started to scheme. They brought Dan Lufkin in as the sugar daddy.” The aim of the new magazine was twofold: to promote Connecticut via attractive lifestyle features, and to report on political news. “These guys were political insiders, and they wanted an accurate report from the capital.” Brennan remembers the three men being “totally excited” about the new Connecticut Magazine. “This was less a venture than an adventure. They were pursuing a passion for helping people understand what an incredible state this was, and how it operated.” 

Her recollections of Lufkin remain vivid. In 1970, as a college student, Brennan attended the Republican state convention as a staff messenger. Equipped with a stage pass, she would stand in the wings as speakers addressed the convention. “One of the other people hanging out in the wings was Dan Lufkin. I had no clue who he was. Just another 40-year-old my dad knew. But he was fascinating and easy to talk to. And handsome — those blue eyes!” 

Lufkin to that point had been involved in politics mostly as a money man, raising $1.5 million for John Lindsay, the liberal Republican, in his 1965 New York City mayoral race, and twice that much for Richard Nixon in 1968. But many believed he had his own political ambitions. This view is corroborated by Charles Monagan, later the longtime editor of Connecticut Magazine and a staff writer turned editor during the Lufkin era. He rejects Lufkin’s view of himself as a hands-off owner. “I always thought he purchased the magazine with a political career in mind,” Monagan recalls. “The magazine functioned basically as a Republican Party house organ. Dan Lufkin had a page in it every month, right at the front, and he used that page to expound on Connecticut issues. It was his forum.” 

The summer of 1980 saw a tight Senate race between Chris Dodd and James Buckley, a member of the illustrious family in Sharon and a personal friend of Lufkin. “One day a manuscript appeared on my desk,” Monagan remembers, “a puff piece on Buckley, written by none other than George Will. It had been assigned by Dan Lufkin to run in October, right before the election.” Monagan objected to the Will piece, and along with fellow staff writer (and later New York Times restaurant reviewer) Bryan Miller, went to Lufkin and threatened to quit if he insisted on running the piece. “He said, ‘Fine, go ahead and quit.’ So we did.” 

The Will piece did not run, but Lufkin stepped in and published a Letter from the President, effusively endorsing Buckley, who went on to lose to Dodd. As for Lufkin’s own elective political ambitions, they never materialized. “He never got around to doing it,” Monagan recalls. “He was probably too busy.”

Lufkin has a different take on his own failure to run for office. State Republicans indeed urged him to run for governor in 1974, against Ella Grasso, but he balked. “First, I didn’t think I had any brilliant idea that would solve every world problem,” he says. But the main obstacle was more prosaic: he couldn’t remember people’s names. “I’d go into a room and say to myself, ‘I’m not going to remember this person’s name.’ And then of course I wouldn’t!” He laughs, shaking his head. “It was a wrong decision. I should have run.” 

By that time, Lufkin already had his first career mostly behind him — a mad streak down Wall Street that made his name and his fortune by age 40. It began with the 1959 founding, together with his Harvard Business School friends Bill Donaldson and Dick Jenrette, of the investment banking firm that bore their names. The story of DLJ’s meteoric rise belongs to finance legend. The three men — all still in their 20s — scraped together $500,000 in startup cash, just enough to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, rent a tiny office, hire a secretary and accountant, and pay themselves $7,500 apiece the first year.

DLJ innovated through a focus on startup companies instead of blue-chips, a preference for growth, and a client list that prioritized institutional investors over the general public. These priorities were novel at the time, and came to represent the benchmark for smart, aggressive investment strategies. But the linchpin of DLJ’s success was its detailed research. “Most investment firms back then did minimal research,” Lufkin says. “We decided to go deep into any company we were considering recommending.”

To that end, they set about assessing what today we would call the culture of a company — visiting customers and competitors, ferreting out former employees and interviewing them, talking to retailers who sold the company’s product. There was a shoe-leather aspect to DLJ’s research, one that fulfilled the final imperative listed in the firm’s eight corporate objectives: “To Have Fun.” Lufkin recalls the time he and Donaldson crashed a dental trade association meeting, posing as dentists. “We wore bow ties and had plastic name tags made up — Dr. Lufkin and Dr. Donaldson.” The ruse was quickly exposed. “They knew right away. So we told them we were aspiring dentists!” He chuckles. “We actually learned a lot.”


Dan Lufkin as a co-founder of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, an upstart investment firm that pioneer the practice of looking beyond just hard numbers in evaluating clients. DLJ was acquired by Credit Suisse First Boston in 2000.

DLJ’s research turned up small companies that the firm bet big on, helping turn them into iconic brands. Xerox, which had just brought out the first plain-paper photocopier. O.M. Scott & Sons, the lawn-care company. Lufkin’s outfit became known for the accuracy of its recommendations and the gusher of commissions earned from its institutional clients. “We were at the right place with the right product at the right time,” he says. 

The second game-changing move by DLJ was its decision to go public — “a bombshell,” as Fortune magazine pronounced in an August 1969 article, “They’re Tearing Up Wall Street.” Public ownership of brokerage houses contravened stock-exchange rules, and no firm had ever dared to try. But DLJ badly needed capital beyond what its partners could supply, and secretly plotted a public offering under a code name: “Project Greenlight.” Numerous magazines have told the story of May 22, 1969, when DLJ announced the move simultaneously at the SEC’s Washington office and the New York Stock Exchange’s Board of Governors meeting — a meeting Lufkin was attending as a newly elected member. It was an act of startling impudence, a fledgling minor prince announcing a palace coup. 

Lufkin described how he nervously carried copies of the IPO prospectus into the NYSE boardroom to distribute to the governors. One governor would later recall that “Dan was white as a sheet” as he delivered his firm’s message to the group. When he was done, consternation buzzed across the room, and Felix Rohatyn, a partner at Lazard Frères, rose to speak. Decades later, Lufkin remembers the moment with a grin. “Rohatyn jumped up and said to me, ‘Judas Iscariot, you’ve denied us before the cock has crowed!’ And I said, ‘Felix, call it what you will. This is what we think is important.’ ” 

Eventually the NYSE relented, the firm’s IPO went ahead, and in the next decade most other brokerage and investment houses followed suit. Opening the floodgates forever changed Wall Street’s mode of operation even as it boosted profits sky-high; DLJ’s three partners saw their share value soar tenfold overnight. “Wall Street would never be the same,” wrote The Atlantic in a 2017 retrospective on the DLJ move. “And not necessarily for the better.” The article argued that DLJ’s success in going public enabled bankers and traders to take huge risks with other people’s money, decoupling financial risk from accountability, turning Wall Street into a casino, and paving the way for such crises as the 2008 meltdown. 

When I ask Lufkin what he made of this argument, he scoffs. All firms invest other people’s money, he points out; just because General Motors is a public company doesn’t mean that its CEO will recklessly decide to build a moon rocket. Moreover, he insists, an influx of capital into Wall Street had been structurally necessary at a critical economic moment. “Had we not provided significant additional capital, the growth of markets would have stopped, and much of the opportunity to grow industry, to grow product and economies, would’ve been lost. So you can call it whatever you want. I call it very good sense.”

Having transformed Wall Street, Lufkin was basically done with it. In 1971 — his net worth by now bulked up to $35 million — he left DLJ and began a restless search for new challenges. Among them was the founding of this magazine, but over the ensuing years Lufkin also invested in an airline, an oil company, a ranching and landholding concern; bought the Ontario Motor Speedway; and backed publishing ventures and Broadway plays, including Oh! Calcutta!, the notorious (and wildly successful) 1969 erotic revue. Still, one action stood out as most surprising of all: his three-year stint as Connecticut’s first head of the Department of Environmental Protection. 

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Dan Lufkin on his Washington, Connecticut, property in 2010. Lufkin had a role in the first Earth Day celebration in 1970 and was the first commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection.

For some time, Lufkin had been scratching an itch for living closer to nature. In the mid-1960s — tired of “living in an airplane” and eager to bring his four young children up in a rural environment — he bought a 600-acre farm on Poverty Hollow Road in Newtown and began raising high-quality registered Holsteins. Five years later he would buy a 125,000-acre cattle ranch at the edge of the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon. It was the quixotic move of someone accustomed to acting first and figuring things out later. “I bought that ranch from a man named Don Sokol,” Lufkin says. “It was a beautiful spot, and we went out riding as he showed me around. I was bouncing all over the saddle, and at one point he looked over at me and said, ‘Do you know anything about riding?’ And I said, ‘Not much.’ He said, ‘Do you know anything about irrigation?’ I said, ‘No, not much.’ He said, ‘You know anything about raising hay?’ I said, ‘Not really.’ And he said, ‘Well, good luck, Charlie Brown. Remember, you bought the ranch, and there’s no returns.’ ” 

The love of outdoor places shaped Lufkin’s developing vision of a private sector oriented to public good. He laid this vision out in a 1971 farewell speech at DLJ. “The fundamental questions any service organization must ask itself,” he said, “are ‘service to whom?’ and ‘service for what?’ And if the answer is ‘service for profit only,’ then we and DLJ are in deep trouble.” The public good Lufkin himself increasingly focused on was the environment. Through a friendship with California Congressman Pete McCloskey, he had gotten involved in a new initiative, Earth Day, joining a group of young students McCloskey had gathered to organize the event. On the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, he went to the Harvard Business School, giving a talk titled “The Business of Business is America” — a witty inversion of the Calvin Coolidge maxim — and exhorting the future business leaders to reject “the corporate shortsightedness which has led us to a need for Earth Day in the first place.”

Eventually his interest in environmental issues converged with his connection to the Republican political establishment. In Connecticut, Lufkin had supported state Sen. Stanley Pack’s bill to consolidate various state agencies — forest, parks, marine — into a single Department of Environmental Protection. In 1970, Lufkin backed gubernatorial candidate Thomas Meskill, and when Meskill won, he asked Lufkin to head the new department. 

A 1972 profile in Fortune magazine, “Dan Lufkin Goes Public,” charted his unlikely emergence as environmentalist and commissioner. Photos showed Lufkin in a suit in a corporate boardroom, ambling in denim and mud boots on his farm, and finally with sleeves rolled up at a desk in his drab DEP office in Hartford. The article voiced the business world’s bafflement at the prospect of a Wall Street titan “throwing over all his power and perquisites for a $31,000-a-year post as a middle-level state bureaucrat,” noting that the position carried “great liabilities for anyone with political aspirations” and predicting that Lufkin would soon be “embroiled in controversy.” Sure enough, as Fortune reported, in his first months running the department, Lufkin “cracked down on a wide sampling of environmental miscreants,” blasting a Stamford plastic company for what he publicly called “a long history of flagrant and irresponsible” regulatory violations.

The learning curve at the new DEP was steep. With relish, Lufkin tells me the story of arriving his first day to an office equipped with little more than a phone, some school desks, and a veteran secretary named Marlene Bakewell. Introducing himself, Lufkin opted for blunt honesty. “ ‘Marlene,’ I told her, ‘This is a learn-as-you-go program here. We’re going to work on it together.” Just then the phone rang, and Bakewell answered it. “She picks up and says, ‘Department of Environmental Protection, Commissioner Lufkin’s office.’ And then she says, ‘Well, no. No. No. I’m terribly sorry, sir. The only person who could answer that question is totally unknowledgeable on the subject.’ That was our first phone call.”

From that rueful beginning, Lufkin produced impressive results. The crack team he assembled included a young associate lured from a Manhattan law firm, David Tunderman, who as special counsel spearheaded the prosecution of violators. Two key deputies were Chris Beck and Douglas Costle, both of whom later went on to the EPA, Costle running the agency under Jimmy Carter. Working for Lufkin, they built a department that forever changed how Connecticut dealt with environmental problems.

Lufkin’s tenure saw new wetlands management laws, vast improvements in solid-waste management and the beginnings of recycling, and rigorous new air and water quality standards. And a major emphasis on enforcement. “The fines were big,” he says, “and they accumulated rapidly, so violators had nothing to gain from not fixing the problem.” Washington, meanwhile, had allocated significant federal monies to states adopting proactive environmental policies, and Lufkin and his deputies pursued the funds so aggressively that they became known in D.C. as “the Connecticut mafia.” The DEP used the funding to rebuild sewage systems in the state’s major cities, curbing chronic storm overflows.

There was a synergy between Lufkin’s two startups, journalistic and governmental: his new magazine boosting the mission of his new department. “Dan was doing some amazing things with the DEP,” Dorothea Brennan recalls, noting that the magazine was aligned with its new owner’s environmental priorities. She remembers an early issue featuring a spread on salt-marsh photography by Jerry Dodd, the photographer brother of Chris Dodd. “The magazine featured things in Connecticut that people might not always realize the magic in, like the beauty of a salt marsh over the course of a year.” Lufkin himself recalls with pride the prevalence of environment-themed articles in the new magazine. “I wanted to focus on the issues that were important to the state,” he tells me. “And right at the head of that list was the environment.”

In the decades since Lufkin’s time as commissioner, his brand of civic-minded Rockefeller Republicanism has all but vanished, and GOP presidents have cynically installed energy and ranching industry moguls in Cabinet environmental posts, so that in 2021 it’s hard to imagine a stalwart Republican as environmental crusader. Perhaps that’s partly why accolades for Lufkin’s efforts keep on coming. In 2011 he was awarded the Connecticut Environmental Leadership Award by Audubon Connecticut; presenting it, former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw praised him as “a great citizen” who helped deliver the message that “you can’t conduct business on a dead planet.”

“Dan is one of a handful of people who saved the Connecticut River from disaster,” says Dick Shriver, publisher of Estuary, a quarterly magazine focusing on the state’s namesake river. Shriver still shudders at the parlous condition of the Connecticut in the 1960s. “It was filthy and stank to high heaven,” he recalls. “Chemicals, sewage, agricultural runoff, you name it. The mentality back then was that a river was a place to unload waste.”

Politicians and bureaucrats tend to parse accomplishments in bullet-point particulars of legislative actions and regulatory wins. But with environmental issues, what matters is the collective mindset, the way the public thinks about the world and our place in it. Lufkin’s DEP gave teeth to enforcement and catalyzed a sea change in the environmental mindset, and by the mid-1980s the Connecticut River was swimmable from Canada to Old Saybrook. “It was a huge change,” Shriver says. “And that change began under Dan. The river is now something to be respected. Something sacred. It is a living river, not a dead one.”

The sacred and the profane, rivers of money and actual rivers, the things of this world and the world itself: a cherished maxim of Lufkin’s over the decades has been that while plenty of people look for a return on investment, all too few look for a return on life. “People spend their time trying to make money,” he says as we wind down our conversation in his house in Nantucket. “They lose track of the fact that life encompasses so much more than that.” 

Where do our passions originate? What, in a very long and exceptionally varied life, forms the foundation and the through line? If you’re old enough and at all given to retrospection, you can probably peg your life’s core moments, the sweet spot of your experiences. My time with Lufkin made clear that alongside family, his sweet spot centers on animals, farms, nature and the efforts he has made on their behalf. A prized horse; a bloodhound rescued from a neglectful owner and installed as a faithful barn dog; a rancher who waxed rhapsodic over his love of his land.

And, beneath it all, idyllic memories of a boyhood spent outdoors, raising backyard turkeys and chickens, trapping swamp muskrats. It’s not at all the kind of childhood one associates with Rye, New York, that emblem of suburban wealth. But Lufkin was a boy there in the 1930s — almost 100 years ago, he reminded me. “When I grew up, the town had one main street, and it had only recently been paved.”

At the end of Kirby Lane, where the Lufkin family lived, was a red barn and a boatyard, and beyond that, wetlands and a peninsula known as Manursing Island. Today Manursing is a neighborhood of multimillion-dollar luxury homes, but in the 1930s it hosted just a single house. “The whole peninsula was owned by one man,” Lufkin says, searching his recollection. “It was all open land. Ittleson — that was his name!”

Lufkin spent countless childhood hours in the world beyond the red barn, exploring Manursing Island. It was there that he met the man he knew as Sir Mike, caretaker for the Ittleson estate. “Sir Mike was German and a great self-taught naturalist. He was a wonderful guy. We would travel the peninsula and he’d show me things. He knew the birds and their habits. He knew the animals — their dens, their life patterns. He loved telling me about it all.” 

I found it beguiling to imagine this unlikely couple, the German immigrant and the future multimillionaire banker, enjoying Huck-and-Tom adventures nearly a century ago. Lufkin recalls how the two used driftwood to build a campfire and cook a meal. “We would make elderberry pancakes for lunch. We’d build a fire and he’d bring out an old pan with some kind of buttery sauce in it. You cut the elderberry and put it in the pan and fry it. It was delicious. Sir Mike.”

He sighs, his face rapt with the memory. Through the window behind him I can see the blue of the sky and deeper blue of the Atlantic, sprinkled with a few white sails. 

“It was amazing,” Lufkin says quietly. “Amazing.”