a gentleman and a scholar

R.P. Lower left

I’m still reeling from the sad news that my beloved Uncle Dick died. So frightening how swiftly the virus moves in those most vulnerable; the only good part is that he wasn’t in pain in the end.

I’m trying to extricate his long happy life from how suddenly it was cut short, the tragic end from the many fulfilling chapters that went before. Dick was someone I adored and admired my whole life, someone I viewed with love for his warmth and respect for his intellect and accomplishments. He was an engineer. (I knew little of what this meant when younger and it was all the more impressive for its mystery.) An alum of Michigan, which two of his sons would later attend.

Yet while Dick was exceedingly smart, competent, athletic and successful, it was his kindness that resonated most. There was something in the timbre of his voice that embodied a special combination of gravitas and graciousness. He was a true gentleman, generous and genuine, someone who would ask how you were and really care about the answer. I gravitated to him at big family events. I knew I would feel better after taking to him, that I would hear his excitement at his latest endeavor – after retiring he volunteered at the Air and Space Museum, where he helped to write a book about an aircraft I had never heard of, but loved to hear him describe. He was proud of his work yet maintained humility, saving his greatest pride for his family: his children and their spouses, his grandchildren and in the end, great grandchildren.

He and Aunt Minna, his beloved wife of 70 years, “shuffled off to Buffalo”, where he worked for General Electric, later moving to Broomall where we lived. He stayed with my parents for a short time before they got their house in another part of town, a beautiful home we visited frequently. They were hospitable and welcoming, yet as a girl I savored their worldliness. They were the first people I knew who played golf (something I didn’t realize Jewish people could do.) How elegant they seemed, with their GE appliances and polo shirts, and then there was the traveling! Minna spent years as a travel agent, and they explored the world in an era when it was far less common to hop on a plane to go far away (Now, sadly and suddenly, travel has become off limits in a way we never imagined.).

It was a strong bond between our families, Minna and Dick and my cousins, three handsome smart boys, just like their dad. My mother and Aunt Minna spoke every. single. morning after we kids all went to school. I knew some of Dick’s relatives too. They were lovely like him.

When I was in my teens they moved to Bethesda, where they lived for forty years, another lovely home I used to visit, marveling most of all at their kitchen. They were the first people I knew with a microwave. I remember staying over and having a mindblowing breakfast of toast and microwaved eggs (They were delicious). Now that microwave is both a noun and a verb, when its precious real estate on our kitchen counter is ceded by Instant pots and all manner of more recent developments, it’s hard to recall a time when the microwave was a thrilling show of modernity.

How quickly things change.
Little more than a month ago we were hoping to take a short trip to the DC area during V’s Spring break, combining a tour of a farm for adults with autism in northern Virginia and a visit with Minna and Dick in Maryland. In the last few weeks that was clearly out of the picture. And in the past few days the all encompassing virus news became acutely personal and painful. As Auden so eloquently put it,

About suffering they were never wrong.

The old Masters, how well they understood

Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening

a window or just walking
Dully along.


My walks the past few days are a bit heavier, thinking of Minna and my cousins and everyone else with grief, and hopefully like us, gratitude for so much time with a truly great man.

8 thoughts on “a gentleman and a scholar

  1. Noone says it better. So beautiful a tribute to a great man, uncle, friend. That picture is precious too. Where, when, who?

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  2. Thanks Dan ❤️
    I think this photo is from Eric and Abby’s wedding. (If I’m wrong hopefully someone will correct me.)

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  3. Joan, your writing is as deep as your soul.
    Only correction is that he worked a Bell Aircraft in Buffalo and came to Philly to work for GE.

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  4. Gravity and graciousness. The words will stay with me. Thank you for allowing me to read this and thank you and thank you for the birthday column which lead me to this tribute. Uncle Dick was and is a light to our large family. May his memory be for a blessing. Bob

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