peter lovenheimpeter lovenheimpeter lovenheim

My father, Andrew S. Lovenheim, died at home, suddenly, on October 21, 2012. He was 96 years old. This is the eulogy I delivered at his funeral two days later at Temple B'rith Kodesh in Rochester, New York.

Eulogy for My Father, Andrew S. Lovenheim

(October 23, 2012)

One of the earliest memories I have of my Dad is when I was maybe three and we lived on Harvard St., and he would carry me piggy-back upstairs to bed. I remember leaning in close and holding on tight, pressing my cheek against his and feeling, because it was the end of the day, the slight scratchiness of his beard. Then, up in bed, he would sing me lullabies. A favorite was "Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral," which he later told me he learned from a Bing Crosby movie. Sometimes, he would sing, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." I always meant to ask why.

Looking back, my pressing my cheek against his on those piggyback rides was a good metaphor for our relationship—maybe for all relationships. Because in the closeness there was security and comfort and love, but just a bit of scratchiness, too.

I cherish the comfort and love—and I don't mind the bit of scratchiness.

One of the times I was most proud to be my father's son was a day just a couple of years ago when he came out to RIT, at the invitation of the Dean of the Printing School. He'd been asked to speak to a group of printing students. The room was filled. And my Dad, who by then was already using a walker, stood and delivered—without notes—a 45 minute lecture on the history and development of Great Lakes Press and the printing industry generally. He was 94 years old.

Looking back, it was such a remarkable thing that my Dad, and his brothers, Cliff and Earl, had achieved such business success. They started with nothing. As immigrants in 1910 from Vienna and Budapest, the family was educated and cultured but poor. Their Dad never quite made a living. In Rochester, on Hanover St. the boys slept three to a bed. They had no electricity. Recently, my Dad had one of his aides, Dora, drive him around to the old neighborhood. He kept pointing out places where they'd lived: one house, two houses, three houses, four houses. "Andy, why'd you live in so many different houses?" she asked him. "Because every time the rent came due," he said, "we had to move."

Years ago, I recorded oral histories with each of the brothers. Cliff and Earl agreed that of the three of them, Andy, the youngest, was the most sensitive about their financial plight. From age nine, he went to work to help out as he could, and never stopped. He delivered both a morning and evening paper route—that's both before and after school—he sold peanuts at the ball park, later he worked at a shoe store selling ladies' shoes.

But somehow, it all worked out. In the depth of the Great Depression, literally with nothing to lose, they started Great Lakes Press—borrowed money to bring to Rochester the very latest technology—off-set printing—and somehow made it all work.

I think for my Dad, the greatest satisfaction in being successful in business was not about amassing wealth or power or influence, it was—just as this child of the Depression always told us—simply and humbly about putting food on the table. And that he could help put food on the tables of 400 other families—his employees—I think was an even greater satisfaction.

And he took great pleasure, too, in freeing us, his children—and here he would quote George Bernard Shaw's play, "Major Barbara"—from the "crime of poverty," as Shaw put it, so that we could have the freedom he did not, to go to college and pursue our dreams. That I've had the opportunity to write and to teach is largely because of him, and for that I am grateful.

It wasn't just Bernard Shaw, by the way, that my Dad could quote. I think he took more from his public school education than most people do from years of college. He never stopped learning and, particularly, he never stopped reading. In just the last year of his life, he read probably a dozen books, among them: Robert Caro's 600-page biography of Lyndon Johnson; histories of American railroads, of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, and of the American advertising industry; a biography of John F. Kennedy, a history of the Treaty of Versailles, and—lest we forget—a 900-page history of ancient Carthage, modern day Tunisia. Thank you to Oren for giving my Dad that book and allowing us to hear—for about three months running—lectures on Carthage.

Because it wasn't just that he read these books, they required discussion, criticism, and elucidation. He got Dora, Phyllis and the other aides reading, too, creating a sort of lending library of his own books—in the spirit, by the way, of another successful printer, Benjamin Franklin, who did in fact create the modern lending library.

And on his last night, my Dad was reading a memoir of former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, recommended to him by my daughter, Sarah. This child of the Depression, who grew up without electricity, on his last night was reading in bed on a Kindle. What a trip his life was!

My Dad also read poetry. He kept his high school poetry anthology, "Magic Casements" close by his whole life. It sits today on the bookshelf over his favorite chair. I want to conclude with a few short poems. These were Dad's favorites. He could recite them by heart and I think he'd find it appropriate that we read a few of them on this occasion, especially as they reflect his own thoughts on the big Questions of life, including mortality.

The first is Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar." The "bar" here refers to a sand bar that a ship must cross before heading out to sea, or to eternity.

Sunset and evening star,
   And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
   When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
   Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
   Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
   When I embark;

For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
   The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
   When I have crost the bar.

The next poem is not one you'll find it any published collection. That's because it was written by my grandfather, Jonas Knopf, as he contemplated his own passing. By the way, my Dad, throughout his life, always referred to his father-in-law that way, by his full name, as if otherwise we wouldn't know who he was talking about. "This was written," he'd say, "by your grandfather, Jonas Knopf." Like we didn't know our grandfather's name. I'm not sure, but I think he did that because coming from the "other side of the tracks," as he did, he never stopped being amazed that he'd been able to marry my mother, June Knopf, the daughter of a prominent businessman and Rochester citizen—and also that he so admired and respected his father-in-law. At any rate, this is the poem, called "When I'm Gone," that my Dad often quoted, and that was written by my grandfather, Jonas Knopf.

When I'm gone don't mourn for me
For I've just preceded you to eternity.
You all do know how I loved to roam
And this is the trip that is taking me home.

To you who did love me I ask you please
To prove it occasionally by another good deed.
A long face and sadness and a hermit-like mein
Proves that my true wish you have not yet seen.

If you ask me what to do to please me, my dear,
I'd say go right on living as If I were here.
Laughter not sorrow, joy not remorse,
These my Beloved I would chart as your course.

Finally, this last poem is by the English poet, James Leigh Hunt. Maybe some of you know it. It's called "Abou Ben Adam," and I think my Dad especially liked it because it reflects his view of religion and of what it means to be a human being, a mensch. The title, "Abou Ben Adam" simply means Abou, son of Adam—metaphorically, everyman, all of us. It can be a little hard to follow a poem if you haven't heard it before, so I'm going to telegraph here the key parts: in the story the poem tells, an angel is writing in a book "the names of those who love the Lord" but ben Adam's name is not included. Ben Adam says, "Well, write me instead as someone who loves his fellow men." The angel does, and when God reveals a list of those he has blessed, we are told, "ben Adam's name led all the rest."

Here's the poem.

"Abou Ben Adhem"

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An Angel writing in a book of gold:

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?" The Vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."

"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the Angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one who loves his fellow men."

The Angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And, lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest!

Dad, in some ways it took me a long time to really get to know you, and I think, vice versa, too. We were alike in a lot of ways, but we were different, too. I think that's where some of that bit of scratchiness came in. But we got there—these last couple of years were especially valuable. We got there, and the father I got to know was very much Abou ben Adhem: a mensch who loved his wife, his children, his brothers, his nieces and nephews, his many friends, his community of Rochester, and all his fellow men and women—and whose life truly was blessed.

So thank you for everything: the smooth and the scratchy. Thank you for all of it. You've had a great ride, and so have we all.

Now it's your time to cross the bar.

I'm going to think of it this way: as you used to carry me up to bed, today your six loving grandchildren, as pallbearers, will carry you to your rest. And when we say Kaddish, may it comfort you, as a lullaby.

©Peter Lovenheim

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