This is a post that I have been delaying on posting. Somehow it felt like if I didn’t write about it, then maybe it wasn’t true. I wish it wasn’t.
Over the night of Sunday, July 22-Monday the 23, my Papa Alan passed away in his sleep. He was an amazing 87 years old, and he leaves behind 2 daughters, 5 grandchildren, 1 great-grandchild, 8 nieces and nephews, his twin brother Marshall, two sisters-in-law, and countless other family members and dear friends. I idolized my papa, and he was my first love. I learned how to find joy in life through him, and he taught me how to honor those people around me. Papa never met a stranger, as he would introduce himself with a packet of Pic N Floss and a packet of pictures.
About a year ago, Papa was diagnosed with heart problems. The doctors were very hopeful, as there were several types of surgery that could help. Papa went back and forth, finally deciding not to do any surgery or procedures, as he did not want to be in the hospital, dependent on others. Up until his last day, he was an independent soul. He became fearful of his health for a long time, but in the past 5 months or so, he chose to live. Live he did. He marched to the beat of his own drummer, and the world thought as highly of my papa as I did.
I feel so fortunate to have as many fond memory of Papa Alan as I do. He traveled often, up until his diagnosis. When Tim and I moved to the Richmond area, Papa started flying into our airport and then drive the hour and a half to my parents’ house. I would always tell him that I wasn’t going to be able to meet him at the airport, but I would meet up with him in Charlottesville with my parents. Every time, I told him this. Every time, I “surprised” him at the airport. He always acted as if he didn’t know, and he was so shocked and happy to see us. Happy? Yes. Shocked? Probably not. It was a game we played, and it was a great tradition.
I could probably write for years and still not do my Papa justice. Rabbi Block, who led the funeral, wrote a perfect eulogy that talked about Papa perfectly. I will include it below in italics. Thank you so much to Berkowitz Kumin Bookatz for recording this beautiful service.
Psalm 90 says that the normal span of a human life is 70 years: 3 score years and 10. Or by reason of strength, 4 score years: 80. And yet, Alan lived a full and joyful 87 years, and we have ample reason to celebrate. We will remember him as a personable, colorful, optimist. A devotee of physical fitness. One of a kind. A true original.
Alan was born in Cleveland, at East 55th Street Hospital in 1925, 10 minutes after his twin, lifelong friend, and soul mate, Marshall. They attended Cleveland Heights High School, graduating, and then Alan studied at Ohio State.
He didn’t want to serve in the infantry. He wanted to serve with Marshall. Notwithstanding that the Army was reluctant to allow brothers to serve together, in the wake of the tragic death of the four Sullivan brothers. But they used (what Marshall called) “political influence” to stay together. And the two of them, with Dominic Visconsi and Bob Mattlin served together throughout the war and remained lifelong best friends. They volunteered for and joined the Army’s 10 Mountain Division. Ultimately they were sent to Italy, where they saw combat. Alan, Marshall as well, and others I’m sure, was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious and heroic achievement in action and numerous other decorations. Alan was rightly proud of his service and of his decorations, and he kept them on a little board in the back seat of his car so he could share it with people.
It’s a serious business, though, during the nearly four months of nearly continuous combat with five German divisions, more than 900 men in that unit were killed, and almost 4,000 were injured. Alan and Marshall were promoted to sergeants at the same time. Apparently, the Army didn’t know which one to promote, so they promoted both of them. And the same apparently was true on KP (Kitchen Patrol). They didn’t know which one to punish, so they punished them both together.
When Alan came home from the war to Cleveland, he in his white uniform, he met and swept Audrey off her feet. They were married in 1947 by Rabbi Barnett Brickner. They had a very close, loving, and most unusual marriage. For the past 40 years, they lived happily apart: Alan in his beloved Cleveland, Audrey first in Florida, and then in Santa Rosa, California. They spoke by phone any number of times daily. Alan visited for a week or so each month. They went on endless cruises. It was as if they had a monthly honeymoon. When they were together, they held hands, danced, enjoyed each others’ company. Marilyn told me that Audrey had the best of both worlds: independence, California, Alan’s visits to play together a week at a time, and then the opportunity to do her own thing. Alan missed Audrey terribly since her death 4 and a half years ago. Ever since, he choked up at the mention of her name. Audrey was the love of Alan’s life.
Together, Alan and Marshall and their younger brother, of blessed memory, Juddy built MarshAllan, a company that their father had started, into a giant manufacturer of promotional house ware items. Often they were at work at 5 in the morning. The company at its peak produced more than 35,000 TV trays and 35,000 charcoal grills daily. The brothers traveled to innumerable trade shows in New York and Chicago. At its peak, MarshAllan employed more than 500 people and 100 sales representatives. In the 1980s, when the Soviet Union finally allowed Jews to emigrate, they employed more than 100 Russian Jewish immigrants, who became great and grateful workers, and then friends, and many of them went on to remarkable success in their lives thereafter. Alan and Marshall treated their workers with respect. They knew each of them by name. They knew their families and their histories. They helped them in times of need. They treated each person with dignity and made him or her feel important.
One element in the business of success was Alan’s outgoing personality. An example: Alan and Marshall were returning from a trip to Chicago for a trade show. On a miserable, snowy day, they found themselves at Midway Airport in Chicago with 100 standbys waiting ahead of them to get on the flight. Alan strode confidently to the front. He charmed and gave each passenger agent a Pic N Floss. Do you know what I’m talking about? And lo and behold, Alan and Marshall were the first standbys called to go on that flight. That same shameless charm and charisma, and a pocket full of Pic N Flosses and baby-size packs of Lifesavers produced frequent upgrades to first class. As Marshall put it, “Alan was a first class schmeikler.”
Alan was, on the one hand, a very private, solitary person, disclosing only the facts and version of reality he wanted others to know. He cherished his independence. He loved coming home by himself to open his mail and putter around. In many ways, he was an enigmatic presence who hated to say goodbye. So much so, that he would quietly sneak out of a gathering unannounced without fanfare. When he came for a visit, he always arrived on schedule, but he often left earlier than had been previously announced. The tell-tale sign, I’m told, that he was about to depart was that he would bring over to the house a bagful of purloined hotel towels, which Marilyn, given the opportunity, would promptly mail back to the hotel.
On the other hand, Alan was a dynamic, outgoing, larger than life personality, an entertainer who loved to be the center of attention. With a positive attitude and a smile on his face. He loved to show the photocopied photographs he carried with him. Photos of himself with famous stars and political personalities, and especially of him and Marshall on the first Sunday in August, in Twinsburg, OH, on Twins Day. How many of you have seen those pictures? Usually, with beautiful buxom blonde twins from all over the world.
Alan was also a diehard Republican activist. He loved the action, the politics, the people he met, and he relished the relationships that he formed. There was no point in discussing politics with Alan, so firm was his conviction in the rightness of his views. Twice, he represented his congressional district as its elector to the Electoral College gatherings that formalized the presidential elections of both Presidents Bush. In mitigation of those offenses, at least as most of the family perceived them to be, he and Marshall co-chaired the Ohio Republicans and Independents for Lyndon Johnson in the presidential election of 1964. He didn’t care for Barry Goldwater.
Among the many communal engagements that Alan had, he served as foreman of the Cuyahoga County grand jury. He was a Big Brother. He chaired the Manufacturers Division of the Jewish Federation campaign. He was a trustee of the Westside Free Medical Clinic, and many other things. For more than 10 years, Alan and Marshall, along with Juddy and Marc Glassman, spent their Monday evenings feeding the hungry at St. Malachi’s Shelter on the West Side. In fact, Alan scheduled his travel to be with Audrey to be sure that he would be home on Monday nights to fulfill, what was for him, a sacred commitment.
Alan was a loving and protective father to Sherry and Elly. A devoted grandfather to Dory, Joshua, Jarrett, Jessica, and Trevor. A loving great-grandfather to Jacob. He was proud of each of them and their achievements, interested in their activities, making the effort to be present for shows and performances and athletic events, teaching them to drive, developing a special relationship with each one of them. Always with a story to tell, information to share, and an exciting find to tell them about. Every one of them was his favorite, as he would tell each of the others. In conversation, he always made you feel that you were the most important person in the world. He was a great father-in-law to Jeff and Bill: supportive, never interfering, happy, fun to be around, often winning the doubles tennis matches that he and Audrey played against Elly and Bill. Alan’s judgement of his sons-in-law, expressed to Elly and Sherry: “You finally got it right.”
Alan enjoyed a relationship of extraordinary closeness with Marshall. Biologically, his twin. Very different in personality. They were two halves of one whole. There were dozens of daily phone calls at all hours. Alan and Marshall worked together, talked, and did everything together, including in 1957 which they were very proud of: stumping the panel on What’s My Line? An article in the National Enquirer claimed that during World War II, Alan got shot and Marshall immediately felt the pain. Marshall tells me that the story was apocryphal. But it conveyed a deeper truth: they had a kind of ESP, a telepathy. They were fundamentally on the same wavelength. They never had a disagreement. Alan depended on Marshall, gave him all the tough assignments at the company. When he needed something done, Alan would call Marshall. And in turn, Alan worried about Marshall and his health and well-being for his entire life. They took care of each other, supported each other in every possible way. They shared a unique bond of love. Marilyn was also an essential and good-natured partner in this special relationship, feeling at times as if she had two husbands, so connected were these twins.
After they sold the business, Alan kept busy reading every newspaper and magazine imaginable, clipping articles that he thought would be interesting and helpful, and filling envelopes with the names of many family members and close friends chock-full with pertinent news and information.
Alan was diagnosed with a serious heart condition in early 2010. His doctor recommended surgery. And for a while, that really took the wind out of his sails. He became uncharacteristically withdrawn and uncommunicative. Ultimately, he decided against surgery. Alan worried that it might leave him dependent on others- a burden to others- which was the very last thing on earth that Alan ever wanted to be.
So instead, he rallied and decided to live his life to the full as long as he could. He was especially proud and excited when he and Marshall turned 87 this past March. He told Marshall, “We’ve had 87 fun, wonderful years together. I have no complaints about life. I’m grateful.” Alan lived life on his own terms. Strong. Stubborn. Independent. Determined. For years, the family tried to convince him to move to the East Side. His reply was, “I’ll think about it.” In Alan speak, that meant no. Characteristically, he kept his health problems to himself. He died as he chose, quietly in his sleep at home. For the last time, he slipped away without saying goodbye.
In his life and in his death, Alan called to mind the lyrics of the song made famous by Frank Sinatra:
“And now the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
Regrets I’ve had a few
But then again too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
Yes there were times I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out,
I faced it all
And I stood tall
And did it my way
I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
I’ve had my fill, my share of losing
And now as tears subside
I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say not in a shy way
Oh no, oh no, not me
I did it my way
For what is a man what has he got
If not himself then he has not
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way
Yes it was my way”
As we know, Alan did it his way.