Benjamin Schoen
September 8, 1946 - December 5, 1994

"Hard work and will can overcome many obstacles"

Comments from Fred Geldon
at a Memorial Service on December 8, 1994

I have some things I want to say, and also will share a letter I received this morning from Larry Seidman, a mutual friend of Benjamin and mine from New Rochelle days. Larry lives in Philadelphia, and couldn't be here this afternoon, but he's here in spirit.

When someone is taken from us before his time, it's natural to ask why. And that leads us to challenge the unfairness of it all. Especially for Benjamin, who had to bear so many health burdens throughout his life, even before the last one. 

But I don't want to talk about that side of it. I want to talk about Benjamin's inspiration, his legacy to us. It's a very positive one.

I can't help thinking about some firsts, that are part of my picture of Benjamin: 

  • After I first got my driver's license, the first time I took someone to the movies ­ it was Benjamin. We were seventeen years old. We saw the movie musical "Showboat," and then we had a long discussion, and debate, about race relations. That wasn't our first political debate, and it certainly wouldn't be our last. Ben was pretty terrific with words and ideas. We were usually on different sides of the issues, but our arguments were far more stimulating and meaningful to me than discussions with people I agreed with. Because Ben challenged the mind, he kept us honest, or at least tried to. I'm happy that he lived to see the most recent election. But I'm sad he didn't make it into the promised land -­ at least his promised land.

  • The first time I shopped for clothes, without my parents, it was with Benjamin. He was far better at it than I was, and he shared his knowledge.

    That's another thing about Benjamin. Like one of his favorite songs he introduced me to ­"Lean on me," by Bill Withers ­ Ben was there if you needed him. Notwithstanding his own burdens, Benjamin was a giver. At the Justice Department, he was not only an expert attorney with strong achievements in his own right, he was a teacher, a leader. Those he was closest to were those he helped to grow.

  • Benjamin was the first of my New Rochelle friends to meet my wife Anne­ and the only one who met her before we became engaged. After I took the California bar Anne came to visit me, and during that week we dropped in on Ben, who was working in Los Angeles. The very next night I proposed and Anne accepted. So I guess she thought my choice of friends was pretty good. Then Ben became the first friend I told of our engagement ­ even before I told my parents.

  • I remember when Ben first became Benjamin. It was after the movie, "The Graduate," was the sensation of 1968. If you remember the movie, you will remember that Benjamin Braddock got the girl. Benjamin was in the right place, with the right name, at the right time.

  • Talking about places, it was amusing, and somewhat ironic, that Ben, the most politically conservative in our crowd, seemed to thrive in hotbeds of ultra­liberalism. (There, Ben, I said it the way you would. You always resented that only conservatives seemed to be tagged with the prefix "ultra.") Ben was at Columbia in 1968, when the students took over the campus. Ben didn't sit in at the administration building, but he was outside, where the action was. Then he went to law school at NYU in Greenwich Village, not exactly the headquarters of the conservative party.

I could go on and on, but I won't. I just want to say two more things.

  • First, I want to say something about Judy, because Benjamin isn't here to say it. When he was here he did say it, how much she meant to him, how she was always there for him, how much he could lean on her, despite her own burdens. It wasn't just the support ­ Judy brought out all the wonderful parts of Benjamin, his kindness, his compassion, his love. Judy told me the other night that they were "good together." They were more than that ­ they were "great together." We don't come from a tradition that recognizes sainthood, but if we did there would be a place for Saint Judy.

  • Finally, what Benjamin meant to me, to so many of us, was not his medical battles. Yes, he had more struggle and pain than most of us face in several lifetimes. But he had little choice in that respect. Ben's inspiration is the courage he showed in the choices he made ­ in living, in working, in socializing, in the New Years' Day parties he and Judy hosted, in doing all the things that for most of us involve no obstacles, and in doing them so fully, and so well, and most of all in never asking that the standards be lowered for him.

    Ben didn't let health problems slow him down in school. In high school he excelled academically and was President of the National Honor Society. He went on to graduate from a competitive Ivy League college, where he was a class officer. And then straight to law school, without missing a beat. As an attorney he didn't choose the easy path, sitting behind a desk from 9 to 5. He traveled, he argued cases around the United States, and he excelled in doing so. And then he led people, giving of his knowledge and his experience and his humanity. No matter how hard any of us have worked, or may climb, Ben worked harder and climbed up steeper slopes. It's that example that Benjamin has given us. It's what Benjamin did, and how he did it, that is his legacy, his inspiration.
Our world is emptier today, without him.

Letter from Larry Seidman
Read by Fred Geldon at the Memorial Service

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