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In the Vegetarian & Vegan News...
   James C. Nelson, Jr. | VegSource Interactive, Inc.

Mike Friedman
A Fond Remembrance
by James C. Nelson, Jr.


Meyer Friedman, MD
1910 - 2001

Note from Jeff Nelson: Meyer Friedman, MD -- a medical pioneer whose many accomplishments include developing the theory that the "Type A" behavior of chronically angry and impatient people raises their risk of heart attacks -- died on April 27, 2001.  You can read more about his life and accomplishments in a recent Los Angeles Times obituary linked here (opens new browser). Dr. Friedman's work inspired many, including Dean Ornish, MD, who incorporated a number of Dr. Friedman's theories into his own program for reversing heart disease.

Dr. Friedman was also a dear friend of my father's and of our entire family. My father, James Nelson, recently delivered the following at Dr. Friedman's funeral:

My daughter Rebecca drove me and my best friend here [my mother, Mary-Armour Nelson] today so we could all three pay our tribute to my other best friend.

It's hard for me to realize Mike is gone, because he's still such a living presence in my life.

I expect to hear the phone ring and have him say it's time to have lunch, is it his turn to pay, or mine?

No other person I can think of, except Mary-Armour, and except my parents when I was growing up, has had such an impact on my life.

I know we lost a great scientist when we lost Mike, but when I think of him, I don't think scientist first. I think friend, human being, wise person, who, when he isn't having lunch with me or a score of his other friends, does some research.

I think of Mike as a voracious reader of books, and, like me, an avid listener to books on tape. We talked about scores of different things over 40 years of lunches, but books almost always made it into the conversation. So did movies - harder for Mike to see in later years, but he was still interested. 


 




I think of his love of Broadway plays and musicals. On our visit to New York a couple of months ago Mary-Armour and I saw "Contact." We saw it because of Mike. He gave it a glowing recommendation, and so we went, and it did glow.

Afterwards, while we were still in the theater, Mary-Armour bought a CD of the music track. She handed it to me, and said, "for Mike."

That trip also included our Cuban expedition, during which Mary-Armour fell and broke her ankle, and when we got back I fell and landed in the hospital. Then, before I was up and ready to have lunch, Mike was in the hospital.

So, the "Contact" CD sits on my desk, along with two other things I'd been saving to give Mike at our next lunch. 

One is a copy of a book our son Jeffrey co-wrote with his attorney, titled "Sue the Bastards!" On his last trip up from L.A. he inscribed it,

"To Mike Friedman, a Renaissance Man, a man for all seasons, a friend to Nelsons everywhere, with affectionate regards, Jeff Nelson."

The other item awaiting that same lunch is a copy of Talk Magazine. It contains an article I'd mentioned to Mike, and he wanted to read it. The title is, "Danielle Steele's Pig's Butler", and it details the joys and vicissitudes - mostly vicissitudes - of an Icelandic student who took a job in Danielle's home.

Mike would have enjoyed it.

I think back to Jeffrey's phrase, "a friend to Nelsons everywhere." For me, in fact for all the Nelson family, it's a defining phrase for Mike. He gave us, all of us, so much help over the 42 years we knew him. Sometimes it was medical help, medical advice, helping us find an especially competent doctor for some special need. Sometimes it was moral support for one or another of us during some difficult period.

We all got different pieces of Mike to enjoy at different times. Sometimes it was at a Friedman celebration, sometimes at a Nelson event. Mary-Armour and I remember dinners at your mother's and father's house -- or grandmother's and grandfather's, as the case may be -- with all kinds of interesting people. 

I remember one party at which we all saw a first-run movie - I think it was a Bob Hope movie - before it opened in movie houses. 

I remember another at which we saw a touching documentary about an ear surgeon. He operated on an elderly woman who had been profoundly deaf, and who was conscious throughout the operation. After he performed the act that severed whatever ligature had been keeping the woman from hearing, he leaned close to the her ear and whispered, "I love you."

I still remember the woman's smile. I remember my eyes getting moist. It was all part of a wonderful party in Sausalito with Mike and [Mike's wife] Macia.

As you know, I had the good fortune and the pleasure of seeing Mike more than the rest of the Nelsons. I always looked forward to sitting down to lunch with him at the Fior d'Italia or the Villa Taverna, or picking him up to go to the Sometimes Tuesday Club dinners. In any of these cases, I would know that for a period of time, we each had the undivided attention of a truly interested listener.

Mike was a great listener. He never interrupted, except perhaps to ask a clarifying question or make some apt comment. He was non-judgmental. He never looked at his watch. And when my topic was finished, and he brought something else up, I tried to behave the same way.

When I sat down to write this, I tried to think of the words that describe Mike best. The one that seems to head the list is "generous." I think of his generosity with his time, and I think of his generosity with gifts. He gave me a book every now and then, but not just any book. It would be a book with some personal meaning. 

The first book he gave me, probably 40 years ago, was "The Human Situation" by Macneile Dixon. It is a wonderful book. It's full of down-to-earth wisdom. I still keep it in our bedroom and reread portions of it from time to time. 

In 1976, Mike gave me a slender volume by a man named Williston Fish. Some time before, I had just gotten some new glasses from good old Jenkel-Davidson, an optometry chain no longer with us. When you tried your new glasses at Jenkel-Davidson, they didn't give you a mirror to see how great you looked, they gave you a card with four or five paragraphs on it, in diminishing type sizes, to see how well you could read.

I remember one of the paragraphs was from "Two Years before the Mast" by Richard Henry Dana. It was a very interesting paragraph, and eventually I read the book. 

The next smaller paragraph on the card was from "A Last Will" by Williston Fish. 

I told Mike how I was struck by the charm of this brief paragraph. It purported to be a father writing his will. It was written in proper legal language, but still very poetic. He spoke of "leaving to children exclusively…all and every the dandelions of the fields and the daisies thereof…the yellow shores of streams, etc." 

I told Mike I'd asked the Jenkel-Davidson people where it came from, because I wanted to read the entire text. They knew nothing about it.

It may have been at a lunch a year later when Mike said he had a book to give me. I don't need to tell you what book it was. Mike had seen it in an auction catalog. Obviously, he was the winning bidder. It's a great little book, and I treasure it.

When Mike gave Mary-Armour and me bottles of wine, it was never ordinary wine. It was LaFite Rothschild, or Jordan, or something else of that caliber. 

Mike once arranged - and paid for - Mary-Armour and me to take Jean Medawar to lunch in London. Jean was the widow of Nobel Prize winner Sir Peter Medawar. Both were friends of Mike's, and he wanted his friends to meet his other friends. That gave him pleasure.

There are many words besides "generous" that would also fit Mike. "Curiosity" is one. Mike's life was an unending series of experiments and observations. 

"Perseverance" is another. When Mike had an idea for a project or study, nothing could stop him. The project needed funding? Mike would get it. It needed 2,000 participants? Mike would get them. It would take ten years? No problem. Mike would see it through.

"Courage" is another good word that fits Mike well. As we all journey along through life, things happen to us. For Mike, who loved the journey and didn't want it to stop, a good many of these things happened. 

Hearing got difficult. Seeing got difficult. Walking got difficult. So, he got a state-of-the-art hearing aid. He got a state-of-the-art reading machine. He got books on tape. And he kept walking, with a cane and a friend's arm. He never gave up. That's courage.

Thinking is one thing that never did get difficult for Mike. His brain, his reasoning power, his intuition kept right on ticking.

One of the very early things I remember Mike talking about was memory. He felt that everyone, every day, Type A and B alike, should find something in that day worthy of remembering. Then, a day later, a year later, a lifetime later, you could take those memories out and enjoy them.

I feel fortunate that I, and Mary-Armour, and our children, all have a supply of different Mike Friedman memories to take out and enjoy. I feel fortunate that they are permanent, and can not be taken away.

Yesterday, I reread Williston Fish's "A Last Will." As I read, it occurred to me that the last paragraph of the will might very well have been written by Mike, for all of us. In the paragraphs preceding, the writer of the will has left special gifts to children, to youths, to lovers, and he concludes his will thus:

"Item: And to those who are no longer children, or youths, or lovers, I leave Memory, and I leave to them the volumes of the poems of Burns and Shakespeare, and of other poets, if there are others, to the end that they may live the old days over again freely and fully, without tithe or diminution; and to those who are no longer children, or youths, or lovers, I leave, too, the knowledge of what a rare, rare world it is."

Mike could have said that. He probably did.

Woodlawn Memorial Park
May 3, 2001

"Live always, my friend, as if there is world enough and time."
                                     - Meyer Friedman

 

 

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