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
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
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
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
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 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
"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
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
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:
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."
have said that. He probably did.
Woodlawn Memorial Park
May 3, 2001
"Live always, my friend, as if there is world enough
- Meyer Friedman