3 MAY 1922 ~ 3 NOVEMBER 2001
(Eulogy given by son, Richard B. Bernstein)
It's hard to stand up here today, and it's hard to say all that there is to say about my father. Fred Bernstein, in such a compressed amount of time. My father was a good and decent man. Those words seem trite, but he taught me what they meant, and I want to tell you about how he taught me.
In some ways, it's easy to know where to begin, and that is with my father's sense of humor. Dad had the gift of seeing the funny and the ridiculous in just about everything. I remember watching him at work dealing with people on the phone, especially when they asked him to spell his name. A mischievous grin would blossom on his face, and he would say, with great earnestness,"P-H-R-E-D-D-Q-Q-Q-Q." And there would come a stunned silence from the other side of the phone. And then Dad would add helpfully, "The four Qs are silent." Whenever people would come into the store -- Kurtzberg's Stationers-- asking to see "the noted Republican," he would say gently, "Well, I'm a Democrat, but I think I can help you,"and then he would introduce himself as the notary public. We need not go into his love of what the people I write about would have called "scatological humor" -- except that those guys loved that kind of humor-- toilet jokes -- too. That was the kind of man he was.
Dad often used humor the way that Benjamin Franklin did --to put people at ease, to defuse a tense situation. He also had another great gift that went with that application of his sense of humor. He was one of those people in whom others naturally confide, with whom others naturally feel comfortable. The most common thing that I heard people say when they come into Kurtzberg's was some form of "Where's Fred? Is Fred here? Can I talk to Fred?" I used to think of him as the Mayor of Bell Boulevard, and sometimes the Mayor of Bayside, for that reason. That was the kind of man he was.
My father was also a man of quiet modesty and quiet courage. I think that he never fully gave himself credit for being as intelligent and as learned as he actually was. He and Mom always took great pride in their children -- in our achievements: Steven's concerts, Linda's art and exhibitions, my teaching and writing. But it was never the kind of pride that seizes credit for what others did; it was always that most generous and loving form of pride. I always tried to show Dad the page proofs of my books and articles (publication schedule permitting) because he was interested and because he was the world's greatest proofreader. He'd catch things that nobody else would find, but never in the spirit of "Gotcha!" It was always in the spirit of constructive criticism and help. That was the kind of man he was.
Dad's quiet courage came out time and time again as he dealt with illness -- with arthritis, with prostate cancer, with the encroachments of age. He did his best, when he was in the hospital for prostate surgery, for hip replacement, to put the rest of us at ease, to find some humor in the situation, no matter what. He was always more concerned about the effects on us than he was about himself. That, too, was the kind of man he was.
Again, there is no way to list or illustrate all aspects of my father's mind and heart. I just want to tell one quick story. In April 1989, the nation marked the 200th anniversary of George Washington's inauguration. Mom and Dad were both there, as honored guests (they had a son who could pull a few strings), and, through a comedy of errors that would take too long to recount, they ended up with seats on the podium, with the bigshot guests of honor. At one point, Dad, who had his camera with him, left his seat and took a few photos of the ceremony. Months later, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC came out with an article on the ceremony of 1989 and the time capsule of 1889. And, as we flipped through the magazine at the office, there was a photo of the re-enactment, and our jaws dropped. For there, in the background, camera at the ready, was the unmistakable form of my father, taking pictures.
There he was, unexpectedly but recognizably part of the scene. And that, too, was the kind of man he was.
And, in all our lives, he'll always be there. The humor, compassion, understanding, modesty, and courage that always were characteristic of Fred Bernstein always will live within us, and inspire us, and steady us. And his sense of humor, in particular, will always be there for us -- for me, and with me. In these, and in so many other ways beyond my power to recount, his memory always will be a blessing to all who knew him.__________________________________________________