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Eulogy for Bert

Lawrence Elkin

My guess is that I have a somewhat different perspective on Bert than most of you.  You see, I first met Bert standing in line at PS 108 in the Bronx for the first day of our first grade class.  I have this memory of two nervous kids wearing knickers, carrying new pencils, erasers, and notebooks, eyeing our new classmates and somehow, instinctively, trusting each other.


We became fast friends that year and stayed that way for 72 years.  We went through grade school together, separated for high school (Bert went to Music & Art, I went to Bronx Science) and then reunited when we attended Alfred University together.  After graduation, it was a rare time that we lived in the same city, but we always stayed in touch and got together whenever possible. There was this “connection” that lasted through the years.


I learned a lot from Bert.  From his earliest years, Bert had an affinity and talent for art.  He spent hours in the basement on Herring Avenue drawing, painting, and in the darkroom working on his photography.  Often there was classical music in the background. We spent a lot of time together, and I found myself caught up in this creative atmosphere, gaining an appreciation for art and music that I don’t think I would have otherwise gotten.  Bert, after all, was a teacher.


Going to the movies was one of our favorite times.  When we were kids, it was the Saturday afternoon matinee at the RKO Pelham, and as teenagers it was the Friday night show, or date night at the Loews Paradise.  If it wasn’t the movies, then it was a Saturday trip into Manhattan. If we went to the Museum of Modern Art, Bert was the tour guide. If we were in the city, we had to stop at Willoughbys, the camera store of its day.  Bert was like a kid in a candy shop – and he was a knowledgeable kid – grilling the salespeople about the newest piece of equipment or camera and how to use them.


Bert always had a new project in mind.  It could be a painting, a photography idea, or a paper on some subject that caught his interest.  Whatever it was, he pursued it with enthusiasm. He even took mandolin lessons. That didn’t last very long, but that was the kind of mind Bert had – restless, curious, motivated, and definite.  It sure made it interesting and challenging to be around him.


Bert called me his “oldest friend.”  I guess in both age and longevity that is true.  After all, 72 years is a really long time. In fact, it was a lifetime.  The best part of our shared history was that we were always there for each other.  If we hadn’t spoken for awhile, one of us would pick up the phone and the conversation would pick up right where we had left off.  To this moment I find myself thinking, “I really should call Bert. We haven’t talked in some time.” The feeling that he is still here is very strong, the reality that he isn’t is very sad for me.  I truly miss my oldest and dearest friend. May he rest in peace.


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