Saturday, March 6, 2010

My eulogy

The following is a transcript of the eulogy I delivered March 6, 2010 at Temple Sinai for my brother-in-law, the late Russell George Feran. The picture above was taken a little over a year ago at the rehearsal dinner for his daughter's wedding to Gary Cohen of Chicago.

I was asked by Phyllis and Leslie to say a few words about Russell, my brother-in-law for nearly the past quarter century. This is a somewhat daunting task, because as I interviewed some of his other relatives and close circle of family and friends, I found one inescapable fact: that Russell has always been a bit mysterious. He definitely marched to the beat of his own drum and was, in part, a conundrum wrapped in a veil of inscrutability. Russell had quite a number of acquaintances and business contacts, but it seemed to me Russell made his way through life by following his own dictates. He had keen insight about business and he always knew what he should do to best provide for his family, but he never shirked hard work, toiling for long hours and without fanfare. The Radio Shack franchise he maintained from 1974 through 1987 was very successful and he amassed a sizeable portfolio of Tandy Corporation stock in the process. When I first met him, prior to my marriage to Sally, I found him to be a very likeable fellow with some very strong opinions about many things: politics and religion in particular, but also certain people. He could quote chapter and verse about why he liked or disliked certain things and few could ever dissuade him from speaking his mind. Most of what he had to say rang true. Knowing the horrors his father and mother faced during the Shoah, he had little patience for Nazi sympathizers and anti-Semites. Like a latter-day Renaissance man, he was always keeping his mind focused on things that interested him. He admired many different objects d’art and several graced his West Bank residence, but, most particularly, he was drawn to new technology. Russell was responsible for me buying my very first personal computer, but believe it or not, it didn’t come from Radio Shack. It was part of a deal. Russell was always working deals. As it turned out, a lady expressed an interest in getting an affordable computer system for her brother, a student just entering Loyola University. At that time to get a hard drive with a color monitor was considered a very good deal. Russell found a Magnavox system with a hard drive and color monitor on sale at D.H. Holmes. The cost was $600, so Russell bought two: one for himself and one for the lady’s brother. But then, she turned him down because it didn’t exactly meet her brother’s needs to support spreadsheets. That was when he called me on the phone. “Have I got a computer for you,” he said like the true salesman he was. He was right. It was a good deal, but it was not without its challenges, which I shall attempt to explain to you. Although it worked on DOS (that’s the disk operating system from Microsoft), it lacked enough RAM (that’s random access memory), to enable it to utilize a MODEM (named for the terms modulate and demodulate), which would allow me to access the Internet by telephone. After several additional hundreds of dollars of improvements, it finally did work. Thanks to Russell, I was surfing the Net in the early 1990’s with that computer, whose 762 Kilobytes of available hard drive space would be considered miniscule by today’s standards. Russell and I talked frequently about computing and many years later, when I became an expert on building and fixing them, I advised him and repaired or configured most of his personal computers. As a matter of fact, when I last talked to him a week ago today, he told me he was going to have me re-configure his laptop once he got back home. Prior to his work with Tandy Corporation, Russell had long been an avid amateur radio operator, what some of us uninformed outsiders would colloquially refer to as HAM radio. He eventually amassed an incredible collection of short wave and amateur radios along with an antenna array that was the envy of many of his fellow operators. W5RGF was Russell’s vanity call sign assigned by the FCC, which incorporated his initials. He used that for his e-mail address on AOL and even went so far as to obtain a Louisiana vanity license plate to display on his fire engine red Mazda sports coupe. Again, it was one of the many things that interested Russell – a car he would unfortunately drive just a few times due to the return of his Crohn’s disease. Some might ascribe his purchase of the Mazda to a mid-life crisis, but he truly loved that car and what it represented: status, freedom and in his own way a kind of sexiness he lacked in his other vehicles. I recall him picking me up one day at my record store and offering me a ride, which I eagerly accepted. It was one of those special times when he shared one of his interests with me. As the car careened through the streets, the roar of the engine reached a high pitch and I saw him skillfully working the clutch and the gearshift as he moved it from first gear all the way to fifth. As I held on at times for dear life, he flashed a slight hint of a smile. He was simply having fun. Many of you know Russell was an avid philatelist. Again, it was an area that interested him greatly. He rarely opened up to share with me some of his more valuable stamp collecting finds, but that was okay with me. When he wanted to share, he did. Russell was a lifetime member of the American Philatelic Society and the president of both the Westside Amateur Radio Club and the Label Katz Lodge of B’nai Brith. He was especially interested in being a member of B’nai Brith and actively recruited me to join that body, if not for anything else, than for the excellent medical insurance they afforded members. When I had emergency surgery due to a double inguinal and femoral incarcerated hernia in 1985, I found out that my wife’s health insurance had not been properly extended to cover me as her new husband. Because of Russell looking out for me, a B’nai Brith policy underwritten by Mutual of New York was literally in my mailbox that very afternoon when I needed it most.Unfortunately, Russell became quite the authority on health insurance and the high cost of hospitals and nursing home care over the course of the last thirty years. Following the initial incidence of Crohn’s disease and two surgeries from 1970 to 1978, he was essentially free of any outbreaks until 1992. That was the time when Russell thrived as a Radio Shack franchisee with his West Bank store. When he sold the franchise back to Tandy in 1987, he was set to embark on a different kind of business, RGF Enterprises. RGF Enterprises was an interesting opportunity for Russell. Allied with various first responder charities, his employees made telephone solicitations on behalf of a number of benevolent organizations across the country. The business, which utilized telephone trunk technology and allowed long distance calls to be made as local calls from New Orleans, flourished for a time until his disease returned and eventually the more important aspects of his health forced him to turn the business over to his manager. Throughout the time my wife Sally was alive, she and Russell had an interesting relationship. Like many, her fun-loving nature drew admirers like bees to honey. It might have been the case of her irresistible force that initially drew him to the Sobel family. Their friendship grew stronger and closer with Russell personally helping her refinance her beauty salon business in 1988, because he thought it was the right thing to do. But if he enjoyed Sally’s company, early on, he used that friendship to get to know Phyllis better. He admitted, he fell in love with Phyllis and used his friendship with her sister as a ruse in order to court her. As he proudly told his daughter not so long ago, “she’s the most beautiful woman in the world.” Throughout their marriage, Phyllis and Russell had many wonderful times, especially when they could travel together. True, they did have their occasional bumps in the road, like all married couples, but there was no doubt he was ever devoted to her. Throughout his medical ordeal, Phyllis stood by his side, insisting that only the best of professionals administer the finest medical science and care to her ailing husband. Russell went into crisis after crisis, especially in the last decade. Indeed, he always seemed to come out of the worst situations a little shaken, but still defiant as always. Although he didn’t always express himself with words of tenderness and affection, Russell truly loved his bride and for those of us who knew the couple in better days, the foundation of commitment they had to each other was unshakeable. Likewise, if there were a special jewel in his life, it could only be his beautiful daughter Leslie. I watched as the flower girl at my own wedding in 1984 grew up into a beautiful young woman and how her father viewed her with great pride. I saw that expressed again in his twinkling eyes last year when, weak and feeble, Russell attended Leslie and Gary’s wedding. He beamed with joy, especially at the rehearsal dinner at Antoine’s the night before when he seemed to be having the time of his life. I am certain that Russell was delighted in Leslie’s choice for his son-in-law and I am sorry that Gary didn’t get to know Russell better when he was in more robust health. Beside Phyllis and Leslie, Russell truly loved all of his other family members including his mother and father, Jean and Fred, and his sister Maureen and her husband Bob and their children. I can well attest that the dynamic between a brother and sister can be fraught with tension and competition. Maureen and Russell had their sibling rivalry moments, but their attachment to one another has also been lasting and the Freedlands ability to care for the older infirm Ferans in La Crosse, Wisconsin in the years since Hurricane Katrina was especially appreciated by Russell, who knew he was unable to do so. When he departed this world on March 4, it was only four days after his father Fred was laid to rest and, ironically, on the very day that his father-in-law was to celebrate his 94th birthday. Perhaps it was Russell’s way; his inimitable sense of timing, because from now on the date of March 4 will be forever known as a day of sadness, a day when a good and resolute man beset with a profusion of health issues had his final release to the dismay of his closest family and friends. We will all miss his indomitable spirit and his enormous heart. It was Russell’s tremendous heart that kept on beating throughout every medical crisis he endured, even when his other organs were no longer functioning well. He was a great friend, a tremendous brother-in-law and a kind uncle to my son and his other nephews and nieces. I am indebted to him for his support of my efforts with the Boy Scouts of America and I recall how we talked several times about the annual Jamboree on the Air when Scouts use amateur radio bands to communicate with one another around the world, an event in which Cantor Colman has taken part. And so, W5RGF, it is with a heavy heart that we bid you a fond adieu...a 73... on this your final signoff. And with respect and reverence we say to you... over and out.

1 comment:

Maureen said...

Thank you for the beautiful memories of my brother. I miss him very, very much. His departure is way too soon, despite all the physical illness he had for so many years. Maureen