ELDER MUSIC: Toes Up 2010

GRAY MATTERS: Elke's Tribute to Her Husband, Saul Friedman

As you know, Gray Matters and Reflections columnist, Saul Friedman, died on 24 December 2010. He was beloved by his readers, a great man, a great journalist and teacher, someone we could all do well to emulate.

Saul's funeral was held on Tuesday, 28 December, and his family has made some some of the orations, tributes, remembrances and eulogies available to Time Goes By. Over the coming Saturdays, they will be published here in place of his column.

This is from his wife, Evelyn, known to the family as Elke which is Evelyn in Hebrew. The three boats they owned were named Elke I, Elke II and Elke III. On 20 January, Saul and Elke would have been married 59 years. - Ronni

One of the emails to [my daughter] Lise said:

“I am so deeply sorry for your loss. Your father was an amazing human being and quite an inspiration to me.”

This from a friend of our kids, some two generations removed from Saul, who now makes his living playing the guitar in his own band.

Saul played the guitar when his fingers still worked, and since we lived in Houston for several years in the 50s, we got to go to the “hootenannies” which were exhibitions of guitar playing by recognized artists.

We both learned a lot and especially about the condition of black musicians when they traveled to the South to perform.

Sometimes they had to wear turbans so locals would think they were exotic beings from other countries so that they could get a meal or a room in a hotel. If they just showed up off the road in ordinary clothes they could not get served. This was the South in the 40s and early 50s and it made a deep impression on Saul.

Later in the 50s, he decided to write a series about the condition of blacks in Houston. The Houston Chronicle, for whom he worked, said they would publish it.So he wrote a long series detailing the lives of blacks in Houston at the time.

It was factual and correct. It never saw the light of day. That’s the way it was in those days – the paper simply decided not to use it.

I was angry. He was not. He said he had expected it and so went on to the next thing. Which turned out to be the public hospital in Houston.

Jefferson Davis Hospital was the county hospital where the poor folks went and everybody else ignored. By that time, Saul had made friends with the Dutch writer, Jaan de Hartog, who had become interested in conditions at the hospital. Saul and de Hartog signed on to work at the hospital for several weeks to witness the hospital workings.

When he would come home from the hospital he would shed his clothing outside the door and come in and shower before he would sit down for a meal. Later he and de Hartog wrote a series which changed the hospital into one of the better ones in the country, mostly due to their series.

Saul covered all kinds of stories, including a murder trial in Houston which resulted in a 3AM phone call from a male who said, “Is this Mrs. Friedman?”

I answered yes.

He then said, “You tell yo husband to quit writin’ all that stuff in the papers about my friend, else he be dead.”

It infuriated me and I said, “Listen, you son-of-a-unowat, don’t you ever call me in the middle of the night and threaten me.” And I hung up. And I got nervous.

I called the Houston police, the FBI, the Texas Rangers and every other law enforcement agency I could think of. About three days later, somebody arrested a local disc jockey and that was the end of that. I moved my young children back into the house from where they had been staying for safety’s sake, and we resumed our lives.

Saul was awarded a Nieman Fellowship for the academic year 1962-63 which gave him a year at Harvard to study what he wanted to. It was a very prestigious award and so we moved to Cambridge to a large house and he went to Harvard. And so did I.

It was a year to remember. His mother flew up from Texas so he could drive her to New York to visit her sisters during the Christmas-New Year holidays. A wild snowstorm was on when they left on New Year’s Eve. I did not want to stay alone during the New Year and one of our kids was sick.

So I called all the other Niemans and told them what was happening and would they bring some food and come to help me celebrate since I couldn’t leave the child. They did. They brought much food and wine and whiskey and we were having a good party when a loud knocking came at the back door.

It was Saul, covered in snow, having driven back from New York to be with me for the occasion. I was overwhelmed.

No matter what crazy things he did, he always made sure I was all right. He called from Zaire to request some money in order to ransom his passport but first asked me if I was okay. Yeah, I was. I had to be.

He was covering a presidential campaign when he became ill in New Hampshire. Would I come up and get him? Of course I would. And did.

He went to China. Would I come and join him there? Of course, I would. And did. And then how about coming to Israel to be with him? Of course I did.

And then there was South Africa where he was invited by his best friend, Allister Sparks, to come and teach at a school Allister had founded. This was a three-month stay.

The students were mid-career and their first language was not English. The trick was to teach them how to deal with their new-found freedom as apartheid had recently ended and they now could write what they wanted to. But they didn’t know how.

It was Saul's mission to teach them how to write in the active mode instead of the passive. He made an impact and was happy teaching there. And the students appreciated his efforts.

The thread running through his work was always the same: make the world a better place as best I can. In newspaperese: “The journalist’s job is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Whether he realized it or not, Saul was always teaching. No matter what he was talking about, he was teaching. And when I was on the plane with him to Georgia or California or on the plane by myself to meet him somewhere, I never felt alone.

He was always with me, taking care of me and making me feel special. And he still does.


Your loss must feel overwhelming, but - oh! What a wonderful life you had, and what a wonderful person you had to share it with! Thank you for giving us this glimpse behind the scenes. How much your own courage must have helped Saul do his work.

What an extraordinary life.
So many memories to comfort you.
Thank you for sharing with us in your time of grieving.
Sounds like he was a wonderful husband.

Thank you, Elke!! How blessed you are to have loved and be loved by such a great man! With your love and support for inspiration, he made important changes for many people.

I shall miss his wisdom greatly!

Thank you Elke and Ronnie.

Such a great life story of an inspirational man. Thanks Ronni and Elke for sharing your stories.

A beautiful tribute to your marriage and the man. You were both very lucky to have such a relationship that lasted so many years. Sad that he died-- it always is-- but you both had more than many ever get

I will miss reading Saul, savoring his perspective and the way he made me think. My deepest condolences, Elke, to you and your family. Being wrapped in the love of a wonderful man is a treasure, and I am sure you will long delight in you wonderful memories of the time with him.

Recently in an article in American Scientist about the book "The Shallows," reviewer Anna Lena Phillips explains that "When we recall an old memory, it moves from long-term memory back into short-term memory. As we contemplate it, it acquires new context and is essentially remade." Author Nicolas Carr comments that this is what gives real memory its richness and character. May all your wonderful memories be made anew and be filled with the richness of your life together with Saul - a great man who touched many many lives and taught us all well.

I am in awe of this great love you shared with Saul. Thank you for sharing with us some of this life you treasured together and gave so generously to others.

What a lovely remembrance of your husband. Thank you for sharing some of your memories here. He sounds like the kind of man who will, indeed, always be with you. Certainly his writings will be with us. May you continue to celebrate his love and life.

You and Saul led a very interesting life. Thanks for telling us a bit about it.

Thank you, Elke and Ronnie. I'll truly miss Saul's writings.


I was saddened to hear of Saul's passing. The work he did here at Time Goes By was brilliant, insightful, meaningful, accessible, and deep. I'll miss his voice and his perspective on aging and political matters.

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