After a couple of months away from blogging due to the press of other business (like the 100 students and four college courses that I taught and which will be the subject of another blog post soon), I decided that today would be the day to dive back in. Why today? Well, today was the funeral of my friend, Ian Arcus (full obituary — http://bit.ly/ZMmF5U).
Ian was lawyer in Albany who was the reason that my family came here. Let me explain how.
When I was growing up in Rochester, NY, my mother went back to graduate school to get a PhD in political science at the University of Rochester (my dad had a law practice in Rochester, so that was where my mother need to go to graduate school, even though it was a top program in its own right). In any event, Ian was an undergraduate at the U of R, and he had my mother as a professor (when she was finishing up her graduate degree). To make a long story short, my mother took a liking to Ian and invited him to come to our house for dinner. We had decided that we would have fondue for dinner and, as my folks had instructed me (I was 12 at the time) I was to offer the guest the option of starting first. Ian, who had grown up in modest circumstances in Hudson, NY, had never had fondue in his life and when presented with an array of raw meat and vegetables and a pot of hot oil, was totally flustered by my offer to start first. We all got a good laugh out of this (especially when my mother said that, “Ian, you haven’t done this before, have you?”), and Ian and I told the story many times over the years to our friends.
However, this doesn’t explain the Albany connection. After graduating from the U of R, Ian went to Albany Law School and went into private practice. Part of his practice was to serve as legislative counsel to former Senator Jack Perry from the Rochester area. When my mother was coordinating the Albany semester program for SUNY Brockport (where she was on the faculty for 27 years in the political science department), she bumped into her former student (and fondue partner!) Ian and rekindled the friendship. In the late 1980s when my wife and I decided that we wanted to move back to Upstate New York from Washington DC to be closer to friends and family, my mother shared this news with Ian and his lovely wife Lorraine (who coincidentally taught me at my synagogue while she was a student at the U of R before transferring to the University at Albany (SUNY) to be nearer to Ian), who invited us to stay with them in Albany while we job hunted and checked the place out. Not only did they make us feel really welcome, Ian helped my wife find a job and made several other wonderful suggestions that made us decide that Albany was the place. After we moved here in 1990, we saw the Arcuses from time to time but traveled in somewhat different circles (they were about 10 years older than we were) for a time.
However, in the last five years, Ian and I reconnected through our love of tennis. We both were part of the “Morning Glories” tennis group organized by our mutual friend Ava. The group plays tennis from 7-8 am six mornings a week and you sign up for which days you want to play, and Ava magically coordinates it. We played indoors in the winter and outdoors in the summer, and then went on with the rest of our days. I loved playing with Ian, not so much for the tennis (that was fun too) but for the time afterwards when we chatted in the locker room about various and sundry things, ranging from Ian’s work as a law guardian to his service on the board and as chair of the Jewish Family Service to our children and their adventures near and far. Ian would also talk to me about the books he was reading or listening to on CD as well as other issues of the day. A couple of years ago we expanded our tennis group to be part of Ian’s Sunday men’s doubles game, which he and his friends had had for many years, and I got to know all of them as well, adding even more richness to my life in the Capital Region.
At his funeral today, the rabbi talked about how Ian was someone who both had a quest for knowledge but also a sense of humor about the world and his place in it. His Hebrew name was Yitzchak Ezra, which means one who laughs and also one who helps. I will miss my friend Ian’s sense of humor but also his willingness to help others.
May his memory be for a blessing.