A tribute to Gerald
I have been struggling for the past weeks to put down on paper the many many memories that have gone through my mind since Gerald passed away. Each day I thought of something else, and then found it difficult to write it down – it never did justice to him!
These memories go back since I was a child – the truth is my earliest memories as a child include Gerald who was my brother Max’s best friend for over 65 years. When I was a little girl, Gerald would come to play with Max, and Esther and I were the little sisters and not to be related to –
I never dreamt then or as I grew later, that I would actually develop an independent relationship with Gerald, who became not only my mentor, but also my friend.
Gerald married Brenda, who was a Miller, and the Millers were part of our community – Ziona (Brenda’s sister) and I were at school together and then remained friends until I left to come on Aliya – and Brenda was not only from the wonderful Miller family, but also married Gerald – how lucky each of them was.
My ‘independent’ relationship with Gerald started while I was establishing Beit Issie Shapiro – and Gerald became my teacher – he had a tough job, because I knew nothing about finances, and needed to very badly to succeed in my role as executive director of Beit Issie Shapiro, which was growing rapidly.
Gerald introduced me to the concept of ‘entrepreneurship’ – I believe he wrote his thesis on this subject, and I never quite understood then what he was really talking about – and wasn’t sure if he was blessing or cursing me – I think that part of what I did fit into his theory of what an entrepreneur was and he made it his business to coach me and enlighten me to the issue of input and output, to the importance of measuring impact, and he introduced me to Excel – oh dear Excel – I not only had to learn how to use it, but also how to number the columns and rows, and to hide the parettos – I decided that I definitely didn’t need to know this very well, and arranged for Gerald to meet our staff to teach them how to use the excel and produce reports.
We learned about consolidated reports and percentages, and we in turn taught Gerald about our data base. He didn’t just observe, but asked for the data base manual so that he could learn it intimately so as to be able to coach our staff adequately.
He never stopped there – he decided that in order to be able to give us maximum benefit, he would need to meet with our staff in the US, and he spent a few days learning from them how they apply the data base and what the communication systems are about.
Gerald had infinite patience – he needed it to work with me and often with our staff, and he would describe in simplistic terms, what we needed to know.
But beyond the professional input, Gerald cared deeply about my well-being and made sure that everything I needed to function well as executive director, would be in place. He would therefore meet with me before important meetings, and sometimes after them, and act as mediator between some of our challenging donors and myself.
This was only possible because everyone had utmost faith and trust in Gerald’s professionalism, and more importantly, his integrity.
Because of his close relationship with Max, we had opportunities for being together with Gerald and Brenda at social occasions. Watching him swing Brenda around on the dance floor was a sight to see – they were totally in sync, in every possible way and on so many occasions he would talk, with pride, about Brenda’s commitment to volunteering with babies in the hospital, and his pride in the achievements of their three children.
I don’t believe his role as consultant in Israel was always easy for him – he lived to the highest standards and beyond, and often felt that many people in his milieu didn’t always ‘get it’ – but he persevered because he also had a basic belief in the goodness of people, and their ability to change if one invests in them enough.
Gerald moved from being my mentor, to becoming a board member, and later the head of the audit committee not only of Beit Issie Shapiro, but also of our International Friends of Beit Issie Shapiro. In both, he instituted the finest and most professional financial systems, worthy of any large and excellent organization. He was also a most valued member of our Financial Committee.
When I retired from my executive roles at Beit Issie Shapiro in 2006, Jean Judes, the executive director who took over from me, quickly realized that she too had an excellent teacher and mentor in Gerald, who continued to provide support to her, to the Board and to the staff of Beit Issie Shapiro.
Gerald was present at some important events in the last year – including a staff meeting to mark my retirement and the opening event of our international conference. How thrilled we were to see him and Brenda at that event.
In December of 2010, Gerald and I had one of our discussions on the phone on a controversial issue, and, as often happened, we didn’t agree – we closed the phone on an unhappy note, and immediately I called back to sort it out – we then exchanged notes ensuring that each one of us was OK with the outcome and willing to move on. I thank G-d that we always knew to work things out and that our last communication was so positive.
I am also so grateful that just before his passing Gerald received the Hebrew edition of my book on 30 years of Social Entrepreneurship of Beit Issie Shapiro, in which I had written a special message to acknowledge his contribution to me.
Gerald was my friend – a real friend who was able to listen more than most people, to act on his wisdom and experience, to intervene when necessary, to move aside when necessary. The breadth and width of his life will only be fully appreciated in time. I feel so privileged to have had a small part in it.