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Euology for Elliot Lippin

Euology for Elliot Lippin
January 31, 2007
By Sam Lippin

How do I eulogize the man with the golden tongue, the chosen one who could extemporaneously bring an audience to tears and inspire the best in us all. This is the toughest task I’ve ever had to face and I can’t promise you I will get through it without a tear or two or a thousand, and  yet these words flow so easily. It’s easy to say nice things about the man who’s been my hero since I was in diapers, staring up at his strikingly handsome face, a man who broke the stereotype that beauty is only skin deep. Elliot was not perfect but he did not have a mean bone in his body. A man of steely determination, perhaps a little scary to a bunch of silly kids who did not understand his intensity and the battles he was constantly waging, for Elliot truly was a warrior, always fighting the good fight, searching for the truth and always on the side of the underdog, against all odds. I always knew in my heart that in the heat of battle Elliot could be counted on, the leader of the pack, the guy you wanted on your team. You did not dare mess with him. Steel on the outside, an idealistic soft touch on the inside. If I may quote his neurosurgeon Dr. Mark Billsky of Memorial Sloan Kettering, “One of the great men of the world”.

Intellectual, truly original thinker, gifted athlete, philanthropist, man about town, serious and silly, stubborn and fiercely independent, he died like he lived, on his own terms, on his feet until the bitter end. He was standing up to use the bathroom Saturday evening, an act of Herculean strength and will power, and he died on Monday morning. Joking, kibitzing, and singing to the end, never a complaint or harsh word to anyone.

Sweet, sweet Elliot, we will miss you terribly, the world is a far worse place without you. You’ve left a deep whole in all our hearts, as deep as the deep blue sea that you loved so much. And yet I’m filled with joy at your memory, the memory of the amazing times we had together as father and son, the amazing vision you shared with us all.

Skiing from dawn to dusk, (-)20 degrees or howling snowstorms from the top of Killington or Ajax Mountain in Aspen, nothing, certainly not weather would stop you, and always 3 little ducklings following behind singing, laughing, frostbite on our feet and faces, peeing in our pants to get that one last run in. Your arthritic, painful, laughable knees never stood in your way. Your strength, athleticism, and determination made you an expert skier who didn’t flinch at the double black diamond Plunge run on the face of Telluride Mountain, a run that had my heart in my throat. I know your soul has been set free and you are back out in Aspen with nothing but perfect powder days for eternity. Enjoy it, you’ve earned it. And please Dad, if you can get me 12 inches of fresh untracked powder for our ski trip to Utah President’s week, I promise you will be with me on every run. Marathon runner, tennis aficionado, basketball fiend, you did it all.

You were the original mountain man, Jeremiah Johnson if you will, leading us up the trails of the Presidential Range in New Hampshire. Hiking up Mount Washington, the tallest and most ferocious mountain in the Northeast every summer in our canvas sneakers and backpacks, past the signs warning the faint of heart or unprepared to turn back, the signs that listed the numbers of people who died climbing before us, you never flinched, heady stuff for us 3 ducklings. Again accomplished with those shitty knees of yours. And then there were the rewards of our efforts, a view from the top of the world and your special short ribs cooked on a wood fire for dinner. The smell of mom’s kasha varnishkas (and your despised onions) wafting through the towering pines and campsites around us. The non-Jewish campers, ie, everyone else, coming to sneak a peak at this funny family from Long Island who had left all the other Jews behind at their fancy hotels in the Catskills while we would drive 10 hours at the drop of a hat to explore the wilds of the Maine coast or the Canadian Laurentians. Sitting on cold nights huddled together around the campfire listening to your hauntingly beautiful harmonica, then slipping into our toasty sleeping bags in our big tent while the cold night air crept in. Those bitter cold late summer mornings were impossible to get out of those bags, but you couldn’t wait to get up and start the fire, we would stumble out of the tent to the heavenly smell of bacon cooking on the wood fire to start another day of amazing adventures. It was mom’s idea to go camping, but you quickly developed a deep appreciation of the beauty of the outdoors, again stormy weather never stopped us. I’ll never forget the camping trip you forgot to cover the suitcases on top of our station wagon and the rain and mildew followed us for 10 days.

You also passed on your love of theatre and music. You never missed a Broadway show, a New York Philharmonic or opera in the park summer concert, the Weavers at Carnegie Hall, and the Schaeffer Music Festival, buying dozens of tickets and handing them out to your kids and cousins alike. Did I mention that you were a devoted uncle who took nieces and nephews on many of our family trips, experiences that they still talk about 40 years later. Not only did you never miss an event in the city, but you always had an entourage, lifelong friends from Brooklyn and new acquaintances, your generosity of spirit and adventure were contagious to all who tagged along. Did I mention my first concert. Our family outing in 1967 to the Philmore East to see Richie Havens, Nina Simone, and Isaac Hayes, a mix of shaft and reefer in the air. Eye opening stuff for an 11 year old. From then on I knew you were the embodiment of hip, cool, and cutting edge. None of my friend’s fathers came close and they all knew it. To you it all came so naturally, you never had to try, you were an original, one in a million.

I could go on forever and will gladly reminisce with each and every one of you because I know you each have your own special Elliot memories. We were all truly  truly privileged to have known you.

I loved Elliot beyond measure and was as proud of him as any son could be of a father, but all of you here understand that this love and pride go much deeper, beyond words, because I am after all speaking about Elliot who was my father by blood, but to many of you here he was a father and friend by spirit and caring, how fortunate for us all.

And no tribute to Elliot would be complete without mention of Camp Sussex. For Elliot, Camp was a cross between the Garden of Eden and the fountain of youth. He spent several summers there as a poor kid from Brooklyn, 20 years as President of the Board of Directors, and another 30 years on the Board. His love, passion, and vision for Camp were boundless and it sustained him to the end. Of course there’s the pitch, all donations should be made out to Camp Sussex and as Elliot loved to say and did himself, “you gotta give till it hurts”.

I want to end with a poem that I found the day Elliot died amongst his most cherished possessions.

Do not stand by my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep,
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am a diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awake in the morning hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight
I am the soft star shine at night
Do not stand by my grave and cry
I am not there…I did not die.

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