Sunday, April 19, 2009

Two men die; had little, but much, in common

This week brought bad news on two fronts to our family, synagogue and that tiny fraternity of print newspaper editors.

On Wednesday, Bill Cotter died after a series of illnesses.  He died too young at 62. 

Today, April 19, 2009, , word came that the Rev. Sidney Krauser had left the Earth after suffering a series of setbacks. He was in his 90s. 

It would be easy to say the two men had never met. After all, Cotter was an Irish Catholic whose roots were in the Lower Naugatuck Valley and  Krauser was an observant Jew, an immigrant from Russia who survived the Holocaust. But in fact, they had quite a bit in common. And their gregarious natures made it possible their lives met, if for a brief time.

Cotter was known as Big C, just C,  at the old Journal Courier of New Haven. The "big" had to do with his physical size, but also his abilities.. For a while, Big C was majordomo at the J-C, making a lot of things work. He held his boss' hands and worked behind the scenes to help them succeed. He was always a crackerjack editor and mentor. Sometimes it got him in the middle of a family issue.

For example, it fell to Big C to help his boss, Editor Don Sharpe, lose weight. Sharpe's wife, Jane, made C go along with Sharpe on his daily weight-loss walk along the entire Sargent Drive. C didn't tell Jane directly that the highlight of the walk was the stop at a restaurant for an ice cream sundae. But Jane found out and Sharpe did indeed lose weight.

I met C when he was a part-time copy editor. He worked a few days a week, after putting in a long day working for a coffee publication in New York, riding the train both ways. His family needed the income and C came through. 

When my family moved to New Haven from East Haddam, C was there, hauling heavy appliances off trucks and up and down stairs. It cost me a couple of beers.

For a while, C drove an Opel reverse convertible -- reverse because can car had a top but the floor was a hint and a hope. 

I'll never forget the night we got pulled over in West Haven. We were both pretty well oiled and C was driving me back to the paper. A cop pulled us over. We were both counting change for the one phone call we would be granted after our inevitable arrest. 

The cop came back, handed Cotter back his license and registration, and stammered, "I'm sorry, Mr. Cotter. I didn't know it was you, Mr. Cotter." and drove away. We both looked at each other with disbelief and burst out laughing.

The only thing we could think of is that either the cop or his supervisors thought the guy driving the piece of junk Opel was another William Cotter, this one a longtime congressman from the Hartford area.  

Cotter knew everybody. He was one of those guys who couldn't walk down the street a block without being greeted five times. That was in New Haven...I can imagine what it was like in his native Valley. He even ran businessman Joel Schiavone's campaign to be state treasurer.

We hadn't been super close, but Bill always had a kind word, a smile. He was good at his craft and good at life. 

So was Sidney Krauser.  We called him Mr. Krauser. There are no reverends in Judaism, but 
he was called the Rev. Krauser as a mark of respect and reverence by Jews and others in all walks of life. 

My wife and I met Mr. Krauser at the end of his more than 60-year career at Cong. Bikur Cholim Sheveth Achim, where he was shamos, a kind of majordomo. He helped guide the merger nearly 60 years ao of two dissimilar congregations, one mainstream Orthodox, one Lubavitch Hasidic

He also helped guide the synagogue from a large congregation in a palatial building at Winthrop and Derby avenues in Edgewood to a smaller one on Marvel Road in Westville. He ran the cemeteries, led services many times during the week, helped with High Holiday and other holiday services and basically ran the day to day activities of the synagogue.

He reached into the secular world to secure funding for the synagogue and to hire tradesmen for the many repairs that an older building needs. He never deviated from strict observance of his faith, no matter how difficult. If he couldn't walk to synagogue, he stayed in the building or secured a bed nearby.

He took my wife and I under his wing. I was the "grayser Levi," the "big Levite" and it fell to me almost every week to raise the Torah scroll after it was read. When I became president of the synagogue, I thought my job would be to sign checks and leave everything else to Mr. Krauser. It didn't work out that way. He had a stroke and required brain surgery from which he never fully recovered.

He moved a couple of years ago to the Washington, D.C., area to be near his daughter. He will be buried there, probably because he wanted it to be easy for his wife and children to visit his grave.

Two brave, good men who  lived in their own worlds but traveled in many others.

Bon voyage to both. Bill, I hope the road to heaven rises up to meet you. Mr. Krauser, may you find a seat near the Heavenly Throne. You deserve it.

Until next time...

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