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JIM OSTROFF: Fifteen years feels like a long time

I had wanted to say something meaningful about the 15th anniversary of my dad’s passing. But then I received an email from my cousin Jim Ostroff. He expressed in words better than I could choose all of the notes I wanted to hit.

Dear Paul,

Late May’s arrival is so very welcome, coinciding with the start of the warm and sunny months.

This unofficial solstice has marked the start of many a wonderful summer of fun, joy and new adventures. Late May is inauspicious for us as well, as it marks the moment when your dad passed on.

I recall as if yesterday my final conversation with your dad that May of ’02, days before his death. In a wink, five, 10 and now 15 years has passed.

Milestones are an artifice—convenient markers and notches in time but little else.

My dad, probably in the 1970s, and probably posing for his photography students to test the lighting setup for a portrait session.

Far more important for me is that while nearly a half-generation has elapsed since your dad’s passing, his hold on memory and sway on individuals has not diminished.

This is extraordinary, considering that so many people depart and are all but forgotten. Their names may come up in passing, as a footnote, but no one can relate a story, or anecdote about them. Quite literally, these people go silent. None can remember their voice, what they sounded like, or anything they said. This is when a person truly dies.

Saul Skolnick lives on. I have not a doubt about this. In the years since your dad left us, here and there and at unexpected moments, people still relate stories about your dad—some funny, some serious, some very thoughtful. He may have nudged and nibbled at people at times, but there never was any animus to his M.O.

Mr. Skolnick lives on in the many, many students whose lives he affected most positively over decades of dedicated work teaching history, photography and perhaps most important of all, about life.

It is not by some odd chance that individuals have sought you out to relate stories about a most special teacher and human being who helped them, gave their lives a special direction, or gave them an invaluable gift that continues to give: a curiosity for knowledge and the world about them.

Saul, Shully, dad and grandpa lives on every day in you, in Marty and Elliot, in how you comport yourselves towards other people; your sense of humor and in individual ways, your ongoing outreach for knowledge and yes, justice, fairness and efforts to help others.

I am certain that all of these most laudable qualities that were a hallmark of your dad’s life live on in each of his grandchildren: Rebecca; Ian and Amy; Hank and Don. Each and every one is a very good and thoughtful person, with just the right sense of social awareness and humor. I have no doubt that each will make the world a somewhat better place than the one they inherited—tangible dividends of this invaluable inheritance.

I would be terribly remiss if I did not extend accolades to your mom—Ethel, Ettie, Grandma. She is a most extraordinary person who has instilled a sense of fairness, ethics, determination and fun in all of the boys and the grandchildren; is a role model for scores more, as best as I can tell.

Fifteen years has now passed since your dad, exhibiting a determination that was a hallmark of his entire life, decided to gather the family together and have one more party before slipping off into that good night.

My final conversation with my most special cousin was memorable, frank and personal. We knew this would be the last time…. Your dad’s final words have remained with me, always, as a beacon. “Goodbye, Jimmy. Be a good person.”

I’m trying, Shully. I’m still trying.


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  • Alec Schreck May 30, 2017, 5:57 pm

    Beautifully written. That poignant line, ” that’s when they’re really gone” really grabbed me. And I’m grateful Paul has been a mentor and friend, always extending a helping hand since literally the very first day we met fourteen years ago. A touching tribute to your dad Paul. Sounds like you had many admirable traits in common.

  • Paul June 1, 2017, 6:19 am

    Wow. What a thoughtful tribute to the measure of the man.
    My best to you, your lovely wife, beautiful daughter and extended family.

  • D June 2, 2017, 5:23 pm

    Not a dry eye in the house